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Do you experience significant difficulty making decisions? Do you ruminate over decisions already made and feel regret over past decisions?  Difficulty with making decisions can simply be a sign that the decision represents a significant issue in your life.  However, frequent difficulty with making decisions may also be part of an anxiety disorder, a depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or trauma disorder.  If you regularly become significantly stressed when making decisions, it could be a sign that you need to address an underlying mental health condition.

Becoming a better decision maker  can decrease stress overall in your life, lead to less anxiety, and help you be happier and in a more peaceful mood. You may also find  less  emotional drain caused by second guessing your past decisions, and even improved sleep. 

Research  studies have identified several common unhelpful thought processes that can lead to decision-making stress and have also identified several helpful methods you can use to help you arrive at decisions more easily.

Thought patterns that can lead to difficulty with making decisions:

Overprediction of danger:  Overpredicting negative outcomes between choice A over choice B can contribute to anguish when making decisions.  Often times, the possible negative outcome predicted or imagined never occurs with either choice A or choice B.

Seeking Perfection of Outcomes (Perfectionism):  Expecting a perfect outcome or trying to prevent any negative consequences resulting from choices can lead to “decision paralysis” or “analysis paralysis”.  This results in procrastination with making our final choice and often still will not result in a “perfect outcome” (as a perfect outcome is typically an unrealistic expectation). 

Avoidance of regret:  Often times, people may delay making a choice to prevent experiencing regret once the decision is made.    However, regret is actually a byproduct of choosing to focus on the negative outcomes of each decision vs recognizing the positive outcomes also present in the chosen option.

Thought shifts you can use to help you make decisions more easily:

Acceptance of imperfection:  It is important to accept that each decision will lead to options not available with that particular choice; there rarely is one “perfect” choice.  In essence, it reflects the idea that “every ‘yes’ has a ‘no’ attached to it”. 

Cognitive Flexibility:  Recognizing that many decisions may not have permanent consequences can be helpful to decrease the significance of choice A over choice B.  We may actually have more flexibility with making adjustments to our decision at some point in the future.

Improving one’s ability to cope with nonpreferred outcomes: Tolerating less than optimal outcomes and having confidence in one’s ability to tolerate less than optimal outcomes can help us decrease the significance of “less than perfection” in our choice outcomes. One way to achieve this is by recognizing the values we are seeking and embracing through the choice we make.  This can not only help us to reach a decision with more confidence, but also can help us to more easily accept the decision we made once we have decided.

Embracing the goal of “Satisficing”: Satisficing is a decision-making strategy that is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “pursuing the minimum satisfactory condition or outcome”.  This strategy is meant to simplify the process for making decisions.  Satisficing can save both time and mental energy, while still reaching the minimum goal for decisions.

Finally, it can be helpful to know that many research studies have revealed that often times choosing between a few options will typically lead to similar levels of satisfaction for the decision-maker; we likely have already filtered out significantly less appealing choices by the time we are making a choice between 2 or 3 options.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can teach you helpful decision-making skills, including recognizing the maladaptive thoughts that hinder your ability to adeptly make decisions, as well as to cope with decision outcomes.  The skilled cognitive and behavioral therapists at The Anxiety and Depression Center of Newport Beach can help you learn more adaptive methods for making decisions more easily and for navigating outcomes of choices you have already made.  Your therapist can also help you determine if there is an accompanying mental health condition that may  need to be addressed, as well.