Life is full of important decisions that can be intimidating.
And it’s common for people to feel some anxiety when they are looking at so many choices for their life.
That anxiety can, however, ramp itself up to an overwhelming burden depending on the magnitude of the decision and whatever may be going on in a person’s mind.
And that’s how it works for people without an anxiety disorder.
An anxiety disorder can take an expected amount of anxiety and explode it out of proportion because of the amplified nature of the disorder.
The good news is that there are several strategies that can help minimize the extreme emotions, negate “analysis paralysis,” and propel you forward through the anxiety.
If you sometimes find that you just can’t make decisions, try these things.
1. Find A Way To Calm Non-Anxiety Related Emotions
Anxiety is an important part of human survival and evolution.
It’s the part of our mind that tells us when there is a threat or danger; something unknown that might harm us.
It’s what helps to guide us when we are making a choice or taking an action that could have negative repercussions.
For a person with an anxiety disorder, that part of the brain is working overtime, which drowns out what would otherwise be a natural process and feeling.
Important decisions are best made from a cold, neutral perspective.
You don’t want to make important decisions while you are feeling intense non-anxiety related emotions about the thing, like anger, passion, or sadness.
Cooling those non-anxiety related emotions can help reduce the amplification of anxiety over the decision for just about anyone.
Regular meditation is a good way to help calm emotions. Meditation provides a number of physical, mental, and emotional benefits including reducing anxiety.
Distancing oneself from the emotions is another good way to calm them.
Does the decision need to be made immediately? Most decisions don’t need to be made right now.
Sleeping on a major decision and thinking about it in the morning with a clearer head and quieter emotions can help you more reasonably assess your choices.
Don’t make big decisions while you are emotionally vulnerable or volatile as much as you can avoid it, though sometimes you won’t have a choice.
2. Avoid Analysis Paralysis With A Reasonable Deadline
“Analysis Paralysis” is a phrase that describes the way people get caught up in considering all of the angles, all of the outcomes, and researching endlessly so as to avoid actually making their decision.
That is not to be confused with making a reasonable effort to understand the problem, the choices, and gaining more knowledge to combat it.
It’s when someone uses research as a method of escape to avoid confronting the problem and making their decision in a timely fashion.
Avoiding this is important.
People who are experiencing anxiety, disordered or typical, often try to impose control on a situation that may not be controllable because it helps alleviate the uncertainty that comes with change.
They may tell themselves, “If I just had more information, I could make a better choice.”
That isn’t necessarily true. There is such a thing as having too much information.
Furthermore, we also don’t know what we don’t know. Sometimes there are gaps in our knowledge and experience that make it impossible to identify a pitfall ahead of us.
All you can really do is decide to step forward and have confidence that you’ll either be able to pivot or find a way to overcome.
If you’re having trouble making decisions, give yourself time to research the options, but set a deadline for when you need to make it and start taking action so that anxiety doesn’t hold back your progress and effort.
3. Maintain A Reasonable Perspective
There shouldn’t be too many decisions in your life that are actually life and death.
The reality is that there are few truly good or bad decisions. Most decisions we make will have good elements and bad elements to them.
They might have some negative repercussion or positive outcomes. Sometimes, the outcome is somewhere in the middle, not necessarily negative, but not really positive either.
Oftentimes, the worst thing you can do is not make a decision at all, because the external forces of life and actions of other people are going to dictate your path to you.
That’s not a good thing because no one is going to have your best interests in mind like you will have for yourself.
Perhaps you don’t want to do the thing, but end up getting pushed toward it because you didn’t take an action that was required to avoid that outcome.
It helps to not think of decisions in a positive or negative way, assuming you can avoid labeling the decision as positive or negative.
Sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we may have a positive or negative decision to make, all the choices might be positive, all the choices might be negative, or they may not be either.
Anxiety can try to force that positive and negative nature onto the decision.
Many decisions in life are just one step on a long journey. You make a decision, reach an outcome of that decision, and then choose to proceed or pivot from that choice.
It will help you smooth out your decision making process if you can keep your mind from assigning a positive or negative quality to every decision you make.
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4. Focus On A Bigger Mission Or Goal
Do you have a larger goal in mind?
Does this decision appear on your journey to accomplishing that bigger goal?
You can reduce decision-making anxiety by judging whether an option will take you closer to your larger goal.
If it does, then it’s a simple choice and you can start executing. If it doesn’t, then you know that you need to start looking for a better option to get you closer to where you want to be.
For the sake of consideration, what if neither are true?
Sometimes you’ll be presented with a lateral decision that doesn’t step forward but doesn’t necessarily take you a step backward.
Sometimes a lateral choice can be a good way to shake things up a bit in your world, see some new perspectives from other sources, and give you more wisdom and experience to better find your next step forward.
Don’t discount a choice if it makes sense in the big picture but doesn’t necessarily seem like it may move you forward. Additional experience and networking can be a launchpad to greater things.
And if you don’t have a larger goal, it may be a good idea to consider whether or not you want to be in pursuit of something bigger.
Life is a fairly long and winding journey, so it helps to map out short, medium, and long-term types of goals to give it some direction instead of just floating aimlessly through.
5. Make Your Decisions Based On Your Values
One can find a great deal of clarity in understanding their own set of morals and values.
Many decisions then become a simple matter of staying true to the way you navigate the world and how you treat other people.
Complicated decisions become less complicated when you are working to stay in tune with your values because it eliminates the need for great consideration, which leads to analysis paralysis, which leads to anxiety and potentially bad decisions.
Does the decision that you need to make fit into the framework of your own values?
Are you doing what you understand and feel to be right?
Acting in accordance with your morals also prevents future problems with guilt, as you made the best decision you could with the information you had.
The decision may not be right, and some people will disagree with you because they might have a different set of morals and values.
The conviction of following your values can get you through the anxiety of a decision making process.
6. Use A Pros And Cons List To Clarify
A great way to see through one’s anxiety when you’re having difficulty making decisions is to make a list of pros and cons for each of your choices.
Grab yourself a piece of paper.
At the top, write the goal you are trying to accomplish or the decision you need to make.
You want to keep this in mind as you think about your options so you can correctly identify the choices that might not fit with your goal.
Below that, list your choices.
For each of your choices, list the pros and cons of that choice until you can’t think of anything else.
Chances are pretty good you’ll be able to see your choices with increased clarity.
Some will fit better than others. The ones that don’t fit well, have severe cons, or don’t have enough pros listed can be eliminated.
That should leave you with a smaller number of options that you can choose from.
7. Listen To Your Gut
The most common piece of advice on decision making is probably “listen to your gut.”
In other words, follow your intuition.
Well, it’s hard to hear your intuition when your mind is racing and overwhelmed with negative feelings and perspectives that decision making anxiety can cause.
And it’s even louder if you happen to have an anxiety disorder complicating things further.
It is true that your gut instinct can be a good guide in some situations, especially if you’re familiar with the situation you’re dealing with.
That gut instinct points back to feelings and memories of things you’ve seen succeed and fail in the past.
However, it isn’t always a good idea to follow your gut, particularly if things are too noisy in your head.
If you’re going to follow gut instinct to make a decision, try to do it at a time when your emotions are most quiet.
That might mean waiting a few days or blowing off some of that anxious energy through exercise.
In doing so, you’ll have a much better chance of hearing the quiet direction of intuition instead of the noisy howls of anxiety.
8. Choose That Which Facilitates Growth
All other things considered, if you’re having a difficult time making a decision, pick the option which will help you grow.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it will be positive. Growth most often comes from confronting the negative facets of oneself and choosing to walk through them.
Anxiety toward major, life-changing decisions is normal. The choices that will lead you through the lows and empower you to grow and prosper as a person are often going to be difficult or feel restrictive.
Embrace that discomfort and move forward, through it. Positive change and growth is on the other side.