• Alex Jarvis

Can't Make Up Your Mind?

Understanding Chronic Indecisiveness


Have you heard of "analysis paralysis"? It's when you give up making a choice as there are too many options. But there's more to indecision than analysis paralysis. The three major elements of chronic indecisiveness are:


§ the habit of NOT making any choice

§ dealing with more than an ordinary indecision

§ being consumed by the perceived consequences of a wrong choice, thereby, overlooking the consequence of NOT taking action


Avoiding making a decision can sometimes be an unconscious habit or an agonized, anxious one. It typically happens with trivial, small choices (e.g.what brand of pasta to buy, which movie to watch, what dress to wear) or consequential choices (e.g.which house to buy, should I marry this person, which job should I apply for).


Perfectionists, people with OCD, and procrastinators often have chronic indecisiveness. Here's a typical scenario:

Julie constantly struggles with making up her mind. When her microwave broke, she couldn't decide which brand to get. When looking for gifts, she spends countless hours finding the right one that she'd end up not buying anything. She's often late for appointments because she's never sure what to wear. She wants to move to a new apartment (as she's not happy with the current one), but could never find the right one. She often broods over opportunities she missed, but unable to break the cycle of missing them.


They often focus on doubts when they're uncertain about the right choice. OR, they procrastinate, forget/avoid, or simply get stuck because they fear the consequence of a decision leading them down the wrong path, producing regret, or ending in grim results. Overthinking, getting hijacked by imagination and anticipatory anxiety about the future play important roles in paralyzing action.


Not Ordinary Indecision


Avoiding making decisions -big and small- at various times isn't uncommon. Getting stuck on some decision doesn't mean chronic indecision. While most people are able to get on with their lives, being chronically indecisive is a recurring tendency. It's not a personality trait either, but a behavioral issue that can be improved: some seem unable to make decisions across the board while others are paralyzed by indecision in only a few parts of their life. Each of them has individual patterns of indecisions and areas of sensitivities.


  • Active evasion (aka 'head in the sand') pertains to sidestepping any aspect of the decision you're avoiding, and pretending there's no decision you must make.

  • Procrastinating is knowing what you need to do, but simply being unable to just do it. Delaying is closer to avoiding making a decision.

  • Escape clause "decisions" refer to reversible, returnable, redo-able, exchangeable choices that make every decision tentative –allowing for endless speculations/calculations without making a final choice.

  • "Convenient" forgetting is an approach of evading decisions just nearly outside of awareness. It may seem unintentional, until a pattern emerges.


Underlying Problems


§ Avoiding the wrong choice centers around avoiding making the wrong decision. The person imagines having major regrets or being trapped in an unimaginable situation of which there's no escape. It's all about avoiding a mistake, either a big one (choosing the wrong partner) OR a small one (buying a non-refundable item that you might not like).


§ Avoiding potential risks is tied to anticipatory anxiety, example, not being able to commit to confronting a challenge, volunteering for something, or undertaking a project. Typically, a person may constantly revisit decisions or has an escape plan for any commitment.


§ Making the best choice (aka analysis paralysis). Some are less driven by anticipatory anxiety but are paralyzed by the number of options –from which none stands out. The person repeatedly goes back and forth after endless internet research, collecting opinions, and making pros-and-cons list. This underlies perfectionism.


§ Making the RIGHT choice is driven by needing to make the right choice and believing "I will know it when I see it." You're waiting for the "aha! this is it!" feeling and needing to be sure about your decision –a feeling that never comes. This is often tied to intolerance of uncertainties (or OCD doubting).


§ "Justified" indecisiveness. Some people feel justified in delaying their decision by continuing to research options and seeing themselves as reasonably cautious. They may see others who make decisions easily as careless/impulsive. They value "getting it right" as a virtue –no matter how long it takes and at the expense of others' frustration or at the cost of negative results due to their inaction. This is common for those with OCPD (obsessive-compulsive personality disorder).


§ Fear of missing out (FOMO). Some are driven by the need to NOT miss anything that they’d keep all options and follow all opportunities. This isn't deciding because they feel that making a choice means excluding/cancelling the alternative. This shows inability to choose one action plan as this would mean giving up another equally attractive choice. In contrast to approach-avoidance conflict (you want something but it scares you), FOMO is an approach-approach tension (you want everything, but it's impossible).


The Cost of Inaction


With the issues underlying chronic indecision, one is so preoccupied with imagining possible negative consequences of making the wrong decision that they fail to see the losses from taking no action. These include remaining stuck in unsatisfying situations, losing windows of opportunities, disappointing others, being left behind by friends, family & peers, and fostering self-criticism.


Another undesirable result of indecision is how others would interpret this frustrating behavior. A chronically indecisive person may often be mistaken as stubborn, unreliable, selfish, inconsiderate, or immature. If you're struggling with making good decisions, talk to JarvisHypnotherapy. You may be dealing with perfectionism, fear of regret, or inability to handle uncertainty. We're here to help.

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*https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-sticky-mind/202105/chronic-indecisiveness-between-rock-and-hard-place

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