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How to Stress Less When Making Decisions

by Beth on July 20th, 2014

We like knowing that we have options. That’s one reason making decisions can be so difficult. A decision is basically eliminating options. If you order the chicken, salmon is no longer a possibility. Buy the Toyota Corolla and you won’t be driving the Honda Civic. As a senior in high school, our son will be applying to colleges soon. When he chooses which colleges to apply to, other colleges will no longer be options.

Some researchers believe people are less happy today because we have too many options. This makes deciding even harder because having more options means we have a greater likelihood of making the wrong choice. Fear of making the wrong decision can lead to anxiety and analysis paralysis. Here are a few suggestions to help you make decisions:

  • There are no “wrong” decisions. People are pretty bad at affective forecasting or predicting how they will feel in the future. For example, we tend to overestimate how unhappy we will be if we make a poor choice. Even if the decision you make turns out not to be the best one, you will learn from it and make changes. Many decisions can be reversed. Even big ones. If you take a job you don’t like, you can find another one. If you aren’t happy at college, you can go to a different one. Remind yourself that making a less than ideal decision is often not as risky as it may seem in the moment.
  • When you can, try to keep your options open. I love to have tapas for dinner because sharing a lot of different dishes keeps me from having to limit my options to one plate that I might not like. I reduce the stress of committing to a vacation plan by making hotel reservations that I can cancel. If our son doesn’t know yet whether he wants to go to a big school or a small school, his best bet is to apply to both big and small schools in order to keep that option open a bit longer.

Having to make a big decision can cause a lot of anxiety. When faced with a difficult choice remember that there is no “wrong” decision. You can always make subsequent decisions to move in another direction. Also, when possible, choose to have choices.

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