In both school and in life, you are naturally going to be faced with a lot of decisions. Some choices will feel like they are more important than others. The range of decisions you make on a daily basis impact your life in different ways, most of which are unknown to you at the time of the decision-making. Some people are so worried about making wrong decisions that they suffer from decidophobia, or the fear of making decisions.
There’s a difference between taking time to weigh your decisions and being so ridden with anxiety that you avoid the process altogether. We are going to break down the definition of decidophobia, the symptoms of decidophobia, and then offer tips to help you overcome this fear. Even if you do not suffer deeply from this condition, everyone can benefit from the helpful decision-making advice in this article.
Let’s jump right in.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
What is Decidophobia?
Decidophobia is defined as the “irrational fear of making decisions.” In its most extreme form, those who have this fear may experience full blown panic attacks when even thinking about having to make a decision. Panic attacks cause your heart rate and breathing to speed up, blood pressure to rise, sweating, muscle tension and trembling.
To avoid these feelings, people with decidophobia may avoid being placed in situations where they will have to make a decision. However, this could become troublesome, especially if you are a college student who needs to decide things like your major, your school of choice, your schedule, and more.
Before we share how to overcome decidophobia, here’s a list of common symptoms associated with this fear.
Symptoms of Decidophobia:
- Panic attacks
- Muscle tension and excessive sweating
- Increased dependence on others for decision-making
- You think you’re psychic
- Inability to cope with the anxiety around making decisions
What Causes the Fear of Making Decisions?
If you are someone who feels like they have a fear of making decisions, you’re probably wondering why you have this phobia. While there is no exact cause, experts have speculated that it may have stemmed from a traumatic event.
Additionally, if one suffers a traumatic event that is emotionally painful and has a genetic predisposition to developing a mental illness, it could exacerbate the situation.
Decisions may be confusing or scary to cope with given a painful event during childhood. This is especially true if the decision at hand makes you feel powerless or like you may lack control.
Additionally, decisions may seem grander if:
1. Significant others will be affected by the choice
2. Money plays a role
3. There’s a fear of missing out (FOMO)
4. You lack trust in the situation
5. The decision will involve more work
6. There’s peer pressure
The Side Effects of Fear of Making Decisions
Fearing making a decision will impact your life and relationships.
Some of the negative consequences associated with this phobia include:
- Missing out on relationships
- Losing an opportunity for promotion at work
- Lack of travel experiences
- Money issues because you can’t decide what to invest in or how much to save
These outcomes have a dramatic impact on one’s quality of life. As such, it’s important to take steps to overcome decidophobia.
Tips to Help You Cope with Decidophobia
If you are suffering from decidophobia, or know someone who does, here are some methods to try to overcome the fear of making decisions, or the fear of doing something wrong:
1. Take Actionable Decisions:
It’s okay to acknowledge that making a decision is scary. But, in order to “break the chains,” you just have to go for it and face the fear by making a choice.
Try The Decision-Making Quadrant: Use a matrix (diagram) like the one below to categorize your decisions by: urgent/not urgent and important/not important.
2. Reduce the Number Of Decisions:
One of the best ways to overcome the fear of making decisions is to set yourself up to make less of them on a daily basis. For example, you can do this by creating a meal plan and sticking to it or by wearing the same basic clothes everyday (this is something Steve Jobs did so he could use his brain power on bigger decisions).
3. Be Curious:
Take small steps towards choosing. You can do this by asking yourself the following questions, “What’s the worst outcome that is possible?” “What is the likelihood this will occur?” “What if things work out in my favor?”
4. Shift Your Point of View:
Try to imagine facing the choice as someone else other than yourself. You can do this by asking yourself, “What would X do?” Then, you can try to step outside of yourself to see the situation at hand and evaluate your next step.
5. Empower Yourself:
After asking yourself the best- and worst-case outcomes, consider that the worst-case outcome may happen. But then remind yourself that you can and you will overcome it. In fact, the possibility of a negative outcome can also offer an opportunity for growth. By shifting your mindset towards positivity, you can train yourself to manage any challenge.
6. Know Your Why:
By setting your three main goals, or priorities, you can always start with the decisions that help to achieve these. As such, you will be able to attack the decisions that are more important first. If you ask yourself, “Will this help me achieve that?” and the answer is “no” or “not at this time,” let that decision wait and address a priority instead.
7. See Both Sides of Risk:
In most cases, when a choice seems risky or scary, it’s because the negative consequence is at the forefront of your mind. But be sure to consider the opposite side of the coin, as in what will happen if you don’t take the action? This could be equally or worse than making a choice that seems scary in the first place.
8. Learn from Mistakes:
So, you made a mistake once, twice or multiple times that felt “wrong.” You learned this because you took the action and had to deal with a less-than-optimal outcome. But consider this as a lesson because now you are more informed for the next time you make a similar decision. This will only happen with practice, mistakes, and learning from it all.
9. Breathe and Breathing Therapy:
When you have panic attacks or anxiety, the number one antidote is to be able to regain control of your breathing. You should practice coming back to your breath by focusing on the way your chest and abdomen rise and fall with your inhale and exhale. You can count your breaths and match your inhales to your exhales to regain control.
10. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:
For some people, seeking professional help is a good way to overcome decidophobia. A therapist may work through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with you to uncover the underlying reasons why you suffer from decidophobia. Then they will offer methods to overcome these feelings.
11. Ask for Help:
You should always remember that you have support when you make decisions. Whether you opt to ask a friend, a family member, an academic advisor, a mentor, a boss or someone else in your circle, there are people who want to see you succeed. As such, they will offer support in your time of need.
12. Listen to Your Gut:
In many instances, your gut has the right answer before you even have had the time to think about choices. You should listen to your gut and trust it because these gut feelings stem from instinct.
13. Worry Less About Failing:
Try to remind yourself that the outcome isn’t the only thing that matters. If you fail, you can try again. Most choices aren’t permanent anyways and there are ways to correct for mistakes.
14. Practice Yoga and Mindfulness:
Another way to overcome general anxiety and relieve stress is to exercise, or practice yoga and mindfulness. Yoga is both a mental and physical exercise that can help you focus on being present, like mindfulness. When you are present, you are more able to see clearly and focus on what’s in front of you in the here and now. This can help you lessen your anxiety and fear of the future or failure.
It’s useful to remember that fear is an emotion. It’s an emotion that stems from a perceived threat. If you are able to train your mind to accept how you feel, accept that there’s generally not a clear “wrong” or “right” way to go, and that your intuition may even rely on fear for growth, then you can become more at peace with the decision-making process.
Another technique is to aim for mediocre when you can, rather than shooting for the optimal outcome. Employing a technique of “satisficing,” or aiming for satisfactory results, can allow you to choose solutions and avoid overthinking or experiencing regret.
The Different Levels of Decision-Makers
In the face of decisions, your body naturally enters a state of fight, flight or freeze.
Here are the different levels of decision-making you may experience as you work your way towards becoming a Level 5 decision-maker!
Level 1 – Freeze
In some cases, the fear of decision-making is so overwhelming that it actually causes paralysis. This level is when someone feels so scared and numb that they will avoid the decision in its entirety.
Level 2 – Passive Pleasing
The person who chooses instead to please others rather than themselves internalizes their feelings. This may be okay on the outside, but ultimately, they are building feelings of anger and resentment inside. As such, it’s only a matter of time before they will explode.
Level 3 – Sitting in the Middle
Some people may resort to staying in the middle of choices. For example, if someone is asking them to choose to vote liberal or conservative, they may just wade in the middle. For the short-term, this could work. But, when it comes to office politics or life decisions, a more assertive person will take over and force their course in one way or the other unless the person in the middle decides to speak up.
Level 4 – Assertive Action
When you know your beliefs and where you stand, you can speak your mind. Although speaking up may affect others at times, it generally leads in the right direction because good choices breed good outcomes. These are the people who take the lead and make decisions on behalf of those who prefer to sit back.
Level 5 – Energetic and Enthusiastic
When someone reaches this level, they are sure of what they want and who they are. They feel empowered, make decisions that align with their purpose, and can even be motivational to those around them to take part in active and enthusiastic decision-making.
Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash
A Strategy and Process for Decision-Making
Considering your next small or big choice, but not sure where to begin?
Try following these steps to figure it out:
1. Define the problem or choice clearly
2. List your potential options
3. Write down the possible outcomes of each choice and the likelihood it will occur (be sure to consider both the short- and long-term impact)
4. List the benefits and downsides of each outcome
5. Ask yourself which choice is most closely aligned with achieving your goals
6. Determine if you can actually achieve or follow through with the choice — this defines your level of commitment
7. Test your ideas — ask someone you trust if they believe you can do what you are setting out to accomplish. They may also offer advice that will help you follow through.
Pulling It All Together
First things first, you should know that fear is a natural response to one’s environment and at times, useful for protection. However, fear should not dictate your life or cause you to take a passive role in decisions that matter.
When suffering from decidophobia, or the fear of making a decision (or the wrong decision), it can feel crippling. The negative effects on your life can range from affecting your personal relationships to your financial wellbeing. That’s why it’s so important to practice the tips above to cope with decidophobia. When you realize that doing nothing can be worse than doing something, you are on your way to making a choice.
Remember to trust your gut, ask for help, and rest assured in knowing that mistakes are bound to occur. More important than making a mistake is how you bounce back and what you learn from an outcome. These small steps will help you move towards functioning in a world filled with both small and large decisions — you can do it!