Indecision is the experience of struggling to choose among more than one option. Indecision is a common experience, but when it becomes chronic or extreme, indecision can feel awful – a seemingly insurmountable sense of stuckness that prevents forward motion.
First, the good news: Indecision means you have a choice!
While it may not feel like it, having a choice is a good thing. If you didn’t have any choices at all, you would likely feel very disempowered. Try reframing indecision as an opportunity – you get to have agency in your life.
If you’re struggling with indecision, you might fear the burden of responsibility for the outcome. Maybe you’d rather someone else choose – that way, if things don’t turn out well, it won’t be your fault! But this is ultimately a way to shirk responsibility for our lives, and an avoidance of claiming our own power. If we repeatedly defer to other people in making decisions, it can lead to a sense of victimization, powerlessness, or not fully showing up in our lives.
Remember that not making a choice is also a choice – but a more passive one that may leave you feeling less empowered in the long run. Sometimes we need to take our time to come to a decision, but be honest with yourself about whether you’re taking your time to choose or just avoiding.
If you’re struggling with indecision, you may fear that there’s one right answer and you’ll make the wrong one. But usually, there’s isn’t one “right” answer – there are different choices with difference consequences.
Life is an opportunity to learn. As we go through life, we are presented with opportunities to make choices. And when we step up to the challenge and choose, we learn from our choices. The more we make choices and learn from them, the better we get at making choices. We get clearer on who we are, what we need, what we want. This builds self-trust.
Indecision is related to ambivalence, which is the state of having mixed feelings. With complex decisions, you may both want and not want something. For example, if you’re deciding whether to accept a job offer, you may be weighing a variety of factors including location, salary, benefits, advancement opportunities, and vacation time. Maybe you’re really excited about the mission of the organization, but you’re concerned about the salary. Or perhaps you’re relatively excited about the opportunity, but you’re wondering if a better offer might come your way?
If you're choosing a life partner, deciding whether to have children, or considering a move to another country – the stakes can be higher and the decision can be more complex. Each option may carry with it a downside, as well as a benefit. Especially with more complex decisions, there will often be a tradeoff involved. This can be a real struggle. But making choices is one of the ways we get to show up as adults – by choosing our lives. Even if our options aren’t perfect, we can still take responsibility for how we proceed.
Even if we’re not 100% sure of one course of action, we can still choose to choose – and then learn from it!
If you often struggle with indecision, try this: start by becoming conscious of all the choices you make each day – even small, seemingly inconsequential choices. What will you eat for breakfast? What outfit will you wear? How will you spend the first hour of your day? Notice how it feels to consider these as choices, and to actively choose among various options. As you make choices, affirm your ability to choose. How does it feel to choose? What comes up for you when you do?
Next, consider a bigger decision. Have you considered all your options? Do you feel yourself pulled one way or another? What do you really want? Do you notice fear or doubt? What do you stand to gain from each option? What are the risks? Can you cope with the outcome either way?
Part of mastering indecision is getting better at how you choose.
Do you ask all your friends for advice? Notice to what extent you’re looking for answers outside yourself versus trusting your own sense of knowing. It can be helpful to seek support, but make sure you’re going to people you trust, and not crowding out your own inner voice.
Are you making decisions with your head, your heart, your gut? Ideally, we want to consider guidance from all of these in the process of making a choice. Do you research and educate yourself about various options? Expanding the range of options available to you can be a useful part of the process, but try not to get stuck in over-researching at the expense of making a choice. If you usually do a lot of research and think your way to a solution, try checking in with your emotions and the felt sensations in your body. What does your heart say? What does your gut say?
With major life decisions, it’s a good idea to check in with your heart – how do you feel about the options? Sometimes we can run ourselves in circles making logical pro and con lists, but in the end, the best decision for you may be the one that just feels right.
If you’re struggling with indecision, a good therapist can help you get in touch with your own values, goals, priorities, and preferences – so that you can feel more confident in making decisions in all aspects of your life.
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Dianne Gallo, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice. She loves working with young adults who may struggle to make decisions as they find their path in life. Learn more at her website.