A reader asks:
I struggle with a lot of self-doubt, which (among other things ;/) leads to being really indecisive and putting off or avoiding even minor decisions. I don’t like this about myself. I don’t need to be the most confident person in the world, but it’s exhausting and frustrating going over and over and over even very small decisions in my head only to end up leaving it up to other people to decide because I’m too afraid to actually make a decision. Ugh…
Let’s start with the good news…
Indecisiveness is a habit. And like any habit, it can be broken.
Of course, the slightly less good news is that it won’t be easy. It will take a healthy dose of commitment and patience. There are no quick fixes.
But with the right approach, it is very doable and not that difficult to learn to become more decisive (and feel confident doing it).
Here are the three most important things you need to know to get started:
1. Being decisive doesn’t require the absence of self-doubt
It’s a mistake to assume that being more decisive means getting rid of fear and self-doubt.
Far from it: People who are decisive don’t lack self-doubt or fear, they just respond to it differently. They don’t get sucked into it and let it dominate their mind space.
Being decisive is about making decisions despite your fear and self-doubt.
Easier said than done, of course. But here’s a simple trick to get better at this: Validate the self-doubt and fear instead of fighting with it or running away.
Most people who struggle with indecision tend to be highly critical of themselves for their indecisiveness and the fear and self-doubt that come with it. Ironically, this only puts more pressure on themselves and makes it harder to make decisions.
On the other hand, if you can get in the habit of acknowledging your fear and self-doubt—reminding yourself that it’s okay to feel those things despite them feeling unpleasant—you can take the edge off of them, which makes it that much easier to make a decision despite them.
2. Confidence comes from experience, not insights
One way to sum up what I just said is that to be more decisive you need to build confidence rather than trying to eliminate self-doubt.
That is, being decisive means making decisions confidently in the face of fear and self-doubt rather than thinking you need to eliminate the self-doubt before you make a decision.
But how exactly do you build confidence making decisions?
Well, I’ll tell you how you don’t build confidence: Thinking more about it and trying to understand it better.
Like all beliefs, confidence comes from experience, not insight.
You can tell yourself it’s silly to be afraid and that you should feel more confident making decisions until you’re blue in the face. But you won’t actually feel more confident until you get experience that shows your brain it’s okay to make decisions despite feeling afraid or doubting yourself.
Confidence is a behavioral project, not a mental one.
And just like any other area of life—from learning a new language to running your first 5K—the only way to feel more confident is to put in the practice. Which is what my final point is about…
3. Create a decisiveness training program
If you want to be more decisive, you need to treat it like a serious undertaking and actually train for it.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Spend a week not even trying to be more decisive. And instead, just observe and catalog all the situations where you find yourself being indecisive. And for each one, rate how hard it felt to be decisive.
- Now, organize your list by difficulty, looking especially for a collection of situations where it’s scary but not overwhelmingly scary to be decisive despite your self-doubt. In other words, you’re looking for mild instances of indecisiveness.
- For the next month, practice being decisive in the face of self-doubt only in the very easiest or smallest moments of indecision. Ideally, try to practice being decisive at least once a day. Which means you’re going to have to proactively seek them out!
- As you practice and gain experience being decisive in the face of fear and self-doubt, your skill and confidence will go up. So that by the end of the month, the next difficulty group will feel much more doable.
- So, then you practice those for a month and continue to build up your skill and confidence.
You could spend years of your life thinking about, talking about, or contemplating your indecisiveness and self-doubt without much progress. I was a therapist, I’ve seen this first-hand!
Alternatively, if you treat becoming more decisive like you would any other skill in life and make a plan to slowly and deliberately practice, you will get better. And probably faster than you imagine.