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All You Need to Know in Order to Make a Decision

If you have grown up in a dysfunctional family or background it is likely you are plagued by fear and indecision. This is common and you are not odd, weak or incompetent if this is the case.  If you think about it, the inability to make a decision, or the habit of doubting yourself, falls into the fear category, not how intelligent or competent you are.  You are afraid that you will make the wrong decision or screw up something irreversibly. You may have been told by your parents or others that your thinking is somehow off, so you resist making decisions or you take forever to make them in fear of ridicule or failure.

Not surprisingly, this “fear” affects your day-to-day life, and most likely your career path.  You may just rely on others to make your decisions, thinking they will do a better job. Dependency is one of the undesirable effects of fear.

Anxiety and depression are often present with fear and self doubt.  You may already experience these negative states or they may be brought about as mountains of decisions are piled on. You may feel overwhelmed with the number of decisions you have to make and that it is an impossible task. You may feel paralyzed with the amount of anxiety that you are experiencing regarding these decisions. You may put them off deliberately and then have to deal with the issues that arise from this choice. You may eat, drink or drug yourself into oblivion in order to avoid making important life decisions.

You probably believe that if your thinking abilities are not good then this is a lifetime condition. You may not be able see any way out and this belief only serves to add to the depressive and anxious state. You may fear that someday there won’t be anyone to make decisions for you or that you can’t possibly survive by yourself and this thinking may be keeping you in a bad or unhealthy relationship.

Learning to trust yourself and make your own decisions is doable and it feels good when you get used to it. Being in charge of your own life is empowering. You will make mistakes, that happens, but owning those mistakes and correcting them yourself is better than limiting yourself by letting others make your choices or underachieving your potential out of fear. Everyone struggles to some degree with decisions, those who are good at it understand and trust that they can correct it if need be.

Decision Making 101

There are two kinds of decisions that you are faced with on a regular basis: low level decisions and those considered high level. The low level ones do not matter—what to eat for dinner or movie to see— just pick something and go with it. There is no right or wrong, and in the big picture, it doesn’t matter at all anyway. Next year, you will only remember that you either saw such and such a movie or you did not. The things that matter such as job decisions, partner choice and finances are important and I address how to make those below.

  1. Write down 4 major things or people that will be impacted by your decision. Keeping these in mind as you go through the process helps you to recognize potentially negative consequences.
  2. Look at the decision options in front of you and list their pros and cons.
  3. Make sure you have all the facts and information you need. Make sure to include a quick search of items pertaining to the topic that maybe you haven’t considered yet.
  4. Write down how your decision may affect your future.  This goes a bit beyond just listing the pros and cons.
  5. if you are really struggling, ask two other people for opinions or information. Not friends or a partner but people with knowledge in whatever area you are seeking help with.
  6. Always ask yourself if you are making the decision out of fear or making the best decision based on facts at hand. When you have all the information, give yourself a time limit to make the decision. I like 15 minutes to a half hour.
  7. Determine a time to revisit the decision to see if it is working out. If it is not, examine what happened or what isn’t working and decide a new path based on that information.

The decision may still turn out to be a dud for whatever reason. The job may not be as you had hoped or was not as advertised, and you will wish you had not made that choice. But that is not the end of things. That doesn’t mean you are stuck in that job forever. Just as you changed jobs before you will change again. You will use your knowledge that you obtained from the less than desirable job and use it to get the next job. Decision-making is best seen as a path, not a dead-end street. There is not a person alive who hasn’t made a decision that turned out less than ideal and had to revisit it. Learn from it and go on.

I always try to look at a worst case scenario, along with the information I have gathered, when making an important decision. I go with my decision if I am not bringing harm to anyone and can handle the worst case scenario I create when I look past my fear. If it is a mistake, I then have to make more decisions and the process starts over. Life is a process.

All You Need to Know in Order to Make a Decision

Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

Dr. Audrey Sherman is a licensed psychologist, coach and the author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. Her expertise is in defining, describing and transforming dysfunctional behavior and thought patterns learned in childhood or beyond that keep you anxious, depressed, angry, stuck in unhappy and unproductive relationships, jobs and more. Dr. Sherman developed the Dysfunctional Patterns Quiz and other free resources to help you determine the effects of these on your life. She works with individuals, conducts live and online workshops and trains others in her programs. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, you can visit her website.

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APA Reference
Sherman, A. (2017). All You Need to Know in Order to Make a Decision. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Jun 2017
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