We often think that decision-making comes down to deciding “yes” or deciding “no.” But actually, there’s a third way: indecision. Deciding not to decide is still a decision—and it can be the worst decision of all.
We all have our indecisive moments. There can be good reasons for punting on a decision. We don’t have enough information and we need to wait until we have more. Or we have too much information and we need to reason through it before we can decide the best course of action. Or there are too many voices in our ear and we need a moment for some of those to quiet down.
But that’s not what I’m not talking about here. Today, I’m talking about the habit of indecisiveness, when our default decision is to make no decision. I’m talking about missing out on our dreams because of the decisions we could—and should—be making, but aren’t.
I’m here to tell you that I have a Ph.D. in habitual indecision. If you look up “habitual indecision,” it has my face next to it. But when indecision is habitual, it’s toxic. It paralyzes you. Limits your future. Keeps you from walking in your brilliance.
This topic has been on my mind for awhile. Why do we sabotage ourselves this way? When I looked into the research, what I found were lists of reasons that were all from the head—not from the heart. So here is my list of things that cause habitual indecisiveness:
- Decision fatigue. This is a biggie, especially for those of you who are doers. I get it. I’m a doer, too. I have a strong personality. When it comes to other people’s stuff, I will jump in and take a decision. I decide and do, decide and do. Taking on all the decision-making will wear you down.
Maybe you have a high-profile, high-pressure, high-risk job and there’s a lot at stake, but you still have to make those decisions boom-boom-boom fast. Or maybe you’re the responsible one in the family or you’re the friend everyone else looks to, and you’re expected to step up to the plate over and over. Whether it’s in your personal or your professional life, you are overwhelmed.
- Doing too much. There are periods in our lives when we have a lot on our plates. It’s unavoidable. It’s called life! But if this is your default state and you have a lot of balls in the air that are too disconnected, this is a breeding ground for indecision. You’re trying to make too many decisions on too many things.
- Fear. There are a lot of flavors of fear, and many of them cause habitual indecision. You’re afraid to trust your own gut or your own reasoning. Sometimes we assume that other people’s answers are better than our own. You’re afraid of making the wrong decision. Afraid of success. Afraid of what other people might say. Sometimes we just plain don’t want to own the potential consequences of our decisions. When that happens, we punt.
- Not betting on you. I do this all the time. I bet on other people. Their ideas may be crazy and based on nothing more than a wing and a prayer, and yet I will get behind it. I am there. I bet on other people’s bold, but half-baked, ideas before I bet on my own. By putting everyone else first, we avoid the decisions we need to make.
- Too emotionally invested in the outcome. The more we care about something, the harder it can be to commit to it. What if you fail? What if you’re disappointed? What if you get what you wanted and it’s not as great as you thought it would be? This is why it’s often easier to give advice to someone else than it is to take our own advice. We’re less invested in the outcome.
- You’re out of alignment. What do I mean by that? You’re not operating from your strengths. You’re not operating in your talents. You’re not in an environment that supports who you are.
- Waiting for someone else to make the decision. Show of hands? If we just wait long enough, someone else will eventually step in and make the tough choice. While that may free you from the short-term pain of decision-making, it sets you up for the long-term pain of living with a decision that you didn’t make—and that might not be right for you.
- Getting hung up in the search for a perfect decision. How often do we keep looking and researching and mulling over a decision for months on end (or years!)—putting off action just in case a better option presents itself in the future? Meanwhile, you miss out on the opportunities and progress that are here right now, in the moment.
It’s human nature to be afraid of certain decisions, especially ones we know will be disruptive. Getting what you want might mean more responsibility, more attention, and higher expectations. A decision that’s right for you might upset other people. But indecision can be just as disruptive.
So how do you break the habit of toxic indecision?
Step one is to audit your life.
Where does your time go? Are there relationships in your life that are holding you back instead of lifting you up? What’s happening in your environment? And not just in that is-your-house-messy kind of way—but are you in a space that supports you? Are you connected to your purpose? Are you operating from your strengths, or have those fallen by the wayside? Have other people’s priorities moved to the head of the line?
There are many places where our lives fall out of alignment with our purpose—and when we’re out of step with our purpose and our passion, indecisiveness happens. So pare back your busyness. Let’s be honest: some of us are addicted to being busy all the time. It’s not a badge of honor! Take a good, hard look at your calendar. If you’re spreading yourself too thin—committed your time and energy to too many things—pare back to the commitments that are most important and that support your goals. Practice the subtle art of saying, “no.”
Once you know where your time is going (and have reclaimed some of it), make changes to the way you use it. Change your daily routine. Get up earlier so you have time to exercise, read those books you’ve been meaning to, or meditate. If it’s important to you, make the time for it.
Cut back on decisions that lead to fatigue. If you’re a doer, let someone else “do” for awhile. This is something I’m having to learn, too—how to dial back and let my team members make decisions. Making all the decisions trains other people in your life to be indecisive.
Step two is to tackle the fear.
There’s no way around it. When fear is driving our habitual indecisiveness, we have to approach it head on.
Practice making small decisions. Case in point: my refrigerator is habitually empty! This isn’t even a secret anymore. When my sister-in-law visits, she jumps on InstaCart before she even steps on the plane and then tells me when the groceries will be delivered. I tell myself that I’m too busy to order groceries, but then I jump on the scale every day and wonder why the numbers are going up and not down.
Small successes breed bigger successes, so practice on the small stuff. Get accustomed to success and you’ll be ready when that higher level of success arrives.
Break down scary decisions into smaller steps and then identify the step that matches the courage you have at the moment. What are you comfortable doing today? Going online and gathering information? Making a phone call? It can be something as simple as communicating your intention to someone outside yourself. Creating a level of accountability with someone you trust can get you out of the starting block. Get in motion and you’re more likely to stay in motion.
Get clear on your goals and objectives. Articulate your criteria for a good decision so you recognize it when you see it. Write them down. Make a list. Journal. Add a note on your phone. Put them somewhere you’ll see them. And then act when the decision matches your goal.
Ask yourself the “miracle question.” Suppose tonight while you sleep, a miracle occurs and you get to fast-forward to a time when the decision has been made. When you wake tomorrow, how will you know that the miracle happened? What are the things that will tell you life has gotten better?
If you’ve been punting on the need to clean up your diet and eat better, what does a kitchen filled with healthy food look like? What does your life after a career pivot look like? Are you hitting the gym after work because your hours are more manageable? Is your heart at peace because you ended a toxic relationship? When you envision the future, you can step into the future.
Trust your ability to make good decisions. Think about it. You probably make terrific decisions for other people all the time. Yes, decision-making is usually less painful when we’re not the ones emotionally invested in the outcome. But if your gut is good enough to make decisions for everyone else, it’s surely good enough for you.
Give yourself grace. You won’t be an overnight success at this. I’m not one yet! In a study released by the European Journal of Social Psychology, a team of researchers investigated how long it takes to create a new habit. The answer they found? On average, it takes 66 days for a new habit to take hold. Exercise that decision-making muscle every day and it will get stronger.
Humanitarian Robin Sharma says, “Potential unexpressed turns to pain.” Habitual, toxic indecisiveness leaves your potential unexpressed. It keeps you from the future you want. Indecision steals your life and kills your dreams. None of us wake up in the morning, planning to sabotage ourselves. But that’s exactly what indecisiveness does. It sabotages our potential in big and small ways.
Too often, we wait for life to blow up in our face before we give ourselves permission to finally make a decision. That leaves us digging our way out of a hole we didn’t need to be in.
Consider this to be your permission slip to go be great. Download my from-the-heart list of 8 things that trigger toxic indecisiveness and 6 ways to conquer it.
Let’s all break the patterns of indecisiveness that are holding us back.
If you’re ready to take charge of your career, there’s no better time than right now. Join my g2Coach community today and gain clarity, confidence, and a game plan to transform your growth with coaches, resources, empowering content, and an amazing tribe of ambitious women eager to support one another. Get your first month’s membership for just $1!