Obsessive Thinking and the Problem of Indecision
Decision Making, Who Is In Control?
Did you ever have difficulty deciding? Every day we are forced to make choices whether we think about it. Some of us have little difficulty with this. In contrast, others of us suffer and obsess over deciding on everything from which color shirt to buy to the house we want to purchase or the career path we want to follow. Why is it that decision-making can be so challenging? Let’s look at the dynamics behind this process.
We face many alternatives. By choosing one, we are relinquishing others. For example,
if I’m purchasing a new car, there are many decisions to make. Like most Americans, I want a small and energy-efficient vehicle. I could select a hybrid car like the Prius. However, that is so expensive that it would take years before I realize any actual economic savings. However, there are many other alternatives. Today, many small cars are energy efficient and relatively inexpensive. Which one to choose? I’ve read Consumer Reports, spoken to many friends and relatives, and done additional research. The net result of my efforts? I am still deciding because I will drive this next vehicle for many years. Once I make my choice, it is for a long time.
When faced with decisions, we are reminded that life brings limited possibilities. That reminder can be harrowing. Once I buy the car of my choice, I must take responsibility for my decision, even if I dislike the automobile. In other words, in this process, not only do we have to face limitations, but we also take personal responsibility for the decision, be it a good or bad choice.
Many people like to decide. That is why some become lawyers, judges, surgeons, emergency room doctors, football quarterbacks, etc. Not only do they like deciding, but they enjoy the pressure that comes with decisions that can have dire consequences. For these people and all of us, making choices can be empowering. It means taking control of one’s life, which is a beautiful feeling.
Authoritarian parents select everything for their children, from the color of their slacks to the haircuts they may have. However, making choices does not feel excellent for individuals who could never decide during childhood. If a child grows into an adult who can never make their selections, how can they do so once they are adults? The answer is that they cannot. In these circumstances, too much guilt and anxiety are associated with decisions. Examples of this are, “Will they be angry with me if I choose the movie I want to see,” or, “What if I am depriving them of what they want because I’m doing what I want,” or “What right do I have to make my own decisions?”
One way to help ourselves in these situations is to remind ourselves that it feels good to be in control of our lives. By taking control and making choices, we are not hurting anyone else. Openness and honesty are the best routes to follow, understanding that others can have their opinions and input.
I am reminded of a great play I saw many years ago. It was written by Samuel Beckett and is called “Waiting for Godot.” There are two main characters around whom the story revolves. They are waiting and waiting for the character named Godot. The identity of Godot is open to interpretation. It has been the subject of many articles. While waiting, the two characters think and plan but cannot decide what they will do. They procrastinate and seem to settle on a course of action but cannot decide. The play ends with the two saying, “Let’s go,” but no one moves, and the curtain comes down.
I found the play both fascinating and frustrating. After all, in the end, no one moved. Talk about indecision!
Remember, making choices can be rewarding because it helps us feel in control, and that is rewarding.
If nothing else helps, then entering psychotherapy is a good choice, no pun intended.
Who is in control? You are.
Your comments, experiences, and opinions are encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD