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Why is it so hard for us to make some decisions?

Why is it so hard for us to make some decisions?

May 6, 2021

We all feel tormented at some time by some decision to take : continue in a relationship or not, give up work, get married, have a child, etc.

In other occasions, we know what we have to do (stop drinking, go out more often and meet people, eat healthier, establish more intimate relationships) but we do not decide, that is, we do not commit ourselves to do it. Sometimes we realize that our way of being is harming us (we leave things for later or we work too much, we are not very affectionate or too demanding) but we do not know how to make the change .

Related article: "The 8 types of decisions"

The importance of making good decisions

This inner struggle and indecision is painful and strenuous . The worst thing is that it slows down our growth and paralyzes us. The decision we leave for later, always comes back to bite us, in one way or another.


I write this post based on the teachings of the great psychiatrist Dr. Irvin Yalom .

An example to understand how we make decisions

Let's take the example of a fictional case that serves us for the entire post.

Alexandra: "Leave my boyfriend or stay with him? "

Alejandra is a thirtyish girl who works in an advertising company. She has been with her boyfriend for several years, but she has doubts about leaving the relationship. Feel that things are not the same, and that they do not have important values ​​in common , believes that they have become disrespectful to each other, in addition the distrust has risen due to rumors that he has heard and fears that they are true.


She feels that she must take her future seriously and think if he is the man of her life, she fantasizes about meeting another man and has begun to behave cold. Lately they have seen very little and the fights are too frequent. She feels tormented by the decision she must make To continue with your boyfriend or leave? .

Irvin D. Yalom explains the 4 reasons that explain the difficulty of making decisions

Yalom describes that there are 4 main reasons why it is difficult for us to make a decision. While you are reading, reflect on whether any of these reasons apply to you. There can be several!

In our example, Alejandra may find it difficult to decide to terminate her boyfriend because that means that only she can make the decisions in her life, only she can choose and as much as she wants, it is not possible to ask someone else to do it for her .


First reason: we do not decide because we are afraid to be responsible for our decisions.

When we are choosing, we realize that only we can decide and therefore, everything depends on us . Our life is our responsibility. This can serve to live a more authentic and fulfilled life, but it can also give us anxiety and leads us to paralyze ourselves, in this case, avoid making decisions.

When we are faced with a crucial decision it is normal to be afraid, we are directly deciding our destiny and that is why, as I will write in the second part of the post, sometimes we try to coerce other people to make the decision for us .

  • Have you stopped making a decision for fear of making a mistake?

In our example, Alejandra can find it difficult to finish with her boyfriend because she renounces a lifetime of possibilities with him , to all the fantasies that she had and she feels nostalgic before the romantic and intimate memories that would be stained with pain once the door is closed.

Second reason: we do not want to give up other possibilities.

For each yes, there must be a no. Deciding always means leaving something else behind .

Making decisions can be painful because we are giving up everything else, and sometimes this does not come back. Although it seems hasty to say it, the more limited we have the options, the closer we get to the end of our lives. Nobody wants to approach the end of existence, therefore, sometimes unconsciously we avoid deciding. When we are 18 we have a world of possibilities and options, when we reach age 60 we have less crucial decisions to make. There are those who avoid making decisions to cling to the illusion that the possibilities remain unlimited. We do not want to give up that world of options . Making a decision always involves an opportunity cost.

Aristotle gave the example of a hungry dog ​​who was presented with two dishes of equally exquisite food, unable to decide, remains hungry and "dying of hunger."

It is so difficult for us to decide because unconsciously we refuse to accept the implications of giving up . If we see it that way, in our life we ​​go from one renunciation to another, we renounce all other couples, we renounce all other work, we renounce all other places of vacations every time we decide.

  • Have you stopped deciding something for fear of what you give up?

In our example, Alejandra may have an unpleasant sense of guilt, where she can not really understand why she feels this way about leaving her boyfriend, maybe he unconsciously feels he has no right to make those kinds of decisions .

Third reason: we avoid making decisions so as not to feel guilty.

Yes, Many times we feel guilt when making decisions and this can totally paralyze the process of the will besides causing tremendous anxiety. Although we know that we have the right to choose who we are with, even if we know that something or someone does not suit us, sometimes we can not help feeling guilty.

The psychologist Otto Rank gives a fascinating explanation about why some people feel so much guilt when deciding : The will to do things (will and decision go completely hand in hand) is born in the small ones as a counter-will. Adults usually oppose the impulsive acts of children, and children develop the will to oppose the opposition. If children have parents who, unfortunately, crush the will and spontaneous expression of their children, they become guilty and experience the decision as "bad" and forbidden. Therefore they grow up with a feeling that they do not have the right to choose or decide.

  • Have you stopped making a decision, even knowing it is the right one, because of a feeling of guilt?

In our example, Alejandra may find it difficult to decide to terminate her boyfriend because if she does now it means that she could have done it from the beginning, it is more, Maybe he never had to go out with him, his intuition already told him he was not the right person . That realization makes him feel guilt (existential) and therefore delay the decision not to feel it.

Fourth reason: we avoid making decisions so as not to think about everything we could have done.

Existential guilt is different from traditional guilt where one feels bad for having done something wrong against another person.

Existential guilt has to do with a transgression against oneself, it comes from repentance , of realizing that life has not been lived as one has wished, that it has not taken advantage of the potential or all the opportunities it has had. Existential guilt can paralyze us very much, a big decision can make us reflect on everything we have not done before, what we have sacrificed.

If we take responsibility for our lives and make the decision to change, the implication is that only we are responsible for the change and the mistakes made , and that we could have changed a long time ago. A mature 40-year-old who decides to stop smoking after 20 years of having this habit, realizes that he may have quit smoking a long time ago. That is, if he can stop smoking now, he may have quit smoking two decades ago. That takes a lot of existential guilt. She may ask herself: "How could I not have stopped smoking before? Maybe I would have saved myself diseases, criticism, money. "

This phrase from Yalom can help us here: "One of the ways-perhaps the only way-of dealing with guilt (whether it is rape towards other people or towards oneself) is through atonement or reparation. One can not go back to the past. One can only repair the past by altering the future. "

  • Have you avoided making a decision not to look back?

In conclusion: Why is making a decision so difficult? By the renunciation, anxiety and guilt that accompanies decisions .

In the second part of the post we will analyze what are the ways in which we avoid making decisions, some of them are unconscious.

How do we avoid deciding on a day-to-day basis?

Since decisions are difficult to make and painful, it is no surprise that we humans find many methods to avoid making decisions. The most obvious method for not making a decision is procrastination, that is, leaving things for later, but there are other, much more subtle methods that consist in deceiving oneself thinking that others make decisions for us.

The most painful thing to choose is the process, not the decision itself, therefore, if one is blind to the process, it hurts less . Therefore we have several tricks to make the decision process easier. These tricks are not always the best but they save us anxiety.

How do we avoid the painful resignation in deciding?

1. Making an alternative look less attractive.

In our example, Alejandra has to decide between two options: continue in an unsatisfying relationship vs. being single / feeling alone.

Both alternatives are equally painful, so the dilemma is solved if one of the two alternatives is more attractive , that's why he decides to go out with Francisco, a handsome and affectionate guy, in this way the decision is much easier: Continue in an unsatisfying relationship vs be with his new loving and affectionate suitor. This arrangement works because Alejandra is no longer paralyzed and can decide, the negative of this situation is that she does not learn much from experience.It does not help you process the fear of loneliness, nor does it understand why it took so long to leave your boyfriend if you were not happy. This is the classic case of "a nail brings out another nail", it could be said that the nail helps to mobilize but not to learn.

It may be that Alejandra later has problems with this new boyfriend and finds herself again in the dilemma. Therefore, if the decision is difficult because one has two very similar alternatives, one usually uses a trick: fix the situation so that one renounces less .

2. Making the non-chosen alternative look worse than it is.

In our example, Alejandra can begin to magnify the defects of her boyfriend to be able to leave it or to magnify the effects of being alone (she stays "spinster", there are no more worthy children, etc.) to excuse herself and continue in the relationship . Some people, when they hear a "no" usually say "anyway" or "do not want", although it is taken as a joke, this mechanism is very similar, it is a way to feel less pain.

As in the example of the dog that was starving because he did not know how to choose which food to eat because both looked equally attractive, it is difficult for us to make decisions when both seem almost equivalent. From an unconscious level, we magnify the differences between two similar options so that the decision is less painful.

How do we avoid anxiety and guilt?

1. Delegating the decision to someone else.

Alejandra could begin to act cold, indifferent and distant, her boyfriend will notice the change, will try to do something but if it reaches a point of frustration and discouragement where her attitude remains the same, he will most likely be "forced" to leave her, without However, she will affirm "my boyfriend cut me" and she will deceive herself thinking that it was not her decision.

Human beings are ambivalent about freedom, an attractive idea that offers us options but also scares us because it confronts us with the fact that we are the only ones responsible for our happiness. ORYou can not avoid a decision by leaving it to someone else for others to make the decision for us . Other examples of this trick:

  • Do not put an alarm clock to walk, blame your friend who was going to walk with you, who did not wake you up.
  • Shouting at the boss, arriving unpunctually, not finishing projects or having low performance, because unconsciously you want to be kicked out of work.
  • Delegating the decision to something else.

Alejandra could decide to convince herself to continue with her boyfriend and commit herself because she is forced by the rules of society (which say she should be committed to her age) or she could ask for an arbitrary signal to continue or end.

Since ancient times, humanity transfers decisions to external situations. How many times have we left the decision to the destination or to a currency? I remember when I was little, when I could not decide between a packet of cookies or chips in a friend's house, I asked her to take them from behind and exchange them, while I chose the right or left hand. The decision was not mine, I only chose right or left. Therefore, we delegate the decision somewhat more. For example:

  • Wait until the last moment to buy the tickets of a concert that we do not want to go, blame the fact that there are no tickets available.

On the other hand, the rules, although they are convenient for the human being, in some cases indirectly help not to take responsibility for decisions but also to reduce anxiety. For example:

  • A teacher who has left extra work for underperforming children in the past, refuses to give an extra job to a student who dislikes him, because "the rules" do not allow it, so if he loses the class, it was because of that followed the guidelines.

In conclusion, to avoid deciding we leave things for later and avoid the feeling of resignation by distorting the alternatives or pretending that something or someone else is deciding for us .

Important reflections

  • To avoid falling into these traps we must remember that we can not decide . This is impossible. Avoiding deciding is also a decision.
  • We can make decisions actively or passively . If we make decisions actively, it means that we are realizing that it is our decision and responsibility, and even facing fear, we take the step and choose. Making decisions actively increases our resources and personal power. If we make decisions passively we may be delegating them to someone, something else, or lowering the alternative. When making decisions passively, we run the risk of suffering from low self-esteem, self-criticism or self-contempt. The important thing is not the decision we make, but that we take it actively.
  • When we are facing a stormy decision process, it is useful to ask ourselves what is the meaning of this decision? If we make a decision but we can not stick to it, for example, if Alejandra decides to leave her relationship but still has contact with her ex-boyfriend, calling him or answering his calls, etc.he has to face the fact that he has made another decision, which has its own meaning and benefit. Then we focus not on the refusal to decide, but on the decision that was made, the decision to keep in touch with him. All decisions have their benefit. What is the meaning that Alejandra gives him when he keeps in touch with him? Do not suffer loneliness, avoid anxiety, do not hurt your ego, save your ex boyfriend from your loneliness, etc. Then Alejandra can make an active decision and work on her life, her dependence, insecurity, her anxiety or fear of abandonment.

It is difficult to make decisions, it is scary, it is human to try to avoid taking them . When we are tormented by a decision, let's face the situation and be responsible for our decision to increase our personal power, coherence and maintain our self-esteem and self-worth.

Let's make decisions actively . It helps a lot if we can understand why the decision is so difficult, what is the hidden meaning or fear and decide to work on that. Almost everyone has an idea of ​​what we are afraid of, there are many resources to deal with this: to be more aware of ourselves, to look for those dear ones who listen to us and support us, to follow a philosophy that for us is coherent and real, to attend courses, read books and / or begin a process of personal change (individual, group or coaching).


How to make hard choices | Ruth Chang (May 2021).


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