7 Steps to Stop Anxiety Around Decision Making

Are you comfortable with making decisions? Do you often feel confused or stuck? Does your mind spin with anxiety as you wish that someone could help you make a decision, be that about choosing the best outfit for the presentation at work or the next step in your career?

Let’s face it –effective decision-making is a vital life skill and a foundation for success in the professional world.

I first began struggling with anxiety around making decisions at 22. A recent college graduate, enthusiastic and overwhelmed, I landed a spot as a financial analyst at a top investment bank. My new work environment was exciting, prestigious, and very fast-paced. There was no room for confusion because decisions needed to be made quickly. I was determined to not only keep up but to get ahead. The problem was that decision-making was excruciatingly difficult for me and I would often freeze with the simplest choices, like what to order for dinner, forget about making choices around company valuation metrics or picking the best strategy for my new career!

My anxiety was sinking in fast. I knew that something needed to change. Fortunately, one day the Vice Chair of Investment Banking took two other young women and me for lunch as she shared her keys to success:

“In the ideal world, we would have all the information prior to making a decision; however, in the real world that is never the case. The key then becomes learning how to balance acquiring enough information with being willing to make a choice. It is key to learn how to trust your instincts and move forward promptly. If we wait too long, it would be too late. “

The instructions sounded simple enough and I sincerely tried to apply them. Sometimes they worked great and at other times I still felt stuck.  Later, I observed the same indecision challenges among many of my coaching clients. It took over a decade of working with MBA students, professionals at various stages in their careers and diving deeper into the psychology behind decision-making for me to uncover the secrets that the Vice Chair was using naturally.

To help my clients and myself I have put together a 7-steps cheat sheet to follow. If you find yourself anxious when making decisions, here are additional steps on how to move forward by doing a quick “self-inquiry exercise”.

A 10-minutes exercise that will get you unstuck and help you make decisions:

1. Visualize the Goal Behind the Goal

What would you experience once the decision is made and you move forward successfully? Why do you want to make this decision? What would that bring you?

It can help you get excited about making the decision and provide the motivation to complete the process.

2. Identify the Hidden Benefits of Staying Confused

What do you get from staying confused? What problems or other decisions are you hiding from by claiming to be stuck? Are you receiving attention from others because you are confused? Or maybe you get to feel “safe” and keep the status quo as long as you “don’t know what to do”? Anything else? 

Identifying the cause can help you move past it.

3. Be Honest About the Cost of Staying Stuck

What is the price that you are paying for staying confused and delaying making a decision? What is it costing you in terms of your attention, money, time, energy, health, enjoyment of life or quality of relationships? 

Is it worth it?  Be practical!

4. Stop People Pleasing and Let Go of the Baggage

What would you need to let go of in order to move forward with this decision? Would you need to let go of some relationships? Or would you need to let go of people-pleasing? Or, would you have to say “no” to someone? Or maybe you would need to let go of the idea that you are not good enough? 

It is not always easy to tell someone “no”, but indecision can often be more hurtful.

5. Identify the Choices You Are Making that Keep You Stuck

Given what you learned, what are the choices that you now see that you have been making that have kept you confused? Maybe you are choosing to tell yourself that you don’t have enough information, but avoid acquiring it? Or maybe you are choosing to watch Netflix in the evening instead of doing the research or calling someone who can help you make the decision? 

Be honest with yourself.

6. Explore Alternative Choices

What alternative choices could you make that might yield a different result? How could you support yourself with making this decision? Is there anyone else, like a spouse or a friend you could enroll to help you? 

Often, talking it through with a trusted person can help a lot.

7. Ask Yourself the Ultimate Question and Enjoy Feeling Empowered

Are you willing to make some of those alternative choices to move forward?

If you get a NO! – Great! I acknowledge you for CHOOSING to stay stuck. Notice – it is a choice that you have a right to make! (And you can always making a new choice!)  Remember, by not making a decision, you have made a default choice to stay stuck, so you might as well make it count!

And if you get a YES! Fantastic! I appreciate your courage and willingness to test out alternative choices.

See you on the other side of your decision!

If this article was helpful, you may enjoy my complimentary virtual class on How to Handle Fear.

Happy Decision-Making!