It doesn’t matter what your lifestyle is, or what job you do, you’re certain to make countless decisions every day.  Without a doubt most of them will be fairly minor and insignificant.  It’s fair to say that the majority of our daily decisions are simple in nature.  Where will I go for lunch?   Will it be fast food or dine in?  What will I do with the family tonight?

However, some decisions are considerably more complicated and challenging to make.  The choices we make in these situations have a major impact on our lives.  Questions such as: “Should I take that job?”, “Should I move 100 miles away?”, “Should I have a baby?” or, “Should I buy a house?”  All of these are major life decisions.  It’s no wonder that it’s so difficult to come down on one side or the other with complex choices like these.

But there’s good news.   Even if you feel awkward when making decisions, it’s a common problem. Most people struggle with decision making.  This is because the human brain is designed to see decision making as difficult.  There are numerous psychological factors controlling the way we act and think.  However, the better you understand those factors, the more effective you’ll become at controlling them.


Emotional Bias

A large number of the decision-making mistakes we make can be attributed to cognitive bias.  This is our tendency to think in a particular way without realizing it.  All too often status quo bias is to blame.  That is, we naturally have a preference for the current state of affairs.  The current baseline is taken as a reference point, and any change from that baseline is perceived as a loss.

We’re all more likely to stick with something we know rather than choosing something that’s different and new.  Alternatives are viewed as a risk since they’re unknown and they take effort.  Will they really be worth the effort?  Even if the possible outcome is a positive one, will it really be worth the trouble the change will cause?

With this in mind, it’s easy to see why, even without realizing it, we often become extremely resistant to the idea of change.


Choice Overload

Emotional bias isn’t the only thing that affects our ability to make decisions.  More studies have shown that stress has an impact.  It not only affects the quality of the decisions we make but also our ability to make them.

Choice overload is a cognitive impairment in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options.  One study proved this very clearly.   In an upmarket food store, two displays were set up offering free jam samples.  While one stand gave customers 6 flavors to pick from, the other offered 24.  While the bigger display was able to attract more attention, customers were six times less likely to make a purchase. This clearly demonstrates the choice overload phenomenon.

When we experience choice overload, we’re overwhelmed by the number of different options we face.   It becomes extremely difficult to compare them and weigh them up.   As a result, we’re less likely to make a decision at all.   Most of us would prefer to walk away than to cope with the stress of making a choice.


Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making.   This is a common occurrence that happens to all of us.

As the formal name implies, decision fatigue means that making many decisions during an extended period drains our willpower significantly.  As a result, we struggle to say no, and we find ourselves agreeing to any and every decision placed in front of us. This phenomena leaves us more likely to make poor choices.  Impulse buying, always snacking on junk food and making easy and unwise relationship choices are all inevitable.

On the other hand, decision fatigue may also make it more difficult to say yes.  This is especially likely to be the case if the decision would change the status quo.  With decision fatigue, we struggle to even think about coming to a decision.   So, trying to decide what is wrong or right, incorrect or correct becomes extremely difficult. We, therefore, usually take the road of least resistance simply because it’s easy.


Fear of the Unknown

Whenever we make decisions based on an unknown outcome, we have no idea what the resulting outcome may be.  This gives rise to feelings of trepidation and fear.  Your mind races. You struggle to work out the possible scenarios and outcomes.  You try to identify which steps will make your life easier.

As humans, our thought process is designed to make our lives easier, not more difficult.  Unknown thoughts or actions make life difficult.  You can’t practice for the unknown because, by definition, you don’t know what it is.  It’s like climbing a mountain you’ve never seen, with no idea of the terrain or scale.

We all have moments in life when we’re presented with information that commands us to make a decision.  Those decisions expose the unknown, and fear often disables us. However, change is inevitable.  We all need to make decisions.  Some may be small, some may be big, but all create unknowns.

On a positive note, we can view unknowns as an adventure that provides us with a chance to change and grow.  They help you develop a way of viewing life differently.  While it’s frightening to have to face challenging choices, you can embrace them as a self-challenge. When you overcome intimidating obstacles like this, you’ll feel more successful and empowered.

On the downside, though, this can be crippling fear.  This amount of fear can rob you of your ability to take on change and growth.  It can prevent you from moving forward or backward.  It essentially eliminates your chance to experience something new that will undoubtedly lead to growth.

Fear of the unknown is a fear of adaptation and failure.  It’s the fear of having your comfort zone stripped away.  It negatively affects your ability to make wise judgments, and as a result, you avoid being accountable for the decisions you make.

Yet, although fear of the unknown can be a frightening experience, it’s important to be aware that change isn’t always bad. The unknown can be positive and exciting. Life is an ongoing cycle of choice, and we need to find ways to prevent the unknown from crippling us.

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