Randy W. Green, Ph.D.

“Why can’t I decide?”

Sound familiar?  Is this you?

We make hundreds of decisions each day—big ones, small ones—and many occur outside of our awareness. How many of you actually plan to blink your eyes or smile at someone you recognize? Or scratch your head? Or even place one foot in front of the other as you navigate
your way to where you are going? Yet, too often we learn to become choice-phobic.  We just can’t seem to decide!  And the only thing we know for certain is that we are not sure.  This is true whether it’s about something as simple as what to order for dinner, or about matters that contain larger contingencies and affect others such as what car to buy, or whether or not to seek new employment, or, having done so, whether or not to accept a job that was offered.

Most people who become stuck when it comes to making decisions have some things in common: (1) They begin by placing their attention on all the aspects of a situation that they do not want to be present—the problems; the negatives, which doesn’t help them discover what they do want. (2) Then they try to coral all the negatives by looking at things like worst-case scenarios as a way of getting off the fence and deciding. (3) If they do arrive at a decision, at best it will be one of managing pain rather than seeking pleasure.

You see, people often make decisions by first considering what is not working in their lives. They are made in service of helping us avoid past problems from repeating themselves.

In effect, they are poor-quality decisions. That is because decisions that merely serve avoidance behaviors do not move us toward a particularly defined goal. They fail to lead to new information or expose us to new situations of which we may become conscious and act upon with intentionality. 

Feeling trapped, confused, and helpless to decide, many people begin by asking, “Why.”  “Why can’t I decide?”  But a “Why” question is highly inefficient since all the “because” responses you come up with rarely lead you to the desired outcome: the ability to make a useful decision.  So how do you become stuck this way?  And how can you become unstuck and learn to make useful decisions?

In truth, becoming stuck and unable to decide effectively is a result of assimilating a variety of experiences from childhood to adulthood; occasions in which decisions you made were not in your best interests. And you have expressed that indecisiveness or poor choice selection first and foremost within the neuro-musculature of your body, also known as the “somatic form.”  This embodiment of experience manifests as tiny muscle flexions, breathing changes, postural shifts and eye accessing cues (where your eyes move to access information—up, down or side to side). 

So what type of somatic form does someone who is stuck access when needing to decide?

Focusing on what is not working in our lives, or the “half-empty glass” leads to poor quality decisions.  Making a decision presupposes we first notice information.  We are constantly bombarded with information from the environment, and where we customarily place our attention directly affects the quality—and the outcome—of decisions that are made.  Attending to what you identify as “issues” or “problems,” leads to responses associated with feelings of stress, uncertainty, depression, and confusion, among other negative choices.  These responses are actually choices—decisions! And they are held in the body as an inhibitory position, one that constantly “reminds” a person of the negative thoughts and feelings running through his or her brain.

We are motivated either toward pleasure or away from pain.  When a student procrastinates putting off homework or studying until the last minute, he is moving “away from pain.”  When we choose to perform a task with the desired outcome in mind we are moving “toward pleasure.”  So if you are like many people, when having to decide something, your primary concern has been the avoidance of problems, an “away from” strategy. 

The secret to effective decision making lies in understanding that its foundation is the somatic form or position you literally hold within you regarding the decision you are about to make.  Good decision-making is much more a function of attending to, then acting upon sensory data—visions, sounds, feelings—than it is a function of elaborate mental analyses.  By the time you have weighed information presented in terms of the risks and rewards, the benefits and costs, the “worst case” scenarios and other mental considerations, your body has already shifted in subtle ways that will affect how you decide.  These are signals and learning to pay attention to them can lead you to rewarding and lasting choices.