Drifting away from decision-making: ‘I’m just kind of taking whatever life gives me’

‘I am in trouble’. The story screenshot.

Strainy: “Do you think I’m indecisive? Be honest.”

Ally: “Well, what makes you ask?”

Strainy: “I personally think that I have no problems with making tough decisions but I prefer to take time, assess the risks so I can possible decision. What’s the point in being impulsive?”

Ally: “I agree. But even though that sounds perfectly rational, it feels like there is something wrong with your decision-making process?”

Strainy: “The reason why I am asking is because you’re a woman and it’s not easy to understand what drives women’s behaviour…”

Ally: “Ok, wow… that sounds sexist. We’re not that hard to deal with if you know the basic rules. But tell me more.”

Strainy: “I’ve had quite a few complaints recently… or rather, concerns from women that I’ve been in a relationship with.”

Ally: “Blame is probably the word you are looking for. Sounds interesting, can you give me some more details or an example?”

Strainy: “You’re as blunt as always. No need to rub salt in the wound. Ever thought of becoming a diplomat?”

Ally: “Very funny. You know very well that this is how I help people to stop kidding themselves. I assume that’s why you’re telling me all of this. I may lack sentiment but it’s the only way that I know how to heal your mental wounds, let’s call it brain surgery. So, let’s go back to an example, I’m curious.”

Strainy: (after a huge sip of wine) “Well, there was this woman who began to fancy me but at the time I was in a relationship with someone else. This woman was one of our guests in the resort where I worked. As a manager, I had to be polite but it was difficult trying to be nice without leading her on. After she had approached me several times, I gave in. I was having a bad day and my relationship was on its last leg. I accepted a dinner invitation from her and we both had a really nice time. In my eyes, it was nothing more than just friends, she knew that I had a girlfriend. We ended up meeting again several times for dinners and a live music event. Eventually, she became very demanding and wouldn’t leave me alone.”

Ally: “Let me guess… Remembering that you were still in a relationship, one day you got yourself into trouble, right?”

Strainy: “I was unlucky, my girlfriend came to see me and ended up being introduced to my ‘friend’ when I was dealing with a guest. They began to argue and soon both turned on me, blaming me and saying that I was at fault for being dishonest with them. No matter what I said, they wouldn’t listen, I had to raise my voice when asking them to leave because I was at work. The whole situation was very unprofessional.”

Ally: “Sounds like a very adventurous story! But if I remember correctly, you finished your relationship with your girlfriend so why isn’t the situation sorted?”

Strainy: “I did but I don’t understand why both women talking to me and sent me very similar complaints?”

Ally: “Such as? What were their exact words?”

Strainy: “They said that I’m prone to wasting time and being indecisive. But it makes no sense! I didn’t make any promises to my ‘friend’ during my relationship with my ex. I intended to break things off with my ex, our relationship was dysfunctional but I didn’t want to hurt her. We had invested so much in our relationship! I was just waiting for the right moment to do it.”

“Why do we behave this way?” Behavioural Science in Layman terms.

Making decisions can often be challenging and overwhelming, having to make several decisions can be much worse. It can ruin our day and send us into a state of panic. Despite being faced with difficult decisions regularly, decision making somehow doesn’t seem to get any easier. We’re left asking ourselves, why?

We behave this way because of negativity bias. Our negative experiences resonate with us more deeply than our positive ones. One negative interaction can be more significant to us and linger longer in our minds than several positive ones. This bias is a result of evolution; it helped our ancestors avoid making bad decisions when in dangerous situations so they could survive and procreate. Since then, our brains have developed to emphasise the negative information so we too can make good choices. In this instance, Strainy has prolonged making a decision about who he wanted to be with because he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. He and his ex may have shared many happy memories but when remembering their time together, Strainy can only focus on the negative. This is his brain trying to stop him from making any similar mistakes again.

Another reason is sunk cost fallacy. We tend to stick to something if we’ve put in lots of our time, effort or resources even if it no longer benefits us, especially if it’s an ongoing commitment. For example, if we have picked an essay question and have begun writing the essay, the question is difficult and because of this, the essay is not going well. In this scenario, it may be a better option for us to abandon our first attempt and start afresh with a different question. However, if a substantial amount of words has been written for the difficult question, we may decide to keep going even if ultimately that is not what is best. We’re attached to the essay because we have invested time and energy into it despite it no longer working or being in our best interests to continue.

The final reason being decision overload. When faced with too many choices, it can lead to us making bad decisions or avoid making them entirely. This can lead to us feeling overwhelmed and incapable of making good decisions which can really knock our confidence in our own abilities. To get the decision making over and done with, it can seem like the easy thing to choose the default option. Even seemingly simple decisions such as what to wear, when to eat and whether to answer an unknown call can cause us to use too much of our mental capacity. Regardless of the size of the decisions, too many can still leave us feeling stressed and unhappy.

‘Is there a magic pill to help?’ Practical tricks and tips.

  1. Emphasise the good and make it last. Take the time to acknowledge the positive aspects of each everyday scenario rather than solely focusing on the negative. Allow yourself the time to fully enjoy each positive moment as it comes and hold onto it for as long as possible by writing it down or telling a friend. By doing so, we are reinforcing the good experience and bringing it to the forefront of our minds. If done regularly, we can train our brains to seek out good rather than bad automatically. At first, our brains will try to reject this new positive wave of thinking but persistence is key. Reward yourself for remaining positive by doing something you enjoy, creating more positive experiences.
  2. Automate your choices. When possible, limit the number of options in which you have to choose from. Having too many options can overload our brains and cause us to make irrational and unwise choices. By narrowing down the possibilities, it can make the process seem easier and therefore less stressful. Write a list of all of the decisions that must be made and rank them in order of importance. Focus on the top three decisions that must be made and ignore the rest for the time being.
  3. View the situation as a whole. Our judgement can be clouded by sunk cost fallacy.Always keep in mind the big picture and what is best for you and your future prospects. Ask yourself, what do I want to do with my life? How can I achieve my goals? A mind map displaying those goals and the ways in which you can achieve them can help you visualise, making your goals seem more realistic and achievable. With a set goal in mind, it can be easier to make positive decisions that will help you achieve said goal. Another strategy would be to do a cost-benefit analysis (CBA). CBA is when you consider the benefits of making a decision and compare it to the potential ‘costs’ – this is not necessarily money but rather time, effort and resources. By making a list detailing all potential benefits and drawbacks of a decision, it can help you consider whether it is an overall good decision and decide on an appropriate course of action to achieve the best outcome.

 Sketch: Strainy struggles to make decisions. He is at a crossroads in his life, he is unsure which path he should choose to achieve the best overall outcome.


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