Help! I'm in a rut.
April 23, 2017 11:54 PM   Subscribe

Help! I'm in a rut. I've got several big decisions ahead of me, but I'm procrastinating deciding despite time ticking away. If you've learned any coping skills for this, I'd love to hear them.

I've got several big decisions (think: decisions on the scale of where to live, which job) Once I decide, each will require many smaller decisions and actions (think: if I go this route, I'll need to buy X, but which X is best?). But I'm not deciding, which makes no sense because time is ticking away. It's like the lily pad I'm on is sinking but I'm still not jumping to the next, whichever one that is.

Things I am doing:
* I research a lot of the smaller decisions (which thing to buy, reviews, etc.) but I don't take action. It's all scenarios and permutations.
* Taking care of daily stuff (eating, laundry, chores) but none of the big decision stuff.
* Procrastinating on the internet, playing video games, etc.

I know I need to act, but what's stopping me? How do I get out of this? I just can't seem to pull the trigger. And as time continues, the anxiety grows about all the decisions and actions that need to be taken. Why am I broken? Why can't I adult?

Honestly, every day is like that Sunday night before school or work where you're dreading Monday morning so you just want to watch a TV show and push the decision/homework/thinking about work off for an hour, which becomes another hour, which becomes "I'll decide in the morning."

I have a history of depression and anxiety, so I'm sure these things are playing into it, but I can't afford medication or therapy right now for reasons.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Big decisions can feel irrevocable so it's not surprising you'd feel some anxiety about making them, particularly if you're prone to anxiety in the first place. Two things I'd suggest:
- do you have a trusted friend or family member you can talk the decisions through with and who can (gently) push you towards making the decision. You may find that just the act of talking it through is enough to make you realise what the answers are.
- can you find ways to de-escalate the process a bit in your mind - ie if you make the decision and it doesn't work out, what will you do next? If you can convince yourself that you can get out of the thing you get into if needed then it may feel less high-stakes to make the decision.
posted by crocomancer at 1:33 AM on April 24, 2017

Make a mind map? Personally, I find it much easier to cope with situations like this if I have it all methodically mapped out, either physically on paper or using a mind-mapping tool like freemind. This allows me to focus on the low-level individual tasks, rather than being overwhelmed by the high-level view. The act of writing it down also focuses my mind more, making it easier to make decisions.

It also has the side-effect of "purging" the tasks from my mind, which prevents the sessions of waking at 3am with my brain churning over the details.
posted by oclipa at 2:42 AM on April 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

I've heard it said that if you're having real trouble making a big decision, it's usually because the options are about equally good/bad. So you could try the old "flip a coin and if you're unhappy with the way the coin falls, ignore it" technique, or some other arbitrary way to force a decision.

Most of all, though, be kind to yourself. This stuff is hard, and you're probably going to make a good decision, and even if you don't it won't be the end of the world.
posted by mskyle at 3:30 AM on April 24, 2017 [12 favorites]

If anything helps for me, it's knowing I -cannot- make the best decision. It's impossible.

It's either A: I do not have the internal motivation to make the best decision happen, much of the time; or B: I do not know what is the best decision given two reasonable options. One might be much better but I don't have that information.

Given this, I do not try and make a -good- decision. I try and make a decision that is not obviously bad. I trust that I am intelligent enough that a decision I have considered at length is probably good on the face of it, regardless how anxious I am about the change. If it fails, then this is likely more because of information I did not have or could not predict.

Pick something. If it's utterly not working, change quickly. If it works but it hurts sometimes, stick at it.
posted by solarion at 4:08 AM on April 24, 2017 [9 favorites]

Here's something that sometimes works for me when I have a large number of big things I need to work on and am avoiding them all because there are too many of them: Pick just one of the decisions that you need to make, and commit that tomorrow morning you're going to deal with just that one thing, and nothing else that day. Then do it, and take the rest of the day off / do fun stuff / etc. Repeat (another day) when you have recharged your mental energy.
posted by heatherlogan at 4:40 AM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've found the flip-a-coin method the most effective. It's very stark when you're staring down at "heads" when you really actually wanted "tails" and you're just pouting at the coin.

Another method I've used is to "live" as if the decision were made. So, pick a decision, pretend you've made it, and go about your day and see how it makes you feel. Does it make you feel lighter? More free? Or, does it make you feel glum, and give you a sense of foreboding?

Sometimes, the other thing that makes a decision "stuck" is that there's a choice that my friends/family/society/whatever would approve of vs. one that I would be happy with. Is someone else's reaction what's holding you back from making a decision? And, then does that someone else's reaction really matter in how you make a decision (I.e., your spouse in deciding where to move, or is it your friends on deciding what job to take?)?
posted by ellerhodes at 6:12 AM on April 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

It was helpful for me to recognize the non-intuitive fact that the harder a decision is to make, the less it matters what you actually decide. If it's hard it's probably because, as mskyle says, the options may be about equally good/bad or, as solarion says, you may not have enough information to predict which will turn out best down the road. If that's the case, putting a lot of effort into trying to make the right decision isn't necessary, because no amount of effort is going to increase your chances of getting it right.

Maybe realizing that your decision isn't so important will help you just go ahead and make a decision. Or maybe it will help you feel better about continuing to put it off until you can't put it off any longer. Either way, it will be okay.
posted by Redstart at 6:53 AM on April 24, 2017 [11 favorites]

If you can talk to an expert, do it. I went back and forth over whether to buy a house until I talked to a financial advisor. He walked though my finances and told me I should save more and not use my entire next egg for a down payment. I immediately knew he was right. I think I knew this on some level all along and that's why I struggled so much with the decision.
posted by bunderful at 7:32 AM on April 24, 2017

Depending on what you're deciding to buy, I often get whatever The Sweet Home recommends. Usually it's a great recommendation, and if it isn't, I blame the blog and not myself.
posted by Drosera at 7:39 AM on April 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

How to make hard choices has really helped me not only make a decision, but also to be at peace about it.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:36 AM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

The three best things I've been told about big decisions:

- Nothing is irrevocable. It's easier to steer, even to do a U-turn, while you're in motion (shoutout to my people who remember manual steering!).

- You can refine your direction as you get closer. It's not like you have to print out "the map" to "your destination" now because you're about to lose "cell service." It's more like you're trying to find your way to a building on campus, so you walk in the general direction of that quad, and the closer you get, the more there will be people around who can point you toward the building. So, "what will I do with this graduate degree?" isn't something you need to answer; you just need to know if you want to be closer to the sixteen career options that the degree makes possible, and then walk in that general direction. Once you are surrounded by people with that degree, the more people you can ask to refine your specific career choice.

- You have limited information now, so you can't expect yourself to make the perfect decision, and if later you realize you were wrong, it's not that you did a bad job; it's that you did the best you could given the information and inclinations you had at the time. Sometimes it has helped me to go ahead and pre-forgive myself for any mistakes I might be about to make, to even feel sorry for myself trying SO hard to make the perfect decision and grieve the fact that I actually don't know what to do. That sometimes frees me up to just do my best.
posted by salvia at 9:47 AM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I found this interview with Ruth Chang helpful recently. When you have done your basic thinking and research and still find you are stuck between things that can't be easily compared or weighed against one another, when it's just not clear in any way what choice is best, in a sense it doesn't matter what you choose. What's important is that you commit to a choice, and through commitment, make it the right choice. Read the whole thing.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:54 PM on April 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

A related point is made in the very useful book Designing your life, that you probably have several good, acceptable, and quite different alternative futures. That means that there is no best one for you. Yeah, you have to pick one, but you can free yourself from the worry of whether you chose the best one. They were all the best, all good, and you choose one because you only have one life. And that's ok.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:57 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

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