Making decisions can be tricky at the best of times, but it seems many of us are suffering from a case of pandemic paralysis, feeling overwhelmed by decision-making post-lockdown.
Turns out the spread of coronavirus and the resultant lockdowns has taken a toll not just on our mental health, but also on our decisiveness.
New research from credit marketplace ClearScore found that nearly a quarter of us will now delay decisions about our health, while over a fifth (21%) will do so about our social lives and 18% will do so about money.
The pandemic has also had an impact on how long we think about things for too, with a third of us now mulling over choices for longer than we did in pre-COVID times.
Less than a quarter of adults now consider themselves decisive, and more than half say indecision causes them to delay necessary action – or put it off completely.
Over a third of us are losing sleep over making the "wrong" decision and 40% would doubt themselves on a decision they were initially confident about if someone else questioned them.
Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, says the pandemic has sent many of us spiralling into something of an indecision limbo.
"For a substantial period of time, our daily freedoms were taken away from us," she says.
"Not only did we face many restrictions around what we could or couldn’t do but we also couldn’t really make plans for the longer term either. These factors may have contributed to difficulties around making decisions."
The result, says Dr Touroni, is that "ordinary" life decisions can now feel quite anxiety-provoking.
"Following a period of time where we had virtually no autonomy or capability to make decisions, we may find ourselves having to make a lot of decisions all at once," she continues.
"We’ve gone from a constrained way of life to freedom – and with freedom, we have to take responsibility for our own decisions.
"In a sense, we may have become a bit dependent on being told what to do and it can feel like that safety has been taken away."
Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist, mental health and wellness expert and author of The Leader's Guide To Mindfulness, agrees that 18 months of uncertainty has contributed to a change in our ability to make decisions.
"We don’t know if plans will remain, we are unsure if our friends’ commitments will change; we cannot even be certain that another curveball may derail us…or have us locked into hour long queues for petrol!" she says.
"It is no wonder we struggle with making decisions – we really don’t know what to commit to!"
Watch: The scientific reason you don't like the sound of your own voice.
Thankfully, this battle with indecisiveness doesn't have to be long-term and there are some ways to rediscover your decision-making mojo.
"When it comes to decision making the first thing to do is recognise what a decision is," suggests Dr Tang. "I say this because people sometimes confuse it with problem solving, but they are actually very different."
Dr Tang says decision making is making a choice between two or more possible paths when we do not know what the outcome will be.
Problem solving, on the other hand, is knowing what we want as the outcome, but we are not always sure how to get there.
"The reason why decision making can sometimes confuse us, is because we judge our decision making success on the outcome and this may not be fair. It’s known in psychology as the 'outcome bias'," she adds.
"Try this: think of a good decision, then think of a bad one. Chances are you judged what was 'good' and 'bad' on how it turned out…that’s the outcome bias," Dr Tang continues.
"The reality of decisions is, all we can do is choose a pathway and accept that any number of outcomes could happen – for example, perhaps your wedding fell on the day before lockdown – was that a 'good decision' or 'just lucky'?"
How to be more decisive
Focus on the process
Dr Tang suggests framing the decision or choices we have in the context in which we are making it. "For example are we picking a dress for a special occasion, or just going shopping? Is there a lot at stake, or are we deciding what to have for lunch later?
"Remember, you cannot predict the final outcome, all you can do is make the best choice in the circumstances," she adds.
Weigh up the impact of the decision
When it comes to little decisions, Dr Tang suggests not wasting unnecessary energy agonising over something relatively inconsequential in the larger picture. "There are more important things to take up your time!" she adds.
Consider a plan B
"This is not because you expect things to fail," explains Dr Tang. "But knowing that you’ll be able to make it work creates a sense of ease over the decision, and if it goes well, great, if not, it’s a story to tell!"
Think about the worst case scenario
If you are procrastinating, Dr Tang suggests writing down all the 'worst things that could happen' so you can see it won’t be all that bad if it goes wrong.
"I would also suggest you consider writing down all the worst things that could happen if you DON’T make the decision because I find that sometimes motivates me to take action," Dr Tang adds.
Make sure it's an actual decision to make
Some things seem like decisions but aren't really. "For example I know many people who worry about leaving their current job for a new one, who haven’t even yet applied for the job in the first place," Dr Tang says.
"Once you have a decision to make, then begin the process, but whilst it’s not even a decision, don’t agonise over something that isn’t even there to agonise over. Instead, consider, if appropriate, taking the action to bring it on!"
Trust your gut
"Ultimately, it’s important to follow your gut feeling and what feels right for you," says Dr Touroni.