I don’t know what happens in therapy but I think I need to go

Tell Me About It: ‘I am worried that my lack of commitment will cause me to miss out’

PROBLEM: You may think I am being ridiculous, and you may very well tell me that therapy should be reserved for people with real problems. You see I don’t really have any problems as such, but I would like to go to therapy to see if I can improve my ability to make decisions.

As a young woman in my late 20s I have a lot going for me, a good job, lots of savings, a great social life and fantastic family. I have no real issues from my childhood to speak of and yes I am happy – except that every decision I ever make takes forever. If I choose to enter a relationship it takes me months to make that decision by which time the poor fellow will usually have lost interest. Recently, I ended up sleeping on a friend’s sofa for a few months as I couldn’t make my mind up where I wanted to live when my lease ended and I was unable to find a new apartment, even though I know how hard it is to find one.

This may seem like a silly problem, but I am worried that my lack of commitment and indecision will cause me to miss out on great opportunities that I may later regret. I am hoping that a therapist may help me to develop decision-making skills, but I don’t know where to start. I don’t even know if it is an appropriate avenue to go down. Except for a few TV shows which I am sure are exaggerated for dramatic purposes I don’t even know what happens in therapy.

Is this the right route or do you think a self-help book would be just as good? I really don’t want to waste anyone’s time.

ADVICE: Contrary to wasting anyone’s time, developing good decision-making skills will not only enhance your life but also those whose lives you are in connection with. Therapy is an appropriate option as it allows you to understand why you struggle with decision-making – whether it comes from a family pattern, fear of future regret or lack of confidence in your ability to make good choices. Whatever we practice, we get better at, so it is likely that you will have to tackle your habit of procrastinating and this is no easy task. Getting help and support offers a far greater chance of success and do not let embarrassment or fear of awkwardness get in your way. In your case relationships suffer from your problematic decision-making process.

Indecision can be chronic and full of fear of regret, or fear of being trapped, or missing out

If you cannot make a decision, then a relationship might not start at all (as in your situation) or become stalled at some point and so suffer from inertia or lack of momentum. Can you imagine making a decision every day as to whether to go to work or not? This would lead to exhaustion and your workplace would probably get rid of you pretty quickly. The reason that we do well at work is that we make a decision, say yes to the job offer and then commit to the job until it becomes clear to us that we need a change. Relationships need the same trajectory if they are to develop and thrive.

Indecision can be chronic and full of fear of regret, or fear of being trapped, or missing out, or all the other possibilities. This means that no relationship can develop and that the outcome is always the same: indecision causes monitoring, evaluation and ultimately endings as the partner eventually cannot put up with the uncertainty.

Sometimes we try to make a decision before we have sufficient knowledge, for example, we start thinking about living together before we know each other well enough to say we are a couple. This is also insulting to our intelligence as we do not have enough information and knowledge to make a proper decision for ourselves. The opposite is also true: we go past the decision point in the agony of “what ifs” and so miss the opportunity to grow something worthwhile and valuable.

If you make good decisions for yourself today, the chances of making good decisions for yourself in five years’ time are assured

We need to practise good decision-making at the right moment. We can do this in all kinds of ways and can start by making a decision to change something small and follow through on it completely, for example, resolve to always leave on time to meet someone, not 10 minutes later. A small change will give you confidence and faith in yourself and you will feel lighter and more successful. We would never be late for a job interview because we know how important it is and we should give meeting our friends and families the same amount of importance and then we will be on time. Simply remembering how significant that friend is will stop you checking your email before you leave.

So how can you get better at decision-making: Try to not say one thing and mean another, eg, if you say “I love being with you”, do not then spend the night thinking “what if this is not the right person”. If you make good decisions for yourself today, the chances of making good decisions for yourself in five years’ time are assured. Trust that you have the resources and capacities to tackle whatever you need to face in the future and do not let fear be your major deciding factor. While we need some fear to help us with decisions, for example, in when to cross the road, having faith in yourself and in your capacity offers you far better options than using fear alone as the deciding tool.

Follow-through is an important part of gaining confidence in your decision-making. If you tell someone that you will do something for them and you follow through on it, ie, suggesting to a friend that you should meet next week and then following through by actually calling them to arrange it. By practising follow-through, you will begin to refine what you say and do. You will only offer to meet someone again if you mean it and this will stop you saying things you do not mean.

These suggestions, together with therapeutic support could radically change your decision-making capacity and improve your life.