Indecisiveness, Emotion, and Decisions

January 1, 2023 at 1:45 PM
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Indecisiveness, Emotion, and Decisions

Christina Cheng and Jim Stellar

Indecisiveness buries itself within daily life. I’ve found that it has become more heightened especially as I get older, and the decisions I make become more significant. Indecisiveness presents itself differently for each person, and in an array of circumstances. I think that indecisiveness is not just a matter of making a decision between two outcomes, but that it can also be procrastination over making decisions in general.

Emotionally, there is an inner fear associated with the uncertainty of making decisions where the outcome is unknown. Many people who experience indecisiveness in this context may find that their point of hindrance in making choices originates from a worry of what exact consequences they may face for one decision versus another. Considering all the outcomes of a situation is hard when that situation may dictate other long term or important decisions and occurrences. Often an emotion like uneasiness and fear are enough to cloud judgment and make one hesitant to choose between decisions.

Indecisiveness also varies based on the scale of the decision, but cognitively, decisions stem from similar thought processes. Indecisiveness is affected by one’s perception of a certain set of decisions that need to be made. Whether this perception is false or true, it dictates the motivations that come in making decisions and can be a matter of whether decisions are even made. There is also perception of the outcome side of things, as well. Thinking that there is, for example, only one “right” decision comes from the mindset that all the other options are bad and will set one up for failure. This perception often is false, but even if it is not, those inklings of doubt almost always exist and make an impact on decision making.

To relate to the theme of this blog, indecisiveness in a college student’s choice of a major or ultimate career choice can be mitigated by having direct experience with the chosen field. Why? For us the answer is that the brain contains circuits that mediate unconscious decision processes, and our conscious experience tends not to see them. Just like when we go for a walk, we are typically not aware of how our feet are placed to maintain balance and set a direction, we are often not aware of our reactions to actually doing something in a field as opposed to just studying it in textbooks and in a classroom.  So, if you think you want to work with children in an education or daycare situation, go get an internship in a daycare. Maybe you will hate the chaos or maybe you will love the kids.  If you think you want to be a physician, go volunteer in a hospital. Maybe you will think doctors are arrogant or maybe you will love the way they apply medical science to make sick people better. When those unconscious emotional brain circuits fire in reaction to your presence in those situations, it can help you to be decisive for one direction or the other.  Then you can make up a story with your conscious verbal mind to tell people why you want that field of study or even career.

I think it is rather interesting that you mention experience in relation to decision making. It prompted me to reflect upon how most high school students don’t have a lot of experience in the field they want to go in, but they have some notion that this would be something they would love. Where does this idea come from? I’m inclined to think that environmental factors play a large role in this. What your friends choose to pursue will rub onto you, and you will naturally want to follow in some similar field to them. Or maybe parental pressure leads you to only consider sparse options. For some, this is the story of their life, and they’ve never had the opportunity to explore any other options and thus form their personality and independence, as an individual navigating through a complicated life, off external influence. This may be one of the greatest factors contributing to indecisiveness in making these kinds of choices because many might have it ingrained in their minds that these choices determine the path their life goes in, which to some degree is true. However, it certainly limits the creative freedom and intent for discovery that one may possess after a certain amount of time, especially as one is preparing for college admissions.

Now there are many ways to get an interaction with the world that drives your limbic brain emotional circuits. You might get those feelings from encouragement from your peers or parents who say you are a good arguer and should be a lawyer. When I was at Northeastern University, a famous cooperative education school where people alternated 6-month periods of work with periods of college study, we would see students who confirmed their initial judgments by working in a law school. But we also saw the opposite where 6 months in a law firm convinced them to look for another field into which they could immerse themselves. Remember the old saying, “if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.” That kind of positive conscious verbal statement, based on a gut reaction to the profession, can resolve indecisiveness of career choice and field of study in college.

I truly believe that the closest circle of people one has will have the greatest influences on even the slightest decisions made. Everyone knows that people do things not just because they may enjoy them, but because deep down it is validating to know that someone else appreciates your work and encourages you to pursue it. But a parent or role model pushing you to do something oftentimes means they could care less about whether you enjoy it or not. However, this is definitely an indicator of your enjoyment level because one who strongly wants to chase after something will simply do it and ignore negative feedback. But then again, many teenagers’ minds are accustomed to much judgment they’ve received in the past, and it is natural to feel torn when making decisions that might not satisfy others’ desires.

As I progress through my high school career, I increasingly find it frustrating when parents, or even just other adults and acquaintances, point out and compare their kids to others and fail to recognize the dedication their own children have to their craft, neglecting to realize their role in helping them succeed and keep going. It is critical to have support in times of distress and large decision making, and once a teenager is off on their own, the freedom in making their own decisions without parental influence isn’t as liberating as they’d thought it would be. This just shows how much kids depend on their parents’ thoughts, even if they fail them at times. We all depend on support systems, and more and more we need to resolve to put others, whether it be kids or friends or other relationships, in places where they can nurture confidence to pursue their passions. Practically, this is reassuring, but emotionally, it is even more growth provoking. College is one step in the scheme of life and decision making, but to carry on these skills means a lifetime of discovery that should definitely not be hindered by indecisiveness and unpleasant influences.

Christina is a junior in high school facing the ultimate choice of where to go to college and what to study.  She connected with Jim through a mutual friend and the result is this blog.

Anterior cingulate cortex and cortical re-representation of limbic processes of emotional conflict

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