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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Decision Making, Who Is In Control?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 21st 2011

Decision Making, Who Is In Control?Did you ever have difficulty making a decision? Every day we are forced to make choices whether we think about it or not. Some of us have little difficulty with this while others of us suffer and obsess over deciding on everything from which color shirt to buy all the way to the house we want to purchase or the career path we want to follow. Why is it that decision making can be so very difficult? Let's look at the dynamics behind this process.

We are faced with many alternatives. By choosing one, we are relinquishing others. For example, I am in the process of purchasing a new car. Like most Americans, I want a small and energy efficient vehicle. I could select a hybrid car like the Prius. However, that is so expensive that it would take years before I realized any real economic savings. However, there are many other alternatives. Today, there are many small cars that are energy efficient and relatively inexpensive. Which one to choose. I've read Consumer Reports, spoken to many friends and relatives and done additional research. The net result of my efforts? Knowing that I will be driving this next vehicle for many years, I find myself vacillating. Once I make my choice, that is it for a long time.

The fact is that, faced with decisions we are reminded that life brings with it limited possibilities. That reminder can be very painful. To be honest with myself, once I buy the car of my choice, I must take responsibility for my decision even if I come to dislike the automobile. In other words, in this process, not only do we have to face the fact of limitations but having to take personal responsibility for the decision, be it a good or bad choice.

Many people like to make decisions. That is why some people become lawyer, judges, surgeons, emergency room doctors and, football quarterbacks, so on.  Not only do they like making decisions but they enjoy the pressure that comes with decisions that can have dire consequences. For these people and for all of us, making choices can be empowering. It means taking control of one's life and that is a wonderful feeling.

However, making choices does not feel wonderful for individuals who were never allowed to make decisions during their childhood. Authoritarian, rigid parents, tend to select everything for their children, from the color of their slacks to the types of hair cuts they are allowed to have. If a child grows into an adult who was never allowed to make their own selections, how can they do so once they are adults? The answer is that they cannot. In these types of circumstances, too much guilt and anxiety are associated with decisions. Examples of this are, "Will they be angry with me if I choose to movie I want to see," or, "What if I am depriving them of what they want because I'm doing what I want," or "What right do I have to make my own decisions?"

One way to help ourselves in these situations is to remind ourselves that it feels good to be in control of our lives. By taking control and making choices we are not hurting anyone else. Openness and honesty are the best routes to follow, with the understanding that the others can have their opinions and input.

I am reminded of a great play I saw many years ago. It was written by Samuel Beckett and is called, "Waiting for Godot." Basically, there are two main characters around whom the story revolves. They are waiting and waiting for this character named Godot. The identity of Godot is open to interpretation and has been the subject of many articles since the play was written. while waiting and waiting, the two characters think and plan but cannot decide what they will do. They procrastinate, seem to settle on a course of action but, cannot really decide. The play ends with the two saying, "Let's go," but, no one moves and the curtain comes down.

I found the play both fascinating and frustrating. After all, in the end, no one moved. Talk about indecision!

Remember, making choices can be rewarding because feeling in control is rewarding.

If nothing else helps then entering psychotherapy is a good choice, no pun intended.

Who is in control? You are.

Your comments, experiences and opinions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD



Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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