If I’m So Smart, Why Can’t I Make A Decision?

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

You would think that a smart person would find decision-making easy. But, no. It’s often quite the opposite. 

There are gazillions of reasons for this. Well, maybe not gazillions. But lots. Here are just a few:

You want to make the right decision but you can think of arguments for all sides of the issue.

You see how everything is related to everything else.

You’re not sure which choice is the most in line with your ethical stance. And ethics matter.

You want to choose the right thing but then you have to let go of all the other things you didn’t choose. And that’s painful.

You’re concerned about how your decisions will affect others. Not just family members. Everyone.

You’re easily overwhelmed by the number of options.

You feel pressure to do the right thing because that’s what everyone expects and you can’t disappoint them.

From the time you were a toddler, you were tuning in to what others needed and trying to please them. You’re still trying to please them.

You have a pile of books by your bed but you can’t decide which one to read first because you want to know everything– NOW.

You grew up in a chainsaw family so it was life-threatening or humiliating to make a wrong choice.

You care deeply about social justice so you want to be fair to everyone.

You are a multipotentialite.

You like keeping things open-ended because there’s always new information on the way.

You believe that you’re a complete failure if you make a wrong decision.

You’re terrified of screwing up your children.

So, what can you do?

You’ll find some ideas in this earlier post. The emphasis there is on developing and trusting your intuition. Writing dialogues with parts of yourself. Meditating. Tai Chi. Time in nature. Building a spiritual practice. (Be sure to read the comments.)

Those ideas work well for big decisions. What about the every day choices?

This is tricky. But I’ve made a list of mantras that you can say to yourself when you need them. Keep the list handy. It helps to breathe, too. When faced with a “simple” choice or decision, say to yourself one or more of these:

~ No one will die.

~ Mistakes will make me more likable.

~ I can change my mind at any time.

~ Perfection is over-rated.

~ Maybe I was never prom queen/king, but I’m still an extremely cool person.

~ My kids will grow up healthier if I model resilience.

~ I can comfort the child part of me who is the one who is freaking out. The adult part of me knows what to do.

~ It’s all a grand experiment.

~ I am a dynamic work of art. In process.

~ No one else will even notice.

~ I’m more critical of myself than anyone I know.

~ My memoir will be much more fascinating if I make some ridiculous decisions.

And, if all else fails, remember the wisdom of Donald Antrim:

“The simple question “What color do you want to paint that upstairs room?” might, if we follow things to their logical conclusions, be stated, “How do I live, knowing that I will one day die and leave you?”


To my bloggEEs: A person on a Facebook site about giftedness said that she thinks that the comments on this blog are the best comments on the whole internet! I have to agree. Keep ’em coming. And thank you. What decisions are hard for you? What helps you make them?

(Oh, and you may have noticed that I have some new photos. If you want to see my latest look, go to my About page! You can even see my over-excitable, effervescent hair in its free state.)


Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

21 responses to “If I’m So Smart, Why Can’t I Make A Decision?”

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  1. You Agree, You Are Gifted — Now What? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] the pain. Journaling and therapy might help, along with time in nature and a spiritual practice. With indecision, you may need to work on perfectionism and self-doubt but also give yourself credit for your […]

  2. Nicole Avatar

    Looks like I’m a bit of a late comer to this thread but i found it because I’m struggling with decision making. I’m in my second semester of grad school and I’m supposed to have ONE research interest. I have THREE well thought out research interests in which I have made connections, collected pre-research, written project proposals, etc. and I get anxiety and almost feel like crying at the prospect of letting two go. And the topics I am interested in all have to do with something that causes mass deaths. So maybe I can make a major impact in one but then I have to let the other two go, at least for now. And people really are dying… Thanks for the post. It’s nice to remember that I’m not alone in these struggles.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      You might also look at the posts on multipotentiality, Nicole. It sounds like that might be a factor. It can be so hard to let go. Yep. You’re not alone!

      1. Nicole Avatar

        Thanks Paula, I know that multipotentiality is definitely a factor for me. I look forward to reading more of your posts. 🙂

  3. Gailen Avatar

    I am happy to be here, and to not feel alone or like there is something wrong with me, when I freeze trying to make decision.
    Right now, I am hot mess. Or like, because Iam different, and feel everything and have high anxiety( I hate that word.).
    My life has been a lets figure out what is wrong her.
    Of caring too much for people, of not allowing others to manipulate me, and giving in when I don’t want too, because I am dependent fianancially on the person( my children’s father).
    Being told to be positive, think good thoughts.
    Be other than I am, and believe me, I have tried.
    By far the hardest thing, I have ever done is to have children.
    I want to feel better before this show is over and believe that I can leave this relationship, raise my son’s, who are not typical and stopped being blamed for their anxiety and for them being ” gifted”.
    To just feel okay with who I am.
    To even perhaps understand myself.
    To have a relationship with my mother, who is so domineering and mean and insensitive.
    Anyway, happy to be here.. I will try and use the mantras.
    I am trying so hard to help my kids. To find help, to have support, that isn’t looking to medicate my kid or label him, but to help them find their skills, and strengths and to get one thousand miles away from here.
    I live in the middle of normal.
    Normal people, with normal children, who go to bed, who do their homework, who follow the rules, who aren’t afraid of everything.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for sharing, Gailen. As you can see, having a rainforest mind can be challenging but it can be helpful to understand the traits.

  4. How Will You Know a Gifted Adult When You See One? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] they cry easily and still believe that they can change the world. They may look ungifted because they can’t decide what to eat. They may look ungifted because they’re easily overwhelmed by certain sounds, […]

  5. Si soy tan inteligente, ¿Por qué me cuesta tanto tomar una decisión? | Aa.Cc., LA REBELIÓN DEL TALENTO

  6. Sarah Avatar

    It’s uncanny how your messages are always on point in my life. My husband and I both need this right now. I struggle, but he’s the analysis paralysis member of our family. We made an extremely difficult decision this spring, well, difficult for us, and we’re still struggling with “did we make the right choice?” I think it’s because of the nature of the decision. We had to choose a new school for our child who is growing up, and we can’t really be sure it was the right choice until school actually starts. Put me down for “you’re terrified of screwing up my children.” Couple that with “You grew up in a chainsaw family…” for my husband and you have our relationship for the past 6 months. School starts next month so hopefully we’ll be able to get some closure and move on to the next big decision, which replacement windows will be best (no, I’m not joking–I wish I were). Thanksl for a great pep talk. I really enjoy receiving your posts.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m glad my posts are helping and are timely! Typically, both large and small decisions can be hard when you have a rainforest mind. Thanks for sharing, Sarah.

  7. FredB Avatar

    Free range hair. I love it!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh my. I’m learning all these new names for my hair. Thanks, Fred. I knew I could count on you!

  8. Ro Avatar

    Greetings Paula,

    First of all, I love your photos – the mind-of-it’s-own hair, and especially the puckish gleam in your eye (even your teeth seem to share it!).

    Second, I really relate to this: “You have a pile of books by your bed but you can’t decide which one to read first because you want to know everything– NOW.” Yes. What terrible paralysis!

    A strange thing about me is it’s a smaller, younger, part who knows what to do. A younger part is growing me up. How backwards is that? Last week this part decided time was up – and I’m now a poet. From now on if anybody asks me what I ‘do’, I’ll reply with “I am a poet.”*

    I’ve been thinking lately about the concepts of ‘fake it ’til you make it’ and ‘leap and the net shall appear’. Also: perfectionism and how it can keep us small. And miserable. Unknown to ourselves.

    I love your list of affirmations Paula.
    Best wishes!

    *No claims made as to the quality of my poetry. But that’s by the by…

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Ah, yes. I haven’t called it that but surely it’s “mind-of-its-own hair!” I love the idea that it’s your younger self who is the wise one. Not backwards at all!! Thanks for sharing the additional mantras. (and I bet your poetry is powerful!) Always wonderful to hear from you, Ro.

  9. Craig Avatar

    As always, spot on and insightful. You might add that this is the same problem taking a test, especially multiple choice.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Absolutely. Can you explain why all of the choices could be correct? Thanks, Craig.

  10. 100percentem Avatar

    Hey Paula, I really liked your post.

    I struggle sometimes with decision about my degree, choosing certain modules and paths to take with it, I have a career in mind, and sometimes I let this influence my decisions, but sometimes I wonder if I am limiting myself or helping myself, it is hard to know how things will play out in the long run, but sometimes you just go to do what is right for you at the time and will make you happy, because even if those around you don’t agree, you did what was best for you 🙂

    Sometimes options can be great, but sometimes I find them more confusing and which there was a simple yes or no box to tick!

    Em x

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, Em. Deciding on degrees and careers can be particularly difficult. Yes, we can’t really know about the “long run” so it can make sense to go with what’s right at the time. Appreciate your sharing.

    2. Gailen Avatar


  11. Gail Post, Ph.D. Avatar
    Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Paula, Great lists of reasons or indecision, and also reassuring statements that help to calm one’s mind.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, Gail. It’s always good to see you here.

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