3 Red Flags You’re About to Make a Decision You’ll Regret

Young man trying to choose between two different pathsWe make decisions every day, throughout the day. In fact, we make so many decisions we often don’t even see them as decisions. Decisions we’ve made over and over eventually turn into habits. Although we often think of habits as bad, it’s important to see them as a set of decisions that simply don’t need much, if any, conscious thought to perform them. Brush our teeth. Put on our shoes. Eat breakfast or skip it. All of these mundane tasks are still choices, still decisions we make.

All too often, we make decisions based on faulty information, peer pressure, and impulsivity. In this article, I’d like to highlight some red-flag behaviors that increase our chances of feeling regret about our decisions. I’ll also offer some suggestions on how to avoid these red flags.

Red Flag: Decisions Based on Other People’s Wishes

Literally from birth, we find ourselves surrounded by other people and their wants, expectations, and fears. We come into this world already shadowed by built-up beliefs about how we should be, according to cultural and socioeconomic factors, parental expectations, our gender, and on and on. It’s no wonder we often feel pressured to be and do other than what resonates with our truth.

Because of the pressure to fit in and to please, we can find ourselves making decisions that don’t align with our highest good. From small decisions, like drinking at the party, to life-altering decisions, like getting married, our surroundings impact what we choose to pursue. When we make decisions from the fear of being judged and/or rejected, we doom ourselves to this people-pleasing brand of decision making.

So apart from moving to the woods and shunning society, how do we combat this monstrous impact on our decision making? We begin by reframing the nature of making decisions. At their core, decisions express our humanness. They express the gift of our free will. Although we are definitely animals, we are a unique form of animal with the option to move beyond our limitations.

Moving into a place where we make decisions based on our own wants and wishes requires us to know ourselves. Not possessing intimate knowledge of our core value system inevitably leads to a “follow the herd” mentality. This ultimately leads to frustration and resentment.

A simple exercise to acquaint yourself with your values is to simply ask the following questions about everything you choose. (Yes, everything.)

  • What do I like about this?
  • Does this thing support my growth?
  • If no one were around to influence me, would I still want to do this?

These questions will be answered by your bodymind through other thoughts, images, and emotions. Listening to them will steer you straight.

Red Flag: Making Impulsive Decisions

Impulsive decision making often gets viewed as wrong or bad because impulsive behavior is seen as “emotional.” Once again, we have society’s misunderstandings about emotion dismissing the importance of emotion in our lives. We can view impulsive decision making from two angles.

We must learn to fully connect with our emotions. Feeling them fully without comment allows the energetic charge to run its course. After the intensity of the emotion subsides, calm, creative problem-solving can occur.

The first angle involves making a decision while feeling an intense emotion. When we are intensely feeling emotions, we don’t have access to our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain designed for effective problem solving. When we make decisions from an emotionally intense place, we basically tell ourselves whatever emotion we currently feel has complete sway over our wants and needs.

The second angle surprisingly encompasses the exact opposite—not feeling our emotions at all. When we suppress our true emotions, we cut off access to our self-appraisal regarding a particular situation. Put differently, we sever a relationship to our values. Being disconnected in this way leaves us vulnerable to making those impulsive decisions that don’t align with our growth and truth.

The solution to both of these predicaments involves the same process. We must learn to fully connect with our emotions. Feeling them fully without comment allows the energetic charge to run its course. After the intensity of the emotion subsides, calm, creative problem-solving can occur. We can learn to regulate our emotions through numerous ways. Dialectical behavior therapy works wonders here, as do mind-body exercises such as tai chi, qigong, yoga, and other breathwork practices.

Red Flag: Believing Our Mental Stories

I could write volumes about this issue alone. Most of us, most of the time, are thinking. That wouldn’t be so bad if our thoughts were grounded in reality. Sadly, our thoughts, especially intense and obsessive thinking, rarely are. We make bad decisions all the time simply because we believe something to be true that isn’t.

I call this habit “storytelling.” It’s a handy way of looking at our string of thoughts. Storytelling occurs as we “once upon a time” our lives, filling in loads of made-up information to fill in the gaps between aspects of reality we really don’t know or don’t have access to. Storytelling occurs most frequently in relation to the future. So many of us hate uncertainty. Rather than learning to accept the limits of our knowing, we tell stories in an attempt to self-soothe. Anxiety is usually the result.

Reality testing is a tried-and-true cognitive behavioral technique used in therapy to help us break away from acting upon our untrue but intensely believed thoughts. In reality testing, we ask the simple question, “How do I know this thought is true?” We are then tasked with the quest of seeking external proof that our thoughts accurately reflect reality. This involves behaving differently, taking risks, and assertively communicating our thoughts, needs, and desires to others.

Being mindful of the red flags mentioned above, as well as practicing the steps discussed, can lead to an increased sense of ease and confidence in your decision-making and problem-solving capabilities.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Joshua Nash, LPC-S, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Christa

    April 11th, 2016 at 11:13 AM

    I have that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I know internally that this is a big mistake but there i go doing it anyway. I don;’t think that I really listen to what I am feeling and kin ow that I am feeling until it is already too late and i have fully committed to making the wrong decision.

  • Sonia

    April 11th, 2016 at 12:29 PM

    Unfortunately most of the really big bad decisions I have ever made have involved doing things that I thought would make this other person happy, not really caring what that decision would mean for me. Have endured a lot of pain in my life because of that and u know that I have no one to blame for tgat but me.

  • jayne t

    April 11th, 2016 at 3:47 PM

    Many times I have been doing something and knowing that it was wrong but just getting a feeling from doing it that can’t be described. I guess kinda like a high or something?

  • Meyers

    April 12th, 2016 at 7:22 AM

    Do you have a little bit of time to take a step back and consider whether or not, after you sleep on it, this will still be a good decision to make? If it is a good one today then if you give it a little bit of time to simmer then it is pretty likely that it will still be a good choice tomorrow. Not everything has to be doe in a hurry, and if you think tat it is imperative that it has to be done right this second then you should make think about why it is and if it is really going to be the ultimate best choice for you.

  • mindy

    April 12th, 2016 at 10:24 AM

    Oh come on, you are an adult and you know right form wrong. It might not be the decision that you want to make and do the right thing but I think that when you reach a certain point you already know if this is the right thing to do or not. Now whether you choose to acknowledge that or go ahead and do it, well that right there shows you clearly whether you have reached an adult level of maturity or not.

  • Jameson

    April 13th, 2016 at 11:39 AM

    Peer pressure plays such a huge role in our lives that for many of us it can be hard to say no when there is someone else there with us encouraging us to engage in what we probably know is a poor choice.

  • candace

    April 14th, 2016 at 2:01 PM

    I won’t say that I have never ever made a bad decision because I am human, of course I have. But knock on wood I have not yet made one of those decisions that changes my life in such a terrible way that it can never be fixed. I am waiting for that to happen but maybe hopefully i play life a little too safe to do that. But never say never, right?

  • JUliA

    April 16th, 2016 at 3:20 PM

    It’s like there are these warning lights but we refuse to see them.

  • sullivan

    April 18th, 2016 at 5:24 PM

    would you want your child making that same choice?
    then it’s a bad one

  • Heather

    April 18th, 2016 at 7:57 PM

    I made an impulsive decision recently to quit my job. Things didn’t seem to be working out, I was nervous and I was not performing well on the job. Because I feared the worst might happen, I sabotaged what probably wouldn’t have happened, had I just been honest with myself and my boss, about the stress I was under.

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