How Our Obsession With Making The 'Right' Decision Can Backfire On Us

Image by Javier Pardina / Stocksy

If you're the type of person who tends to over-assess every option because you want to make sure you're choosing what's "right," listen up: New research suggests that this behavior is not only causing you unnecessary stress, but it might actually be making it harder to make the right choice.

In a study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers examined the effects of overthinking on the level of distress experienced when making decisions. Over the course of four separate experiments, participants were asked to make a decision and then rate their level of distress felt during the decision-making process. The choices ranged from selecting a gift for a friend to making wedding decisions to prioritizing tasks for the day. The researchers found that people who overthought their choices tended to experience more psychological distress—and what drove that relationship was people's obsession with being right. In other words, overthinking can be thought of as a symptom; the desperate need to make the "right" choice was what was actually causing people to stress out.

"Decision-making can be especially stressful for individuals focused on 'doing the right thing' (truth motivation) but less so for those focused on moving forward and effecting change quickly and smoothly (control motivation)," the authors write.

I get it: Nobody wants to make the wrong decision, especially if what you're deciding on is something really important to you. But placing that pressure on yourself is likely actually backfiring on you, triggering psychological distress, which is not only awful for your well-being but also may only be further clouding your judgment.

"Almost everyone living on this planet wants to be right, because it's the most important way the ego is satisfied," meditation teacher and mindset coach Joan Moran tells mbg. "[But] the notion of 'being right' conflates truth with fact. Whose truth? Whose fact? What if two different viewpoints each conform to the truth? Which is more right? Or is one person's truth the other person's fiction?"

Being "right" is a pretty nebulous concept. And perhaps more importantly, that need to be right can cut off your ability to take in new information and stop yourself from seeing new opportunities, possibilities, and desirable alternatives.

"People who have to be right do not practice active listening," Moran writes. "They don't hear what's going on in the environment. If they don't listen, they never learn anything new."

The next time you start over-analyzing your choices and that all-too-familiar stress starts bubbling up from deep inside your gut, give yourself some space. Try going for a walk or doing a quick meditation exercise to clear your mind and offer a reset. Once your nerves have settled, consider the motivation behind the distress. Are you worrying about making the "right" decision? Take a breath, recognize how arbitrary that concept is, and practice the art of letting go.

That clearheadedness will likely lead you down the best path anyway.

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