It’s 9 o’clock at night and we are perusing the food options in the United terminal at O’Hare airport in Chicago. Packaged shrimp salads with strawberries and jicama; yogurt parfaits with granola, mango and bananas; roasted cinnamon and sugar peanuts… All look like perfectly good dinner substitutes to me. My eyes take in the selection and my brain works over every facet needed and not needed to decide which delectable is the winner. Meanwhile, my man asks me questions to help me narrow down my selection, gives me more info to add to my already overloaded brain and silently urges me with his body language to choose something soon. As I near the moment of declaration, he says something to the effect of, C’mon you have to make a decision Baby. I give him the death stare and say something like, Stop talking please. I can’t think. I never remember exact dialogue (I’m an intuitive thinker), but that is the gist of the interaction. Bottom line is we were both tired. It was the end of the day and we both wanted me to make a decision so we could sit down.
Whatever you do, don’t be ambivalent
I’ve witnessed and been on the receiving end of other’s impatience with people who are slow to make decisions. One of my relatives described a co-worker as being ambivalent. He practically spat the word ambivalent out like it was akin to worthless or repulsive. My family member expected leadership qualities from his co-worker. A leader would be decisive.
I completely understand the frustration when someone sits on the fence forever or can’t seem to take a stand on anything. But what if your decision-making abilities are so complex they require additional time and processing? What if each choice must accurately reflect your values and personal identity? What if your senses are already tapped out and every additional decision is harder than the next?
My decisions reflect who I am
According to, INFP vs. INFJ: 5 Surprising Differences to Tell Them Apart on Personality Hacker, my Myers Briggs type, INFP, does an emotional check-in for every decision. We decide from the inside. It is essential for each choice I make to minimize emotional fallout and represent my truest values or identity. INFPs use authenticity to determine their responses. It is the slowest decision-making process out there based on Myers-Briggs types and temperaments (but given all of the factors we consider it actually is quite a quick computation). Not surprisingly, other types’ decision-making processes are based more on logic and efficiency.
No wonder I am decision fatigued by the end of the day. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to decision-making mates. They provide a sort of relief.
In Why Is It So Hard to Say No to People? Introvert Guilt and Fear of Inferiority, I mentioned struggling to decide whether to go to the beach with my man or take a nap by myself. My boyfriend did not care what I did. He just wanted me to make a decision. At the time, I was feeling bad about myself because I couldn’t keep up with the others on vacation with us. When I tested my emotional thermostat it was in the danger zone. That emotional fallout hampered and prolonged my decision-making process.
It just feels right.
I often feel pressure to make a decision but have to run everything through personal screening. Another problem is I see lots of possibilities for each choice. Things are rarely cut and dry. I want to consider all the options and then go with the one that ‘feels’ the best. According to the Personality Hacker article, INFPs often only know if they made the right decision after they make it. What? Only then can they get the right or wrong feeling they need. This type of thinking is indescribable and for many, ridiculously senseless. It’s extremely difficult to justify a decision based on a feeling. Facts and cause/effect analysis is so much more readily digested and accepted.
How will this decision affect everyone involved?
Quite often intuitive feeling individuals make decisions based on how the people involved are affected. My type can see a case for almost anything. We are empathic. We put ourselves in others’ shoes constantly and fairly easily. We often reference ourselves because we run your experience through our own personal collection of experiences and match up resulting feelings. We search for what’s really true for us in order to get an idea of how you would feel in the same situation. We understand you based on understanding ourselves. What is the exact feeling I’d be feeling if I were you? No surprise, our decisions are delayed by this process. No wonder we hesitate or appear ambivalent. We do not want to upset others or make unfair choices. We are totally aware of emotional fallout from our decisions, not only our own emotions but those of others.
We get faster and more determined
The cool thing is decisions based on values get easier as we get older. We eventually develop conviction based on past experiences and results. We know ourselves, our truths, therefore we can commit to a response quicker.
We also become better readers of people and therefore can apply empathetic feelings to situations more readily.
There’s a rhyme to our reasoning
We may still hem and haw at times but when we do come up with an answer it is quite often astutely in tune with others and in line with our most intrinsic values. This level of thoughtfulness, although time-consuming and often frustrating, is a way to create a unique glimpse of and brief connection with the human condition. We don’t simply order a snack at an airport kiosk. We consider the effect the food will have on our body. Will this make me tired or give me energy? We want to stay awake so we can keep our partner company until bedtime. Will the food get me through the next two hours until we get home? We consider sharing the snack with our partner. Would they like that?
This type of introspection is rare and I can’t help but think it is beneficial to the world in some way. When we express ourselves in ways beyond decision-making perhaps we give others a small taste of humanity? Perhaps empathy and personal values are the foundation for profound decision-making? Profound relationships? I don’t know. I can’t decide.
Do you make swift decisions or do you ponder a lot? Conviction and swiftness are traits we assign to leaders. Is everyone meant to be a leader? Could the personal decision screening done by intuitive feelers be exactly the humanity the world needs?
If this piece resonated or affected you in a meaningful way, I would truly appreciate it if you would share it with others who may benefit. Thank you!!
[…] a sensitive introvert and INFP personality type, the non-stop action and endless decision-making wore me out. I needed positive energy inflow and a stoppage of outflow. I needed to slow down. I […]
Great post! Even without a current partner, it can take me forever to buy food at an airport, for much of the same reasons, even if I’m hungry and really need to eat something! Sometimes the need to honor every single value of mine can work against me; sometimes an OK decision is better than no decision, rather than exhausting myself by trying to get it right. And, lately, in other contexts, I’ve been experimenting with not trying to minimize emotional fallout when making choices. I wonder if my need to consider others’ feelings has, at times, held me back from owning my truth. It’s an experiment that will likely continue for a while!
Yes! I am also employing the ‘good enough’ decision method. Sometimes we just need to make a decision that we are 80% OK with rather than 100%. The paralysis caused by ambivalence is time wasting and energy wasting too.
I want to hear what results you see with your experiment of not minimizing others’ emotional fallout. It is so damn hard for me, especially when there are several conflicting emotions coming from several people involved, i.e., family or primary relationships.
Love your insight and self-experimentation Ilona. Keep me posted.
I am an INTP and have no problem making decisions at all. I also am impatient with people who take forever to make a decision. To me it is easy….I can anticipate the feeling and thinking that my decision will make into the future, so my decisions are easy to make. I am a realist. There is one thing that humans are extremely bad at and that is predictive forecasting…we want what we want at the time and can not anticipate how maybe an object will make us feel 2 months down the road and we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. Like buying a car…we want that nice expensive car and justify it at the time…but not realistically understanding the consequences of the purchase…the money, the insurance of such a purchase…at the time it makes us happy, but then the expense weighs us down and takes over. I have a client that can not make a decision and when she finally does she second guesses it a week later…..drives me nuts.
One of the best books I have read is “Stumbling onto Happiness” which is a brilliant book about how the human mind works and why we do what we do. Most humans can not tell you what makes them happy….and what they think make them happy ends up not making them happy at all. Knowing thyself….I suppose is the truth to all things, Happiness and making decisions are part of that process.
I suspect your Thinking preference (INTP) helps you make logical and quick decisions. Those with a Feeling preference focus on other people’s feelings and our personal values, sometimes to the point of detriment. I agree with your statement about predictive forecasting. It really is difficult to predict how one will feel in the future. I think a good way to absolve some of the ambivalence in decision-making is to allow ourselves to make a ‘good enough’ decision. Be 80% sure of it rather than 100%. At least, this is something I am using to coach myself during decision-making situations.:)
I’ll have to check out Stumbling Onto Happiness. Sounds like it’s right up my alley. As you said, it all starts with self-awareness which calls for a good amount of reflection and pause in life. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Marjorie.
Thanks for your response….love your writings!!!!
[…] action and endless decision-making wore me out. I needed positive energy inflow and a stoppage of […]
You always write things that resonate with me. As a teacher, I seem to collect every idea before deciding how exactly I am going to go about teaching or creating an experience for my students. I feel like my brain is a spider web of ideas that connect and wind together and I need to create the web and then go back and highlight a direct path to implement. We do some cool things, but I am so appeciative of my colleague who is so decisive. We do make a good team.
Our brains work alike Shannon.:) It is so helpful to find a partner/co-worker who can help crystallize the decisions. It seems like magic to me.;)
I feel completely paralysed and panicky if people try to rush me into making decisions. I also get a lot of anxiety in shops, especially when there’s a lot of choice on offer, or the purchase involves a significant amount of money. Though when shopping alone on the internet, I can be surprisingly quick and decisive!
Interesting that internet shopping is a breeze… Perhaps it’s the human element that freezes our thinking/deciding gears. Thanks for sharing Catherine. 🙂
I am notorious for taking a very long time to make decisions. Everything from a list of meals for the week (several hours), to which book to read next (hours over several days), to buying a car (over 6 months) or choosing the paint color for a room (months to indefinite).
If rushed, I will sometimes choose nothing to avoid the risk of regretting my decision. (eg. what do you want to do this weekend?)
I wish I felt more spontaneous and free spirited sometimes and every decision didn’t feel like the weight of the world.
I think we all admire those easy going people who don’t get rattled when their decisions don’t pan out in their favor. I always want to make the best possible choice. I despise re-work (too much energy expenditure). Perhaps that is your case as well? Are you surrounded by others who make you feel bad if you choose poorly? I have found I am more laid back and relaxed if I’m with people who are not judgmental or critical. Thanks for sharing your story. I feel you.:)
I was really laughing as I read this as I’m the same way although in this case I’d probably have been worrying more about food safety than health. Farmed shrimp from Asia are often contaminated; last year there was a big recall on mangoes….. I think that we “P” people are very aware that even simple decisions can have multiple downstream consequences. For example, in this case, I might have been considering how long is the plane flight in case an unusual meal causes me to need to use the facilities. (Not something that actually happens to me very often.)
I think that any of us who’ve had to care for children have learned the importance of thinking ahead. The effects of a late meal or missed nap or forgotten toy can be hard to recover from.
My husband prefers to make quick decisions and I’m aware of why what he thinks of as my dithering can be annoying. But I can be negatively affected if what he decides turns out to be a bad choice and puts him in a bad mood. I think ths is a situation where we both need to learn to understand the positive and negative of the other’s approach. At least I can’t see myself being able to change much in this regard.
So many good points. Thank you PeggySu. I do look down the pike to see what negative outcomes may befall me if I choose one way or the other. I guess my intuitive future oriented characteristics foster that. You’re right. The key is appreciation and understanding of both ways of making decisions. There is value added from both directions. 🙂
This is a really helpful post for me. I am more on the thinking side (though also a sensitive introvert). I have some good friends whose decision-making style can drive me nuts. Reading your explanation, I have some insight into why they seem to make every little decision so difficult (my label, from ignorance).
But I’m wondering if you could write a bit more about why each decision has to reflect your values. If it’s just a matter of choosing among several pretty bad options at an airport, none of which will probably reflect your values very well, why sweat it? And in the meantime, your companion’s blood sugar level is dropping dangerously…. As you can see, I’ve been there!
I guess what I’m saying is that for me, not every decision has to be made perfectly; sometimes it’s more important to decide promptly, and that means not considering every decision from every angle. What’s your view of this? Does that approach make you feel that you are being rushed or pressured?
I’d love to hear more, as it will help me be more understanding with others whose decision-making styles are very different from mine.
Karen you posed very thoughtful and relevant questions. I’m sure there are other readers out there wondering the same things. I agree, choosing a snack at the airport is a small decision, no biggie. The truth is I can’t stop relating and associating things to my personal values and identity. I would if I could but it’s involuntary. The food choice was tied to my relationship with food (I am a healthy eater, eat to feel good, i.e. give me energy) and my relationship with my partner. I wanted to possibly share something with him and I wanted to make a choice because I knew he was getting antsy. Plus, I was just coming off of an emotional, decision-filled weekend so my brain was mush. All of this delayed my response.
I can make decisions on the fly. I can do this if I’ve had a lot of experience with the same situation in the past. I already know if it’s in line with my values and if it has a positive affect on my emotions. As I get older, I get more relaxed as well. Not everything is tantamount to my well-being. I allow myself mistakes in judgement/choices.
Having others ‘nudge’ me along in the decision process is counter-productive most of the time. I do like to have someone to bounce things off of but if they are only trying to rush me then they are not helping. They are adding pressure which freezes my clear thinking.
I hope that gives you some added insight. Thanks for your excellent questions.