Decisions, big or small, are what make us who we are. But we often have difficulty making decisions, and we don’t realize why. It’s not just our available options that confuse us. What really confuses us is where those options come from.
Take your career for example. One of the first questions we’re asked as kids is this: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. But it’s so hard to choose because we’re pulled from multiple directions: On one hand our parents want us to study something that pays well, and to get a stable job. On the other hand we want to follow our passions, be spontaneous and take risks.
For the longest time, I was stuck between these options. I kept going back and forth between what my parents wanted of me, and what I wanted for myself. I had episodes of feeling anxious and depressed because I was scared of making the wrong choice. Until I understood why I was so darn confused.
During a psychology lecture, I came across the self-discrepancy theory developed by Edward Tory Higgins. I learned that who I am as a person consists of 3 components, and these 3 components are why I have such a hard time making decisions.
Higgins believes that we have 3 selves: actual self, ideal self and ought self.
I personally think that I’m down-to-earth and adventurous. And that is my actual self – who I think I am.
However, there is a problem; Even though I think I have these qualities, I may not have them in real life.
Our actual self is our perception of who we are, and not who we truly are.
But don’t let that get you down. Just as some of your good qualities might not be true, the same goes for your bad qualities. You may think you’re not that great a singer, but people might appreciate your voice more than you think.
I’ve always dreamt about my future self, sitting on the deck of my very own beach house, staring at the sunset. Isn’t that pretty? That’s my ideal self, activated!
Our ideal self is the person who we desire to be. It is the picture we paint for our future self, and it’s oh so beautiful. Our ideal self motivates us to make goals, and work hard to reach our goals. So if that beach house is really important to you, you will do everything you can to sit on that deck and grill some steak one day.
Did you feel bad about yourself when your sibling got into a better college than you? Do you feel a bit jealous looking at skinny models in magazines? That green-eyed monster is your ought self.
Our ought self is not the person we want to be; it’s the person we think we should be. It is shaped by what other people expect of us. Our ought self is the reason we felt so anxious when we showed our parents our report cards. It’s the reason we wear high-heels to parties even though they hurt like hell. Yeah, we don’t really like our ought self as much as we like our ideal self.
How Our Different Selves Interact
When we are making life-changing decisions, like choosing a career, we must choose between our ideal self and ought self. This makes us feel uncomfortable because we want to follow our dreams AND satisfy those around us, all at the same time. When this happens, we feel fulfilled and happy.
When we realize that our actual self does not match our ideal self we feel dissatisfied and sad. When we realize that our dreams are so far away and out of reach we become depressed.
And when we realize that our actual and ought self do not match, we feel anxious, afraid and distressed. We feel anxious because we think we will be punished for not measuring up to the expectations of others.
So we’re stuck in the middle. Whichever way we turn to, we have to risk either letting our ideal self down or letting other people down.
But how can we deal with these conflicts? How do we get past the anxiety and make a well-informed decision?
By separating your 3 “selves”, you are more capable of making an informed decision. You can see where exactly you stand at this point of your life and where you really want to be. Remember that happiness comes from within, and not other people’s approval. Don’t be afraid to follow your passions, but do keep in mind those who helped you get to where you are right now.
What’s your ideal self like? Share your dreams with me below.
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