Therapy can be expensive and NHS waiting times can be very long.

Whilst you wait. Do please consider becoming a patron at and for £6 per month you will get access to over 20 sessions worth of psychotherapy related audio with updates every Monday morning.

As well as hours and hours of varying hypnotherapy tracks to listen to, again updating each Monday.

It doesn’t replace one to one therapy but I hope my content would be a great help to you on your journey to overcoming your difficulties.
The Richard Nicholls Podcast

Free bonus episodes and hypnosis audio when you subscribe to Richard's newsletter!


Episode 231: Difficult Decisions


And hello to you, and welcome to the Richard Nicholls Podcast. The personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate, and motivate you to be the best you can be. I'm psychotherapist Richard Nicholls, and this episode is titled, Difficult Decisions. And if you're ready, We'll start the show!

Hello there, you gorgeous bundle of atoms and molecules. Amazing to think that that's all we really are, isn't it? That that's what makes up everything in the universe. Atoms and molecules, and how they all interact. No wonder we've evolved to attach to each other. Even at an atomic level, every part of us only really does anything if it's alongside something else, let alone as fully conscious creatures.

We don't do too well on our own, do we? In order to get through life, we do really need other people to help us through it, even if the introverts try to sometimes think that we don't. Yeah, they know deep down that they do. Even if it's just to say, Hey, what do you think of this? Because we don't want to decide on things on our own, do we?

It's no secret that making decisions when you've got lots of choices causes us to freeze and end up making no decisions at all. I've spoke about it a lot. Businesses have long known that too much choice means fewer sales, yet restaurants will so often give us these enormous menus with so much choice, when we'd have a much better time if there were just like four things to choose from.

Like you get in those Little bistro restaurants, because there's less chance of regret. Even choosing a TV program to watch can be a nightmare. When I was really young, we only had three TV channels. Channel 4 didn't start until November 1982. Happy birthday for tomorrow, Channel 4, just before my seventh birthday. And satellite telly didn't really become affordable until...

Probably 1990? And then before you knew it, four channels suddenly became 24. And here we are in 2023 with so many subscription services we don't know which one to choose. Because if you choose Netflix over Amazon, you miss out on good omens. But you choose Amazon over Netflix and you don't get to watch The Sandman.

So if you really like Neil Gaiman stuff, what you gonna do? And then there's all the fun Disney Plus stuff. So we end up having... All of them, if we're not careful, but times are hard. I often suggest to people that rather than paying annually for all of those things, because Disney Plus is, what, 80 a year?

Amazon Prime is nearer 100. Netflix is more like 200 if you want 4K. So that's, what, 400 a year just for streaming services? I say... Just pay monthly and just switch from one to the other every month. You're only gonna pay once. You'll save hundreds and it makes it easier to choose what to watch. I kind of miss the ease of having no choice as to what to watch because you could really only watch what was on.

Netflix is great, but the benefits of watching live TV is that the choice is made for you, isn't it? How many times? Is Skyfall on ITV2? Seems to be on every few weeks for a couple of months before being replaced with School of Rock. I must watch them three or four times a year, with adverts, and sometimes starting halfway through.

I've literally got the discs! On a shelf, right behind me. They're there. This is them there. They're right there. I can watch them any time I like. But when someone else makes the decision for you, it's so much easier to just go with it, isn't it? But when there are pages and pages of stuff to scroll through to choose, the night's over before you've decided what to watch.

Too much choice is a nightmare. Like I say all the time, the more choices we have... The more regret we have, because there's more to reject. But I've not spoken very often about having to handle some of the bigger... Decisions in life. So I thought I'd touch on that today. Decisions cause anxiety. Whether it's about the little things, or the big things.

cos although having free will is generally thought of as a good thing, it also comes with responsibility. If it's up to us, whether we leave the higher paid job that makes us miserable for the lower paid one that makes us fulfilled. Well, then we've only got ourselves to blame if we can't afford to go on holiday that year.

And when trying to make big decisions like that, we often freeze and then make no decision at all. If we aren't happy in our relationship, then trying to decide between ending it and trying to improve it means we end up stuck in it, just treading water, either waiting to drown or waiting to be rescued.

That way the decision's been made for us, hasn't it? So what else can we do? Well, what can be helpful in these sorts of decisions is to take yourself Out of the decision making process, if that makes sense, and act as if you're not part of it. So, knowing what you know about all the ins and outs of the things that you want to do, whether that's about a relationship, a job, a house, whatever, you know all about it.

But act as if it's not your decision to make. It's a friend's decision. You know all about it, but it's their life. Their decision. What would you say to them? What advice would you offer them? What suggestions? What answer would you give if they asked you, what do you think? It could be quite enlightening when you look at things this way.

It really can. It makes, breaks, ends, saves relationships. It can encourage change, growth or acceptance. But it's scary. Be okay with that. You can't make decisions if there's no emotion attached to things anyway. Not really. It's not much of a decision if you don't care either way. It doesn't matter. And if it doesn't matter and you don't care...

Then there's no problem anyway. You're not in enough pain to warrant putting in any effort to change, so it can be a logical decision rather than an emotional one. So, expect making big decisions to be scary. You're human, and unless you've got an injury to the frontal lobes... Decisions get ranked in the same way as any other risky business does, which actually is worth knowing about, although it's common sense, I guess, to not make big decisions when you're overly emotional.

But the same study that showed that frontal lobe lesions or injuries... causes us to not make sound decisions and learn from mistakes. They did it with gambling and so called lie detectors that pick up our emotions in our skin. They don't really show lies. They never have done. They just show in fact I've got one of these machines down there somewhere.

I did have one of those. A galvanic skin resistance monitor. They're great fun, but it doesn't really show lies. It just shows emotion. And that study showed us that what emotions do is stops us making the right decisions when you look at it afterwards. But I guess it's obvious. You know, you don't jack your job in when you're really angry with your boss.

Wait until you've calmed down before you decide. Too much emotion and you can't think straight and too little emotion and you don't care. But you do need to care and you do need to think straight. Otherwise, you can't weigh up the positives and negatives. And when you do, don't just do it for one side of the decision making process.

Often people make the mistake of only looking at the pros and cons of making a change to see whether or not they should stay where they are and forget about the pros and cons of not making any changes. If you make a proper list like this, it really can help you to see which way. You're instinctively drawn towards, because you might find that you end up justifying one decision over the other.

You might be drawn towards favoring one and you hadn't realized how important it was to you. One way of helping you with this is to imagine how you'd feel. If there was no choice. Say this is about whether or not to have children. That's a common big decision that people think about. Maybe you've done all the pros and cons, you've looked at the overpopulation and the strain on the planet, but you've also looked at the sense of purpose and meaning to your life that children might bring. You've looked at the 200 grand it supposedly costs to fund having a child and couples with children are twice as likely to file for bankruptcy as those without. Yeah, but what about the long term benefits to your social life as you make new friends at the school gates? That you go to more social events, kids parties, things like that.

Well, what if you take the choice out of it and you imagine just for a minute That it's impossible to have children. How do you feel then? Relieved? Resentful? Angry? Accepting? Mull that over for a bit. And then the opposite. Imagine the decision's already been made, because there's already a bun in the oven, and there is no choice.

You're having it, and that's that. Again, how do you feel about the decision being already made for you? Angry? Accepting? Resentful? Relieved? It's a useful technique and it does help you to gain some perspectives on things, it really does. It's worth thinking about the possibility of decision fatigue though.

Sometimes the big decisions feel even bigger because you've already used up your mental energy making less important decisions. Like what to wear. Or whether to open a window or not, tea or coffee, text or email, Zoom or Teams. Quite a few people over the last few years have told me about their reminiscing and nostalgia of that first lockdown of 2020.

Remember that? Where we had no choice but to take a step back from things. And a lot of our decision making was kind of being done for us, wasn't it? So we didn't have to. I certainly gained a different perspective at the time, I don't know about you, but when I did any shopping in the supermarket, I wasn't deliberating over what type of toilet roll or bread was preferred. I just got the first one I came to and then cleared off as quick as I could. And for a while afterwards, a lot of supermarkets were restricting choice. They were saying things like, well, it's those strawberries or no strawberries. So I wonder if people found that the bigger decisions seemed a bit easier to make. There was a lot of people wanting to move house, and you'd think that the middle of a pandemic wasn't really the right time. But if anything, it prompted people to make those big decisions for some reason. Maybe helped along because there were fewer choices in the supermarket.

I mean, maybe not. Correlation does not imply causation. But I've spoken about choice overload before, years ago, and probably a couple of times actually, about the jam experiments, where too many options result in fewer purchases. And I thought that maybe supermarkets by now would have finally taken it on board, when they've seen the evidence that by restricting people's choices to just a handful of different types of each thing, they're selling a hell of a lot more. The manufacturers know it. Procter & Gamble were the first ones to really jump on board with this. They looked at this research and they changed their head and shoulders shampoo range from having 26 different types of shampoo down to 15, which to a bald man still sounds like a lot of unnecessary types of shampoo. Anyway, they went down from 26, down to 15 and they immediately saw a 10 percent increase in their sales.

Because it was easier to choose one of theirs than some of the other brands. The supermarkets know this, it's no secret. Yet it's so counter intuitive that they don't act upon it. Bear that in mind when you go in. If restricting our choices is going to make it easier to face the bigger decisions, then let's take advantage of that.

One thing I will say though, is that when you're relying on how you feel about things like this, it is so important to have a good connection with how you feel. If you've listened to my episodes about attachment theory on Patreon, Then you'll know what I mean. And if you haven't, and you are a patron already, go back and listen to those.

Go to my Patreon page, click on Collections. There are two collections on there at the minute. One is for anxiety. There's about two hours of content just about anxiety to start the ball rolling with helping with that. And the other collection is called Attachment and starts with the origins of attachment theory.

Then the different styles and how it influences our lives. If you're already a patron of mine, then listen to them. They're really, really important. I talk about how, given the wrong parenting styles or developing very low self esteem over time, we can develop an inner voice that says things like... Other people can't be trusted, you know.

If you have to let them go, just let them go. Do it. And it's why some people can be quite clingy and others have a barrier around them. And if you've got your barriers up by default, if you find it hard to trust, if you feel it really easy to cut people out of your life, maybe you can't trust how you feel either.

I wouldn't want somebody divorcing just because when they think of it. It feels fine, but depending on how secure your attachment style is, maybe leaving some things in your life on the default setting can give you more mental capacity to move your mortgage, set up a pension, change your car insurance, things that are normally a pain in the backside because there's so many to choose from.

But if you can set your life up so that there are fewer decisions to make, to create routines that might seem boring to some but might really help. Things like always having pretty much the same thing for lunch on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. So when the choice is, do I put a poached egg on my beans on toast today or not, and that's it for the day.

That's the only decision you need to make. You're in a better place to be able to handle the bigger things because we do need to be mentally fresh to make big decisions. We see it in judges deciding whether or not to offer parole to prisoners.

If you're ever unfortunate enough to find yourself in that sort of situation. If you can get in front of the judge first thing in the morning, you've got a far greater chance of being paroled than later in the day when the judge has ran out of decision making energy. It's quite scary actually just how significant that is. There was a study over the course of, I think, a year long study with around a thousand prisoners that were all up for parole.

If the decision on their parole was made first thing in the morning they were paroled 70 percent of the time. Late in the day, only 10 percent of the time. I mean, that's really quite significant, so working from home, as so many do nowadays, and there's no need to go into the office every day anymore, so many of us, myself included, end up rotating through pretty much the same clothes every day.

This all started in 2020, and I think a lot of people have carried on with it. And they're just rotating through the same two pairs of trousers, the same three blouses. If I'm honest, I've lived like that for years anyway, much to my wife's frustration. I get shirts for Christmas, they just hang in the wardrobe for about two years, until one of the standard three that I rotate through gets pinched by my wife and taken to the charity shop.

I don't choose any clothes, I just just walk into the bedroom, open the wardrobe door and go, yeah, that'll do. Just pick stuff up and put them on. And I know I'm not alone in this, it's a very blokey thing to do, and I do recognise that culture's got a big part to play here. Women are trained by society to care a bit more about things like that, cultured by an expectation of judgment, that they need to vary things up a bit.

And it's pretty rare for one bloke to say to another one, Oh, you're wearing that t shirt again. I saw you in that the last time we met. We don't care. Not sure women have the same luxury in our culture. Women are expected to have more clothes. You see it in every department store, even with the children's clothes.

When my son was young, it was quite hard to buy him the clothes we wanted because there wasn't enough room in the shops to hold stock of both long sleeved shirts and short sleeved shirts. Because 80 percent of the shop floor was taken up with girls stuff. Rows and rows and rows of girls clothes. And a little area in the corner for the boys.

Anyway, that's a tangent, but still related, I guess. Women particularly need to be aware of it. Because if you've had to make a load of decisions in your morning, on this Saturday, when all you wanted to do was simply buy a new top for work, how the heck do you then decide on a wedding venue in the afternoon?

I recognise this is a long episode today, so I'll tell you about this one experiment before I then go. It was put together by Jonathan LeVarve from Stanford University, after he got so fatigued having to choose a suit for his wedding, because his fiancée wanted him to get a tailor made one. So he needed to choose a type of lining, you have to choose the buttons, different cuffs, which fabric do you want? And he said that by the third pile of fabric examples, they all look the same. And he'd passed caring, and he just kept on saying to the tailor. What do you think? Until he gave up and just ended up with one off the shelf.

Like a lot of psychology lecturers before and since, it's these sorts of experiences that create the experiments and studies that help explain stuff. So he designed some experiments to test whether you can influence people's buying choices by making them run out of decision making energy. And he did this with some software for customers of car companies and suit designers.

Genuine customers. Genuine people all getting ready to spend their own money. So they had to choose from a variety of different specifications before being able to move on to the next feature. But there was also a button for default to just accept the standard. And by manipulating the order of the specs with many choices, you could encourage whether or not they click to the default, Yeah, whatever, that'll do, button.

If the specs with all the choices were at the start, then halfway through, they just start choosing the default one. And by the time they, they only have to choose between one of four types of gearbox, they've got no mental energy left. But if there are fewer choices at the start, then by the end when they've got to choose between the 56 different colours of paint...

It's easier. And it was the same with the suit designs. If you start with the 100 fabrics, they get fatigued really, really quickly. And by the end of it, they've hated it. But the other customers, who had the things with the fewer choices first, they were able to make a decision about which of these 100 fabrics they preferred and reported enjoying the shopping experience more.

So, if they want you to spend more money, And the default options are more expensive, then we can be manipulated into spending an extra 1500 quid on a car, just because of the order that the options were given to us. Be aware of that. Make those decisions over time, not all at once, so that your brain is rested in between times. And if you're a judge, or you have to make big decisions throughout the day, maybe you need to limit how many different pairs of socks you've got and just get seven identical pairs. So there's just no choice, just effortless. Anyway, look at the time, long episode today. Gotta go, enjoy your day, don't do anything I wouldn't do, and I'll see you again soon.

Take care.