Why Men Feel More Pressure to Be Decisive—and How to Combat It

Society tells us that men should be the decisive ones, but that pressure could actually be harming the decision-making process by not allowing men to listen to their emotions, ask for advice and accept the possibility of failure.

Forget what society has told you about the decisive guy. He doesn’t have it all figured out. Tim Marshall

The decisive guy is the one you always want to follow. This guy knows what he wants to do in all situations and just gets on with it without fuss or prevarication like a plane on autopilot. Destination and distance are minimized and the huge ground covered looks like nothing at all to this guy—like swatting flies or downing beers. He barely breaks a sweat.

Or so society tells us.

The smart detective, the Marvel superhero and the strutting rap star are just a few of the self-assure, masculine stereotypes of decisiveness that suggest being unsure or making mistakes is as unmanly as being caught crying or looking scared. Changing one’s mind or tripping up over the wrong decision are trifles that occupy women, not real men.

Yet this simply isn’t true and it’s not helpful either. We need to kick these myths to the curb.

No matter who we are, it is hard to be decisive at all times, and it’s not something we should aspire to be either. Many decisions, such as where to live or what career path to pursue, are complex and life changing and should never be made in snap, ill-thought through ways.

And wrong decisions can still happen even when we carefully weigh up all the options.

So instead of regarding our speedy decisiveness as a badge of masculine honor, we need embrace more realistic and helpful ways of making decisions, and re-frame how we understand our mistakes, too. Here are things to keep in mind as you approach any decision.

  • Don’t Disregard Your Emotions

Men often prioritize the rational, as our emotions are seen as distracting when it comes to decision-making. And yet, as Eyal Winter notes in his book, Feeling Smart, research from the University of California at Santa Barbara shows when we are angry our ability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant claims is actually heightened. Without giving space to our emotions we may, paradoxically, act less rationally. It’s better to acknowledge and work through both our rational and emotional sides at the same time.

  • Be Creative

Psychologist Carol Dweck states in her book, Mindset, The New Psycholocy of Success that it’s often a man’s fear of failure, of making the wrong decision, that keeps him in what she calls a “fixed mindset.” This can make men risk averse, only willing to make cautious decisions with highly likely outcomes. In other words, we become stuck and less creative. Men need to challenge themselves to be more creative in decision-making by not shying away from the possibility of failure.

  • Accept the Inevitability of Mistakes

Contrary to how many men feel, when we make a decision that turns out badly there is an upside. No, really. It may not seem it at the time when that $10,000 investment decision heads south, but there is huge learning to be gained. When we move to what Carol Dweck calls a “flexible mindset,” we will see failure as a learning opportunity rather than as a catastrophe. Each mistake helpfully teaches us what we will do differently next time around.

  • Ask for Advice

Many men are burdened with an oppressive autonomy; a determination never to seek help or advice and the idea that all their decisions should flow seamlessly out of them. There’s a perception that turning to loved ones and friends to seek their advice and support when facing a difficult decision is what women do. But if they’re more prone to seek advice from others, because society has told them its acceptable, that’s only a strength. Whether we heed their advice or not, the act of talking through our uncertainty with friends or family is profoundly helpful: it clarifies own thoughts and feelings. Men should never shun an opportunity to talk through a dilemma.

  • Think Ahead

Take the long view. Rarely, when reaching old age, do people talk about the regret they have about money they didn’t earn or the Lexus they failed to own. They are far more likely to regret the relationships that collapsed or the children they barely saw growing up. Imagining yourself years in the future looking back at this moment of decision-making: it will give you a helpful idea of what you need to do.

David Waters is a New York City-based coach who leads learning and development training for businesses and organizations. 

Why Men Feel More Pressure to Be Decisive—and How to Combat It