Why do we overthink decisions?


You know that feeling that you get sometimes when making decisions? It’s the feeling of disappointment with a decision that you made after thinking about it a lot. Usually, the disappointment comes not from the outcome of the decision but the realisation that you knew you should have made a different choice. 

Well, don’t worry too much. Neuroscientists say that there could be a good reason for that.

Your complex brain

It turns out that decisions are made using two different parts of the brain. That is because what we feel and what we can express are also processed differently.

While the brain is complex, neuroscientists are pretty sure that decisions are made in a part of the brain called the frontal lobe. That part of the brain is responsible for things like reasoning, movement and memory – all things which are necessary to make a decision.

However, it’s difficult to explain why you have made a decision because the part of the brain that can process language and speech is entirely separate from your frontal lobe. That’s way back in the parietal lobe.

This also explains why when given more time to try to make a decision, you get confused by all the possible arguments. Sometimes, it’s better just to go with that gut instinct.

Rational vs. gut decisions

Take a look at this excerpt from Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Richard Restak, a well-known neuroscientist, talks about this in his book The Naked Brain. When you force people to make decisions with only the rational part of their brain, they almost invariably end up “overthinking.” These rational decisions tend to take longer to make, says Restak, and can often be of lower quality. […] It is our inability to verbalise the reasons that may cause us to doubt ourselves or trust the empirical evidence when our gut tells us not to.

In fact, this is one of the key reasons why we don’t allow text-entry in polls on doopoll. When you have to explain how you’re feeling, you often end up overthinking it and coming up with a poor answer. It’s much better to allow people to choose from a range of options.

So next time you’re making a decision, you might be better off listening to your gut.