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I often experience paralysis in the face of an irreversible decision or action. What is the term for this or what is it that I'm looking for to describe it and/or research it?

Some examples of this feeling:

  • Leaving for a trip: if I forgot something, once I'm at the airport it'll be too late to go back
  • Throwing a garbage bag in a dumpster: if I dropped my phone in the garbage at some point, I'm never getting it back
  • Dropping a bundle of letters into a mailbox: if I got someone's address wrong, I can't just reach in and pull the letters back out
  • Buying something without a return policy: if I don't like it, I'm never getting that money back
  • About to jump out of a plane (e.g., skydiving): if I don't like the feeling, I can't just hop back on the plane immediately

I was listening to a podcast in which this was referred to as the "call of the void". However, the (not) ever-reliable Urban Dictionary describes the call of the void as the "what if I jumped" thought, which seems different somehow.

This question is related to (but I think not a duplicate of) the Paradox of Choice, which, as I understand it, states that when people are given more choices, they tend to have difficulty making the decision and are often dissatisfied with the choice they made. It seems this anxiety I'm describing has more to do with the irreversible nature of the decision or action.

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  • $\begingroup$ If anyone cares: the podcast I referred to was Hello Internet by CGP Grey and Numberphile, the "Call of the Postbox" $\endgroup$ – Logical Fallacy Oct 29 '14 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ I think this problem is strongly related to procrastination and going late to bed. $\endgroup$ – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Nov 24 '14 at 23:06
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Philosopher Walter Kaufmann calls this fear "decidophobia", but I have never read and cannot find any psychological publications using that term.

If you think about the phenomenon, it becomes apparent that anyone can clearly observe when a person hesitates to decide, but even that person herself could probably not clearly identify all the emotions that accompany this behavior, and, if there is fear, what the exact object of that fear is – the fear could be of anything from deciding between two equally desirable alternatives (fear to decide) to the outcome of a decision that is in fact already made (fear to finalize the decision and face the results).

Psychology therefore prefers to study observable behavior and calls this behavior "decision avoidance".


The above answers the question you asked in the title of you question. Your post itself describes a bundle of symptoms that to me are reminiscent of what persons with obsessive-compulsive disorder experience. Many such disorders begin with a worry that something was forgotten and lead to extended rituals of checking for hours if the water is turned off or the lights are out. The problem here is that these people become increasingly incabable of trusting their perceptions and have to repeat certain actions until they are finally convinced the thing was done.

An example is of a woman who frequently goes on business trips and, upon returning home, has to read the name of her city several times loudly letter-by-letter at the airport to get the feeling that she is actually there.

Since I know nothing about you beyond your post, your problem – if it is one – is hard to diagnose. If this "fear to decide" affects your well-being, I recommend you go see a psychologist and talk to them about it.

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  • $\begingroup$ This gets interesting when you're really forgetful which makes checking your wallet (or whatever) from time to time not so bad idea... $\endgroup$ – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Nov 24 '14 at 23:08

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