Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

About the road not taken

This post is also available in Dutch.

Robert Frost beautifully sets the context through his poem for this article,

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and
I took the one less traveled by.
And that has made all the difference”.

Post-decision dissonance (PDD) refers to the discomfort that arises when we make an important irreversible decision only to realize that the other alternative might have been a better choice. Often, we form an attachment to the chosen option to justify our choice. Simultaneously, we become aware of the benefits associated with the unchosen alternatives. This awareness creates a state of cognitive dissonance—an internal conflict arising from the inconsistency between the chosen option and the appealing aspects of the alternatives.


As mentioned earlier, if the decision choice violates our internal beliefs and value system, for instance when we decide to eat-out when we are trying to save money for something important, we are more likely to experience PDD. Further, if the decision itself is based on incomplete information, involves high stakes, or is irreversible then the chances of experiencing PDD are higher as well. If we are emotionally invested in the decision, then too, PDD is more likely to occur after the decision. In case the other alternative is popular among other people in our social circle then too PDD is more likely to strike.


Often when we experience PDD, we can also witness a dip in our confidence levels. This is because we are in the middle of resolving the conflict in our belief system and thus are less sure of deciding other things with confidence. We also experience stress, anxiety, and regret regarding our choice due to PDD. Sometimes we tend to reverse our decisions so that they are aligned with our belief systems. We also seek validation for our decisions actively from others and, while doing so, are defensive about our choices.


The first step in dealing with PDD is to acknowledge the fact that we are experiencing it and that it is completely normal to do so. The second step can be, to consider embracing a progressive mindset that acknowledges the value of making decisions within time constraints. In case, you experience an inner conflict between values while deciding, it may help to explicitly mention it out loud. Another trick can be to set realistic expectations about the outcomes of the decision so that the decision itself is not that emotionally engaging. It might also help to seek feedback by actively being objective and unbiased towards the decision. Another direct approach to reducing PDD can be to change your beliefs, your actions, or how you perceive the outcomes of your actions. Finally practicing mindfulness and meditation in moments of stress and anxiety can help us to remain calm.

Author: Siddharth Chaturvedi
Buddy: Viola Hollestein
Editor: Elena Markantonakis
Translator: Lucas Geelen
Editor translation: Judith Scholing

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