Overcoming Decision Anxiety


We’ve all ben there. You know you want to buy something. Assuming you’re financially responsible, you save your dollars and cents until you can afford it (or, alternatively, you run out of willpower and whip out the credit card). That’s when it happens…you suddenly freeze because you don’t want to make the wrong choice.

This can apply to complete rifles, individual components (particularly barrels), optics, accessories, gear, or really anything. It’s the reason that articles like my guide to barrels and purchasing your first AR15 are so popular. It is a documented phenomenon that when presented with many choices, people start to feel anxious about making the wrong choice, and are also more likely to feel dissatisfied with the one they chose. This is the feeling that causes us to obsessively research every aspect of our purchase, to maximize our decision making process until we are absolutely sure that we are making the “best” choice. The problem is, we will continue alternating between the various “best” options out there and never actually make a decision. This behavior is what I refer to as paralysis by analysis. This is a great TED talk on the subject (for the TL:DR crowd, the meat begins at around 8:00).

This is a natural result of human behavior. I believe it’s particularly difficult with the AR, since the market has absolutely exploded with choices. Other weapons are easy because there are typically only 2 to 3 choices, usually related to color and maybe barrel length. In the AR world, however, choices are nearly limitless due to the sheer number and variety of different components out there. It’s a perfect recipe for paralysis.

Overcoming Decision Paralysis

This is a tricky subject. On the one hand, it is easy for me to point out the objective facts about things like return on investment of barrel accuracy and tell someone that they don’t need to spend that extra $200 for a match barrel capable of .5 MOA, but it’s quite another to get people to believe it themselves. We gun owners are a funny bunch, and we tend to want things “just in case.” Often, wee ask questions like, “what is the best…” without accepting that it is a very subjective question.

So here is my advice, and it comes from the world of finance and retirement savings.

If you find yourself having to make a purchase, be it complete rifles, barrels, optics, or other stuff, break out a pen and paper. Don’t type it on your computer; actually physically write this down. Brainstorm all of the features that you want out of whatever widget you are purchasing. Just list them all. Make sure to be specific about your needs.

As an example, my barrel requirements for the last purchase might look like this:

  • 1.5 MOA accuracy or better
  • Rifle gas
  • Light weight
  • Nitride
  • Reputable company
  • Dimpled barrel
  • 11 degree target crown
  • Cool profile
  • 1/7 twist
  • Capable of shooting 77gr SMK
  • 5.56 Chamber

Now that we have a list, pick the top five requirements. This may be difficult, but it is important.

My narrowed down list would look like this:

  • Rifle gas
  • 1.5 MOA or better
  • Lightweight
  • Capable of shooting 77gr SMK
  • Reputable Company

Now that you have your priorities, set your budget. Be firm about this, since not sticking to a firm budget will mean you are constantly thinking about the other choices in price brackets above what you were able to spend.

Ok, you have your top five features and you have a budget. Now go make a list of items that meets all of your features and budget requirements. If you find that there aren’t any options on the market that can meet your requirements while staying in budget, then you either need to compromise your requirements or raise your budget.

Last step: pick the least expensive. The finance guys would say “outsource” the decision. But we all know that the gun crowd is very brand loyal and you are likely to get told to buy whatever they did. Shortcut that process and buy the least expensive model that meets your requirements. That’s the free market at work.

That sounds like odd advice from me, since I always advocate “buy once, cry once” or “buy nice or buy twice.” That remains true for me, since one of my top priorities will almost all be something that requires “nice.” But that will be different for others. The honest truth is that once a certain level of quality is reached, there is very little difference between most options on the market. Buy agonizing over our decisions, we are robbing ourselves of the ability to enjoy shooting the gun.


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