Have you ever spent ages deliberating with yourself over even relatively small decisions without really knowing why? Have you gone over it again and again in your head before eventually deciding it’s better to do nothing at all? The internal battling leaves you feeling drained of energy and frustrated at wasted time not making any decisions.
While most people will experience this “decision paralysis” at some time during their lives, for others it can happen on a more frequent basis, which then becomes a behaviour pattern that can be difficult to break. This in turn can lead to the person believing that they are a poor decision-maker, which only makes things is more of a challenge to make a decision.
One cause of decision paralysis is the sheer number of possible options available to us when we’re making a decision – and in this age of information, there are more options than ever before. in his book The Paradox of Choice Barry Schwartz explains how having too many things to choose from makes the act of decision-making stressful and people end up feeling more dissatisfied with their decisions than when fewer choices are presented.
“we become overloaded…. choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.”
You know how it is when you sit down in a restaurant, to be presented with a ten-page menu of dishes: it takes ages to decide on what to have, then when you’ve chosen the beef you spend the entire meal wondering whether you would have enjoyed the chicken more. How refreshing it is to go out to eat and be given a single-page menu, with choices you can count on your fingers.
Related to this is the fear of making The Wrong Decision. I was recently looking to buy a new car, and I can’t tell you the number of hours I spent on the internet comparing engine reliability, average running costs, NCAP safety ratings and boot sizes, nor just how many yawns my family must have stifled every time I opened my mouth to talk about it. But a new car’s a pretty big financial outlay and I wanted to make sure I bought the right one. The reality, however, is that there is rarely just one right decision, rather lots of possibilities – each with its own merits. But I didn’t want to choose beef and spend the next six or seven years wishing I’d gone for the chicken. In the end, I bought a newer, slightly larger version of the make and model I already had – the “safe” option, perhaps, but I’m (still!) happy that I made a good decision.
When decisions have a deadline, we can end up making rushed decisions when the time comes to make a choice – feeling forced into making a decision makes can create a sense of panic.
Essentially, then, decision paralysis arises from a fear of getting it wrong, which creates anxiety and we default to avoiding having to make decisions, or making panic decisions when a decision is forced. What’s needed is to consider the situation rationally and methodically from an “outcome-based” perspective. One tried and tested way of doing this is to ask yourself four simple questions about any decision:
◾What would happen if I did this?
◾What would happen if I didn’t do this?
◾What wouldn’t happen if I did this?
◾What wouldn’t happen if I didn’t do this?
Working through these questions in turn will help you to look at the situations from subtly different angles and gain clarity about the possible consequences of a decision.
Try it for yourself: think of a current or recent situation in which you’ve needed to make a decision. write down your answers to the questions above, then weigh up the potentially positive and negative outcomes of each of your answers.
Armed with this information, you can be more confident that the decisions you make are well thought out and based on rational thinking without feeling rushed.
Joss Anderson, J-Cubed Consulting