You might know this feeling when you have to make a decision, but you feel incapable. You have studied all the options thoroughly, over and over again, analyzing the pros and cons, yet instead of making a choice, you only feel more paralyzed.
You put it off again and again to a tomorrow that never comes, and that ends up frustrating you. This type of behavior has a name, and we are going to see exactly what it is, why it happens and how to solve it.
- Decision paralysis blocks us in different aspects of our life and decreases our productivity, self-esteem and motivation.
- Decision paralysis tells us how an excess of options affects our ability to choose and our satisfaction once we make a choice.
- This syndrome can lead to negative consequences, but it can be avoided by following a few simple steps and creating a plan of action.
What you should know about decision paralysis
This syndrome affects many of us in different aspects of our lives. It can be in everyday things, such as in the workplace, in education or in relationships. Below we will break down what analysis paralysis is, how to identify it and how to overcome it.
What is decision paralysis?
We have to make a decision, but no matter how much we study the options, looking for the advantages and disadvantages and gathering as much information as possible about it, we do not manage to move forward, thinking about it for hours, even days, blocking and paralyzing us.
To help you understand it better, we would like to give you a simple but illustrative example: It is Sunday afternoon, there is not much to do, and it is raining, so you take the opportunity to stay at home and rest.
To accompany the evening, you decide to prepare some popcorn and turn on Netflix. You’re ready on the couch, with your bowl of popcorn in one hand and the remote in the other, but which movie to choose? You scroll through the listings, analyzing different categories, looking for actors you like.
Better to watch an action movie or a drama? Or maybe you should go for a comedy. You realize that the bowl is already empty, and you haven’t even chosen the movie yet. Do you recognize this situation?
What causes decision paralysis?
There are several factors that affect our decisions and cause us to get into “paralysis” mode. It is also influenced by the fact of how satisfied we feel when we have made a choice.
For a better understanding of all this, we would like to talk about Barry Schwartz and his book “The decision paradox”, where he collects studies on the relationship between freedom of decision and ex-post satisfaction.
It has always been believed that the more choices we have, the freer we feel, and this is the idea on which Schwartz is based. But he finds that this has two negative effects on people:
- It produces paralysis rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it more difficult to make the choice.
- The more options available to us, the higher our expectations. Then, no matter how well we choose, we feel less satisfied with the outcome (1).
Fear of choosing wrong
When there is a wide range of options in front of us, no matter how many times we analyze each one of them, there will always remain the uncertainty of whether it was a good choice.
We focus more on all those missed opportunities, rather than on empowering the chosen option.
Search for perfection
The more options we have, the higher our expectations become, pretending to find perfection in our choice. Then, when we manage to choose one of them, we do not feel satisfied, since it does not fit the idea of perfection we had created in our mind.
As they say, it is better done than perfect.
Lack of experience
In the end, as in most areas, experience is always a bonus. If we are not used to make too many decisions or if we are blocked even for the most everyday decisions, such as what to wear or what to eat, training is needed.
At first, it may seem complicated, but over time, as we gain experience, it will become easier, and we will automate it.
How to prevent and overcome decision paralysis?
Now that we know what decision paralysis is and the reasons why it appears, we are going to remedy it. It will be necessary to follow these instructions to improve our decision-making and not get paralyzed along the way.
As with any type of condition or syndrome, the first step is to be aware that we suffer from it. Once we know this, we can take action and apply the necessary changes to eliminate it. To do so, we can follow this list of signs that appear with decision paralysis:
- Feeling overwhelmed when looking at your to-do list
- Disabling yourself
- Overanalyzing options
- Not knowing how to prioritize
- Seeking perfection
- Fearing deadlines
All the tasks on your list seem equally important, but you know they are not. It is essential that you learn to prioritize in order to organize them and get moving. This way you will feel like you are moving forward and that will help you keep going.
Create an action plan
The next step, after we have organized our to-do list, is to create an action plan. When we do this, we have to be realistic, take into account the time it will take for each of these tasks and anticipate that there may be some kind of unexpected events.
For that reason, it is good that this action plan is flexible, and we can shift some activities in case it takes us more time than estimated or something urgent and unexpected arises.
It is also very important to do only one thing at a time, because when we want to do too much at the same time, we stop being productive. To avoid this, it is also important to know how to say no to everything that is unproductive, such as too many meetings that lead nowhere.
Negative consequences of decision paralysis
This blockage we feel when making almost any decision, apart from making us less productive, also affects us mentally.
|What is the effect?||How?|
|Procrastination||The time to make a decision never comes, we just postpone it to a tomorrow that never comes, putting it off indefinitely.|
|Motivation||You invest a lot of time and effort into analyzing each of the alternatives thoroughly, but without getting results, which ends up reducing motivation.|
|Self-esteem||As you see yourself as incapable of making a decision, you end up invalidating and underestimating yourself, reducing your self-esteem.|
|Loss of focus||So much information and research cause you to end up overwhelmed and not focusing on the initial objective.|
Apart from the negative consequences it can have on us as individuals, it also affects companies and their sales. A study called “The application of decision paralysis syndrome in customer decision-making” concludes with the terms we have been looking at. As if there is a greater number of products to choose from, the customer buys less or feels less satisfied because of higher expectations (2).
Decision paralysis in different areas
This type of behavior can be found in different areas. We may relate it more to work, especially if you have a position where a lot of decisions depend on you and this paralysis is reducing your productivity. But we can also find it in other areas of life, such as:
- Education: in the current education system, where an excessive amount of information is provided and when, in addition, there is high pressure to get good grades, this syndrome can arise.
- Relationships: whether in love or friendship, there are relationships that either no longer bring us anything or even affect us negatively. But to avoid making a decision, we only have to postpone it.
Decision paralysis is very common in today’s society, and it is not surprising. We have access to an enormous and, at the same time, very varied amount of information. This leads us to do meticulous research in an attempt to arrive at a non-existent idea of perfection.
To avoid this, we have to prioritize what is most urgent and important, reduce the number of options as much as possible and speed up the decision-making process as much as possible.
1. Schwartz Barry. The paradox of choice [Internet] TED, 2005 [cited 2022]
2. Rony Kurien, Anil Rao Paila, Asha Nagendra. Application of Paralysis Analysis Syndrome in Customer Decision Making,[Internet] Procedia Economics and Finance, Volume 11, 2014 [cited 2022]