Decision Paralysis

Decision paralysis occurs when we have to choose from options that are difficult to compare. It is having to choose between two or more options that have comparable pros and cons, and so there is no easy answer.

In today's society, we are overloaded with choices on a daily basis. You only have to look at the amount of variation in types of milk that you can buy in the supermarket, or at the coffee options in any café to see that we have a million different decisions to make each day. And these are just the easy, daily decisions.

We also have the luxury of making major life decisions; of choosing where to live, what to study, where to study, where to work, whether to travel, whether to settle down and so on. As the size of the decision increases, so do the potential risks and rewards, and therefore so does the amount of energy that goes into trying to make the decision.

According to Deloitte, decision paralysis is brought on by cognitive overload and fatigue; “The human brain simply isn’t designed to process and compare the sheer amount of information it is often given. While consumers say they want choices, the need to select between endless options can become a cognitive burden rather than a delight. Without ways to mentally manage or weigh the value of information, people struggle to decide and freeze”.

Although greater choice can lead to greater results, it can also lead to anxiety, fear of regretting a wrong decision, indecision, and dissatisfaction.

How to Combat Decision Paralysis

1. Know yourself

When you are faced with the choice of 15+ different coffee options in Starbucks, it can be overwhelming. However, if you know what you wanted before you when in, this can cut the decision time down significantly. I know, for example, that in the summer I want a cold coffee and in the winter I want a hot coffee. I also know that I don't want cow's milk, and that I do want some caramel syrup (don't shoot me!)

The same can be done with bigger life decisions. When choosing between two or more jobs or industries think about what you wanted before you had these options; were you looking for career progression, to work with people or computers, to experience variety, to travel?

2. Play the elimination game!

When faced with an overwhelming amount of options, start by eliminating the ones that you know you definitely don't want. Let's go back to my coffee order. I know that I don't want any teas, hot chocolates, smoothies, or black coffee. That eliminates about half the menu already! I don't want espressos, macchiatos, cortados, flat whites, or affogatos. Can you tell that I used to be a barista? If you can guess my coffee order by the end of this, I'll be very impressed!

Again, the same can be done with bigger life decisions. When choosing where to live, think about what you definitely don't want. Perhaps you know that you need a garden, so that means any properties without gardens are automatically out. Maybe you work from home, so you need a spare bedroom that can be an office, so any studio flats or one-bedroom properties are off the list. And so on.

3. Get rid of the idea that there is a perfect choice

In life, it is very rare that one choice is THE perfect choice and the others are all tricks or too good to be true. What we are often choosing between are two or more options of comparable quality. That is why we are struggling to make the decision. If there was an obvious perfect option, we wouldn't be struggling to choose, we would just do the thing.

For example, we are choosing between a 5-star restaurant and a 2-star restaurant with similar price points. For most of us, that isn't a difficult decision. In this scenario, there is a perfect decision and therefore we don't struggle to choose. However, in a situation where we are trying to choose between 3 different menu options at a restaurant, all of which sound delicious, and we don't want to get food envy when our friends' food arrives, this is a tough decision. This is when we have to think, there is no right or wrong answer here, we just have to pick one and be done with it.

4. Remember that no decision is final

Although decisions seem massive at the time, there is almost no decision that is final nowadays. If you fall out of love with your partner, you can choose to end the relationship. If you realise you chose the wrong job you can look for something new or re-train. If you decide that you don't like the flat you chose or don't like living with your friends, you can look to move in with someone else or find a new flat.

None of these things are easy to do, but they are possible. We do not have to stay where we are and accept our fate. If we are not happy, we can create a change.

5. Use your failures

Just as our decisions are not final, our failures are not final either. We need to look at our failures as lessons that we can learn from. We can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and move forward. We might lose things when we fail; money, pride, maybe friends; but these are all things that we can get back if we learn from our mistakes.

As always, if you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please email me at or use the Appointments tab in the menu.

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