How to Overcome Decision Paralysis

3 Ways to Overcome Decision Paralysis

Have you ever spent minutes looking around your kitchen, trying to decide what to have for breakfast? Those minutes of indecision is one of the most classic examples of how decision paralysis could be sapping precious time and energy from your day. From the moment you rise and choose your breakfast, to when you decide on the white shirt or the blue shirt, your mornings are probably littered with minor decisions which eventuate into cases of decision paralysis.

Let me explain in a simple way…

Decision paralysis, otherwise known as ‘analysis paralysis’, is the prime reason why some of us become great decision makers and leaders and whilst others do not. Decision paralysis is not something that is innate in all of us, but it can be quashed out of us using a few tried and tested techniques. Unlearning decision paralysis is vital for reclaiming those minutes from your day that are typically spent backflipping on something which is of minor impact to your day, more importantly, removing decision paralysis is about reclaiming your energy.

In case you couldn’t tell, we at Lucid are passionate about body betterment, neuro-enhancement, productivity & focus. To be kept up to date on any other blogs or infographics, add yourself to our community mailing list.

We know that our energy is harnessed through a balanced diet, fitness and REM sleep, and energy is wasted through poor decision making and the repercussions of them. Investing your limited energy into making better decisions means you’ll be moving closer towards your goals in less time. Our very own product Lucid may help with sharpening your focus for the day, but if you need a little more assistance, found below are 3 distinct but worthwhile systems you can try to overcome decision paralysis.


Louis C.K.’s System

Famed American comedian Louis C.K. once covered the topic in a GQ Magazine interview. In the interview he touts ‘modern consumerism’ the driver behind analysis paralysis these days. Noted for his controversial humour, Louis C.K.’s solution to the problem is a basic numbers equation:

“In these situations where I can’t make a choice because I’m too busy trying to envision the perfect one—that false perfectionism traps you in this painful ambivalence: If I do this, then that other thing I could have done becomes attractive. But if I go and choose the other one, the same thing happens again. It’s part of our consumer culture.”

In short, perfectionism, driven by the consumer mindset of ‘there’s always something better’ creates a falsehood which means you’re never happy with the decision you make.

“People do this trying to get a DVD player or a service provider, but it also bleeds into big decisions. So my rule is that if you have someone or something that gets 70 percent approval, you just do it. ‘Cause here’s what happens. The fact that other options go away immediately brings your choice to 80 percent. Because the pain of deciding is over.”

Summarising this part; simply by removing the other options from the equation altogether makes your initial choice a lot more easy to take. An exmaple of this would be deciding on which colour shirt to wear, just image you only have the blue shirt.

“When you get to 80 percent, you work. You apply your knowledge, and that gets you to 85 percent! And the thing itself, especially if it’s a human being, will always reveal itself—100 percent of the time!—to be more than you thought. And that will get you to 90 percent. After that, you’re stuck at 90, but who the fuck do you think you are, a god? You got to 90 percent? It’s incredible!”

So there you go, less choices really is more when it comes to overcoming decision paralysis for the late Louis C.K.


David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom’s 1-3-5 System

David and Todd are researchers, directors and contributors at the O.C. Tanner Institute, and authors of the best selling book Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love.  The two consult with leaders and speak at leadership conferences around the world where they share their knowledge about how to get people to fulfill their potential, with maximum effect. In a recent Forbes article, the widely acclaimed duo described how they uncovered a system which breaks down decision paralysis into 3 simple steps, which I’ve shared below:

Pause and ask 1 good question:

“Although this advice sounds obvious, a recent study shows how even a few milliseconds of pausing can change the outcome of a decision. “Postponing the onset of the decision process by as little as 50 to 100 milliseconds enables the brain to focus attention on the most relevant information and block out irrelevant distractors,” said Jack Grinband, Ph.D., associate research scientist in the Taub Institute and assistant professor of clinical radiology at Columbia University Medical Center.

This finding clearly supports our research that 88% of award-winning outcomes began when an employee paused and focused on asking the right question before rushing into execution mode.

Then insist on 3 options:

Too often decisions get mistakenly framed in binary terms. Either we do this or we do that. Rarely does this reflect the realities of decisions. We interviewed a young chemical engineer working at a large refinery. Decisions to change processes have enormous cost, safety and regulatory implications. However she did not allow these high-stakes risks to paralyze her. She found her own way around decision paralysis by holding herself accountable to always find three viable alternatives. By the time she had explored enough to find the second two, many more options to her first idea emerged.

Processes always include multiple tasks, products are made up of a host of elements that can be tinkered with and tweaked. Studies show that work is three times more likely to be valued as ‘important’ when someone has changed the mix by adding or removing an element or two. Think of the decision solution not as a single, rigid choice, but a collection of elements that can be recombined in many ways. Decision-making is not a “one and done” activity, it’s an ongoing process that should facilitate adaptation along the way.

Finally, talk to 5 people:

Decision making is a team sport. However, most people don’t reach out beyond their own team to talk through the decision before they make it. Then they wonder why their decision lacks innovative new thinking, or they only discover after the decision is made that another group has become adversely affected. We found that 72% of award-winning outcomes happen when people reach out and discuss their decisions with others who may have differing opinions—people outside their inner circle of associates.

A smart way for leaders to encourage better decision-making is to ask the question, “Who have you talked to about this proposed decision?” This question provides a great teaching opportunity to help a team member identify multiple people to talk to in order to gain new or different perspectives.


Learn My Own System

If you’re experiencing from a bout of analysis paralysis as to which system to implement, how about learning about how I overcome it through my own unpatented system?

Over the past few years I’ve worked in teams both big and small, travelled to destinations relatively unknown and experienced some worldly stuff, but at the start or end of the day I often face the same energy sapping decisions such as “chicken or beef?” and “which identical travel insurer should I choose for this trip to Singapore?”

Learn to Differentiate

I’ve discovered that more of my friends often place too much weight on the wrong decision, such as what to have for lunch or which Netflix movie to watch. If we all invested just half of the time we wasted on these minor decisions into bigger, life changing ones, imagine the positive impact this could have? Differentiating between the minor and major decisions is powerful and has the potential to save not only minutes from your day, but place your mindset in a longer-term goal orientation. Thinking further ahead requires focus on the bigger picture, by investing our energy into how and why we make those decisions means we’ll care less about the minor ones.

Learn to Disqualify

Picture yourself in this scenario; you’re on the hunt for a new suitcase and have researched them for a month of Sundays. You have the colour, the shape, the size, even the number of wheels locked down and set in stone and you decide that Samsonite is the brand for you. As you walk into a department store you see other brands; Antler, Tumi, American Tourister. The sizes, the number of wheels, the materials, the colours –  the choices start to accumulate and all of a sudden you’re hit with a bout of decision paralysis.

What was the brand your initially came to the store for? Samsonite. Learning to disqualify the choices when presented to you is vital, especially in sales or or retail scenarios. Most consumer things these days have such minor differences, that the value proposition you place emphasis on is for lack of a better term, completely overvalued. My solution is to disqualify them and place them in the firm ‘No’ bucket.

Remember, you don’t need an answer for why they shouldn’t be chosen, you already have an answer why Samsonite was in the first place.

Learn to Delegate

This one is slightly tougher, especially if you like an element of control in everything you do in life. In a work context, I’ve learned that delegation is the single most production tool in your arsenal, so long as you knowingly appreciate why you chose that person to delegate to. Delegation isn’t about task offloading, it’s about task allocation – by delegating you’re making a statement that the person you selected to make the decision is better than you at it.

Let me provide an example. You’re in a restaurant and the party decides you’re in charge of the wine list for the evening. After all, you have quite the palate for wine! As the waiter places the wine list in front of you, the pages flick past and the sheer number of red wines reaches the hundreds, you’re stuck between a rock (Merlot) and a hard place (Pinot Noir) and reach decision paralysis. At this point, most of us will do something intrinsically – delegate back to the sommelier.

Why? Because you trust in their ability to make a better decision that you. So how about you start delegating more of your minor decisions to trusted friends and colleagues?

In case you couldn’t tell, we at Lucid are passionate about body betterment, neuro-enhancement, productivity & focus. To be kept up to date on any other blogs or infographics, add yourself to our community mailing list.


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Hendrik Kruizinga

Hendrik is the Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at Lucid. He avidly pursues great design, experiential products and the a daily dose of betterment.