Pushing Through Decision Paralysis

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Sometimes the greatest challenge is just getting started.

By Abigail Bassett

OCT 2, 2020

Every single day we make choices that are both simple and complex. What to eat for dinner, what to do with our downtime, how to engage with loved ones, even whether to shower are some of the hundreds of decisions that make up our day-to-day living. Each decision we make has a trickle-down effect on how we feel, how we relate to one another, and whether we move closer or further away from our goals. While some decisions can feel small and insignificant, others can be tremendously overwhelming and difficult. Finding the path to the right decision for you can feel daunting, too, but experts say that if you methodically tackle the things in front of you, you have a better chance of coming out on top.

You don’t have to make a perfect decision. Many times, people are afraid. They want to be smooth and perfect, but there are going to be flaws and loose ends.

Dr. Carrie Barron is the Director of Creativity for Resilience Program at Dell Medical School and Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry at the University of Texas in Austin, and she says that in current times, it’s extremely common to feel overwhelmed when making a decision.

“We’re in a world where we are bombarded with so much external stimuli and so many choices,” she says, “that in many ways it’s taken us out of our internal life and away from a certain amount of depth we have within ourselves.”

Barron says that this can make decision making very difficult since we lose touch with our internal barometer that often helps us navigate tricky life situations. “It takes intentional practice to try and bring that back,” she continues. “I think we can learn to listen to ourselves and cultivate a sense of our own intuition and instinct.”

What prevents us from making decisions

Decision paralysis can stem from a wide variety of things and thought processes, Dr. Barron says. She believes that we are facing an increase in decision paralysis, thanks, in large part, to the impact of the pandemic and the restrictions on things like group activities and gatherings.

“I think there’s a lot more anxiety, low mood, and depression right now,” she says, “and there are real challenges to what we are living through at this moment. The isolation, the inability to distract or go out, to do many things that we normally do to feel alive and vitalized. If you are feeling a bit more down and anxious, it can be hard to make decisions because mood does affect a certain kind of ambivalence, that can complicate one’s sense of clarity, energy, and motivation. Since a positive mood affects cognition in a good way, the opposite is also true. It’s simply harder to make decisions when you are feeling down.”

Dr. Barron also says that we often face decision paralysis when faced with too many options.

“In many ways, less is more,” Barron says. “If you tend to be a careful and thorough person, you might want to look at every possibility and thoroughly explore it. That can be debilitating, though.”

If you’ve ever had multiple interests that you want to pursue all at once, or if you are feeling particularly inspired and don’t know where to start, Barron suggests that you scale back some of your expectations. She says you’d be better suited to be content with making the best decision you can based on the quality of information you do have, rather than feeling stuck because you can’t do all the research in the world.

The way you make good decisions is through intuition. What feels right, what is your sensibility telling you?

Barron also says that the fear of making decisions can come from anxiety. You may have anxiety about the outcome of a specific choice, or you may have anxiety about simply choosing between one thing and another and closing doors.

You may also struggle with making a decision because of some obsessional tendencies that can manifest in other behaviors. In a 2014 article in Psychology Today, she wrote that sometimes our fear of being ill-prepared for future events can cause decision paralysis as well because it prevents us from deciding what to let go of and what to hold onto.

How to overcome decision paralysis

When you find that you are struggling to make a decision, Barron suggests a few, which might help you find some clarity.

First, it always pays to do your homework and learn as much as you can about your decision. Barron says that you should seek out reliable, truthful, and scientific sources to help you understand the choices in front of you. Say, for example, that you are trying to decide what boundaries to set around seeing friends and family during the pandemic. While we must all practice safe social distancing and wear masks to protect the most vulnerable populations, not everyone follows those practices or believes the science behind the rules. Ignoring rules and discarding science and truth puts you and your loved ones at risk. When you’re faced with a potentially life-threatening decision about what is safe and what is not, it pays to do some digging on the risks you run in choosing one option over the other.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

Barron also says that incorporating some measure of play into your decision making can also be extremely valuable.

“Creativity is useful for loosening the mind in a positive way and getting into divergent thinking where you are free-associating, and your mind can travel and fluctuate and consider many possibilities, but it’s a playful place,” she says. ” Sometimes, you do need to bounce around a little bit until there might be one thing that draws you to it. For example, if I am writing and stuck, I will go and cook to clear my head. Taking yourself out of the arena and creating a whole other sensory experience can help you reach clarity with the other activity. There shouldn’t be pressure to decide to know what the right thing is. Play is essential for wellbeing.”

You can also create a simple list of pros and cons to help you gain clarity on a decision you’re trying to make. Writing a list can help focus your mind and give you insight into what your gut instinct is telling you. Barron says that listening to your gut is also vital to overcoming decision paralysis.

“The way you make good decisions is through intuition. What feels right, what is your sensibility telling you? If your decision-making process relies too heavily on a rational and cognitive process, without intuition, then important information can be lost,” Barron says. “The coordination between instinct and cognition balance is really important for making decisions that are sound and in your best interest.”

Some people, especially in today’s increasingly disconnected age, don’t have an awareness of their gut instinct, as Barron points out. By practicing mindfulness, quiet, and meditation, she says that you can develop the skills to help you make better decisions.

“We are afraid of boredom, and we check our phones all the time,” Barron says. “We can learn to listen to ourselves and cultivate a sense of our own intuition and instinct. If you can spend some time in solitude, mindfulness can help you understand what you are trying to tell yourself and what those cues are from inside. When you make a decision that aligns with your gut instinct, it just feels right; something clicks in the self, there’s a calm or a surety or a sense of clarity.”

Barron also notes that it’s important to cut yourself some slack when making decisions, too. Not everything is always set in stone.

“Understand what I call the ‘good enough concept’,” she says. “You don’t have to make a perfect decision. Many times, people are afraid. They want to be smooth and perfect, but there are going to be flaws and loose ends. Recognize that they are all interesting. Each decision can lead to a different kind of pleasure or displeasure. Tolerating imperfect results is key.”

Finally, when it comes to trying something new, it can pay to just begin exactly where you are. Remember, no one mastered any great skill overnight.

“It’s good to be goal-oriented,” Barron says, “but try to limit the self-criticism. A learning process is a learning process. Sure, it can feel a little humiliating at times as you learn, but it’s important to have benevolence towards yourself. Just let yourself move through it and be interested in the thing itself and not so interested in the outcome.”

Abigail Bassett is an Emmy-winning journalist, writer and producer who covers wellness, tech, business, cars, travel, art and food. Abigail spent more than 10 years as a senior producer at CNN. She’s currently a freelance writer and yoga teacher in Los Angeles. You can find her on Twitter at @abigailbassett.

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Abigail Bassett is a full-time freelance journalist, content creator, and television, video, and podcast host whose work has appeared in publications like TechCrunch, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, Forbes, Fortune, Motor Trend, Shondaland, Money Magazine, and on CNN. Her passion is telling unique stories that change the way we see, interact with, and relate to the world. She is also a Yoga Alliance Registered 500-hour yoga teacher.

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