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Overanalyzing or overthinking a situation can cause our decision-making to come to a screeching halt. When no solution or course of action is decided upon in a natural time frame because of this stoppage, it is referred to as analysis paralysis.
An Embarrassment of Riches
Do you feel overwhelmed by too many choices? it seems like a first world problem for sure. We live in age of abundance where we have more choices than ever. Usually, having choices is a good thing. Barry Schwartz tells us in the Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, that the problem takes a real toll. He writes that as the number of choices we face increases the freedom of choice eventually becomes a tyranny of choice.
Having too many choices can do more than trigger anxiety and analysis paralysis. With so many choices to be made throughout the day, we can experience decision fatigue.
Experts tell us that decision-making abilities are finite resources that are depleted with every choice we make whether it be what to wear, what to eat or what route to take to work. By the afternoon, you will have made hundreds of small decisions and your cognitive powers will be depleted.
Now you know why it’s so hard to decide what to make for dinner when you get home! Luckily, Paradox of Choice offers some suggestions that can help curb your analysis paralysis tendencies.
Put Artificial Constraints on your Freedom of Choice
Word has it that while in office, President Obama only wore gray or blue suits. He did this so he didn’t have to debate on what to wear every morning, saving his decision-making abilities for more important things.
Perhaps more adaptable to those of us not elected to office could be starting the day in the same way. Meditate, exercise, have the same breakfast… some sort of ritual that is always the same so that it doesn’t require any thought. It sounds boring but it may save a lot of anxiety down the road.
There are Opportunity Costs of Decision-Making
Decisions take time and energy, Is it worth it? Think about one that you made recently. How much anxiety was created by the consideration of the number of options?
If you spend an hour going over options, that’s an hour that you’re not spending on something that matters. This is your opportunity cost.
Imagine Worse Alternatives
We ordinarily imagine what Schwartz calls “upward counterfactuals’, meaning hypothetical states that are better than what actually took place. What if you had picked a different hotel, a different school or different pair of jeans? Life could have been so much better.
Downward counterfactuals are obviously the opposite, being hypothetical states worse than the present reality. Instead of imagining what a vacation in a “better” place might look like, imagine getting stuck in the middle of nowhere for a week. The theory is that thinking through worse alternatives will allow you to see the present in a much better light.
Coming across an amazing restaurant by accident can be a lot more rewarding than dinner at a fancy restaurant that you found after agonizing over several options. Enjoy the surprises that life brings your way and don’t miss them by thinking them out of existence.
Anxiety on its own can be crippling. Unfortunately many of us tend to fall into the bad habit of overthinking things, which can lead to analysis paralysis. The first time I heard this phrase, I thought it was just made up and that my friend was basically saying her husband was a pro at procrastinating. Having experienced this phenomenon, it’s no joke. The paralysis is real as far as doing anything at all productive.
If you notice that you have started to struggle with your decision-making, try some hacks. Read the book mentioned above. Watch a TED talk. Search something online. Don’t let your life pass you by, it’s far too precious.
Questions and comments are always welcome!