Reader question… “Do you have any advice for someone like me who is having serious problems making decisions? I know the drill. I gather all the information I can and try to formulate a realistic plan while considering all the pros and cons and trying to prepare for anything that might happen as a result. I’m always afraid I’ll make the wrong decision and I have become very good at not making any decisions at all. I have noticed that this problem is spilling over even into smaller and less important decisions in my life. Do you have any ideas that might help me?” –from Amanda T.

There actually is a name for what you’re experiencing. It’s a syndrome called paralysis of analysis, or sometimes analysis paralysis… when your mind is so full of what MIGHT happen that you can’t think past those possibilities to make your decision.

When you are faced with an important decision, it’s always a good idea to gather information about the possible options and to use that information to evaluate the possible consequences. Analysis paralysis happens when you spend too much time analyzing that information and second-guessing all those possibilities… when you literally can’t make a decision because that excess of information actually prevents you from moving forward.


Northern green frog (Lithobates clamitans melanota)

I think it’s important to remember…

  • There is no such thing as not making a decision. When you procrastinate, you’re actually making a decision to let life and circumstances make that decision for you by default.
  • Every decision isn’t an irreversible, life-altering decision. Not every choice you make will be of vital importance.
  • There is no shame in making the best decision you can and having it turn out to be the wrong choice. There is no way anyone can make the perfect decision every time, and sometimes even the most spectacular failures can lead to new opportunities that will enrich your life in ways you never imagined.
  • Life is full of surprises. It just is not possible to plan ahead for every eventuality… also, some things work in theory and not in reality.

Don’t let your self-doubt keep you from making timely decisions. Make yourself stop over-analyzing and worrying about consequences. Make yourself stop obsessing about making a perfect decision. Concentrate instead on just doing SOMETHING… moving ahead and taking action will make a decision easier.

And it may help to remember that decision-making is just like any other skill… it gets easier with practice!

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Comments

KFT

My name isn’t Amanda but I could have written this question because I have the exact same problem with making decisions. I know every decision isn’t the most important one I will ever have to make and now with your insight and encouragement I think I can stop acting as if it was. Thanks so much.

Bob

It’s so true that what works in theory doesn’t always work in reality. That is a good lesson to learn and something to remember.

Becky

I think this analysis paralysis has some connection to the way people are so engrossed with minutia these days. Perhaps they obsess on unimportant things because there is nothing they can do about really important things like the unemployment or mortgage situations, rising prices, etcetera?

Katrina

“There is no such thing as not making a decision. When you procrastinate, you’re actually making a decision to let life and circumstances make that decision for you by default.”

Thank you for the reminder on this point. It’s really a very deep concept, and one I’m coming to understand more and more fully as I try to live consciously. How important to remember this!

Marie

I, too, am not Amanda, but I could have written this question. I’ve had so many life-altering, unfortunate outcomes after making a decision that I had thought deeply on that I fear more bad things happening as a result of a wrong decision. One example was passing on a job offer from a company that I had previously worked for. I wasn’t happy there, so I decided not to subject myself to possible stress again. I had the confidence and hope that something else would come along. Nothing ever did and I was still unemployed over a year later. I would have been homeless if it weren’t for the chance to stay at a friend’s house. I wondered if I had chosen differently, maybe I could have worked at that company, then used that job as a stepping stone to something better.

I agree about new opportunities arising out of failures. I moved to a new city and found a job within a couple of days! I miss my hometown, but I have a home and a job now.

Beth

The information fire-hose is infinite! :)

Thomas

Not too long ago I was in the grocery store a few feet away from somebody who was trying to decide between two kinds of soup. What I was observing was a clear case of Analysis Paralysis because with the amount of effort she was putting into making the decision, you would think it was important enough to ensure world peace. I think that a lot of people are losing their perspective. Some decisions are important and require a lot of thought, but most of them aren’t. With those kind, decide and go on to the next thing. Great post, very well put.

John

Beware the opposite reaction type. I have a friend that never thinks or thinks very little at the decision point. He has caused serious personal injury to others and property damage. He is a retired exec from a major US company.