‘Options paralysis’ is a psychological term that describes what happens when we’re given too many choices. A good example might be what happens when you go to the supermarket and have to choose a type of soup. If there’s only one type of soup, then you might find that you come away frustrated at having no other options. On the other hand, if there are twenty types of soup then you might find yourself browsing for ten minutes before coming to a decision.
In fact, studies show that in some scenarios we actually just leave without getting the thing we came in for under these circumstances. What’s more, being forced to choose from so many options can actually trigger a stress response and cause us to experience significant anxiety. And after all that, we’re actually less likely to be satisfied with the outcome because we’ll be too busy wondering ‘what if’.
In business this can be a serious problem if you’re constantly frozen by choices and unsure of how to proceed. Worse, if you keep finding yourself in this position you can end up ‘fatigued’ by making so many choices to the point where you start making bad decisions – or struggle to make decisions at all.
How to Prevent Fatigue and Paralysis
So how do you prevent this options paralysis and avoid ‘overwhelm’?
One approach is to try and avoid making ‘small’ decisions that can tax your decision-making capacity throughout the day. Steve Jobs reportedly did this by always wearing the exact same thing. This left him with no need to make the choice of what to wear, meaning he had more energy to make important work decisions. Letting your partner make your lunch, or having a set meal plan could help you to feel less exhausted by decisions you’ll have to make later on.
Another useful strategy when faced with choices at work is to create yourself a guide. This could take the form of a flow chart, which can lead you to the best decision, or perhaps it might be a spreadsheet such as those used by purchasing departments to select the best providers to win contracts.
Finally, try to encourage yourself not to regret past decisions. While this might be easier said than done, this type of mental discipline can be trained and what it essentially means is that you won’t be wasting energy making ‘retrospective decisions’. Make up your mind, then move on!