Emotional Wellbeing

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Mandy Kloppers

What Is Decision Paralysis and Why Does It Happen?

by Tariq Gardezi

Acute stress is one of the key determinants of decision making.

In fact, studies suggest that external stressors can influence individuals to make decisions without considering all possible outcomes. However, while that may be the case for some people, others may find anxiety within the object of having to make a decision itself. This kind of situation, in more severe cases, can cause decision paralysis.

But, what is it? And why does it happen?

Let’s have a look.

Decision Paralysis, or the Inability to Choose

Decision paralysis also goes by the terms “choice paralysis” or “analysis paralysis”. They refer to a situation where a person is so overwhelmed by the prospect of having to choose or make a decision, that the decision is never made. This generally occurs as a result of overthinking, over-analyzing and feeling an inordinate amount of pressure to make the right decision.

So, why does it happen?

The Fear of Regret

Some minds are more prone to anxiety than others. And what is anxiety, but a constant fear of regret? A person who experiences decision paralysis is plagued with anxious thoughts that push them into an endless thought spiral of “what-ifs”.

What if you try out this new restaurant, and then realize it isn’t very good? What if you spend your money on this pair of shoes, and discover a less expensive one at the next store? What if you choose ‘A’ and discover that ‘B’ was the better choice, after all?

The fear of regret can keep a person in an endless loop of thought, preventing them from ever coming to a definite conclusion.

The Multiplicity of Choice

Picture yourself in a small ice-cream shop. They’ve got chocolate and vanilla, and you know you’ve always liked chocolate so your choice is easy. Now picture yourself in a bigger store with 50 different variations of chocolate alone – how will you ever decide?

Too many choices can be overwhelmingly difficult to choose from, particularly when the differences between them are subtle.

The Future Self

The present you and the future you may not want the same thing. This is an unsettling thought for most people who have trouble with decisions. The idea of knowing you could have had better or could have done better is an extremely unpleasant one.

We do not want our future selves to look back and wish we had done differently.

Research on how to stop being indecisive shows that considering a “worst-case scenario” can often help in making simpler decisions.

Your Way Forward

If you’re someone who experiences decision paralysis or analysis paralysis regularly, it might be a good idea to consider addressing your fears in therapy. Additionally, making peace with your “worst-case scenario” can also help you navigate everyday moments of decision paralysis.

Looking for more reliable information on mental health? Check out our ‘Mental Health Resources’ tab for useful information on anxiety, CBT and more important insights into the psychology of choice.