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A Simple Framework to Overcome Decision Paralysis

· 7 min read
decision paralysis can create anxiety and hinder productivity

Are you struggling with decision paralysis and feeling stuck in your personal or professional life? In today's post, we describe a simple and effective decision-making framework that can help you overcome this obstacle, and become more productive while living a joyful life. Our three-stage approach involves reducing the number of decisions, optimizing your choices, and practicing acceptance. By implementing actionable tips and focusing on what really matters, you can unlock your full potential and make choices with confidence!

At HeroMode, our goal is to help users be productive while living a joyful life. One common obstacle to both of these goals is decision paralysis. Decision paralysis can be a constant occurrence in our lives. You have probably experienced it many times!

When we are unable to make decisions, it not only slows down our productivity, but also robs us the joy that comes with taking action and making progress. The constant anxiety and mental energy expended on making decisions chip away happiness and fulfillment. In today's article, we will describe a simple framework that can help you overcome decision paralysis.

The Three-Stage Decision-Making Framework

There are three stages in making a decision:

  • Before making a decision
  • During the decision making process
  • After making a decision

For each of these stages, there's a key to overcoming decision paralysis:

  • Before making a decision: Reduction
  • During the decision making process: Optimization
  • After making a decision: Acceptance

Now let's dive in and see how each of these keys works!

Before Making a Decision: Reduction

An easy method to alleviate decision paralysis is to simply remove the need to make too many decisions in the first place. This is not a reduction in personal choices and freedom, but rather the ability to choose what to focus on and what can be delegated, automated, or deferred.

  • Delegate decisions to others. For example, let your coworkers decide on team activity or allow your partner to choose the movie.

  • Automate decisions with defaults. For example, instead of choosing where to each lunch each day, you can set up a default schedule.

  • If it doesn't need to be decided now, defer it. For example, if you are deciding on a new laptop, but your current one is still working fine, you can defer the decision until your current laptop breaks down. You will always have more information in the future, so not only do you reduce the number of decisions you need to make now, you will also make a more informed choice when time comes.

During Decision Making: Optimization

For decisions that cannot be delegated, automated, or deferred, the key to avoid decision paralysis is to be keenly aware what it is that you are optimizing on. This is because decision paralysis often comes from the fear of making the wrong choice. So by being clear on what you are optimizing on, you can make a decision that you know is the best for you.

This is not always easy to do. Because it takes time to learn your own personal preferences and values. But the more you practice and introspect, the better you will get at it.

Let's illustrate with examples. Now being graduation season, many new graduates are in the process of choosing a job. And for each person, their primary "optimization function" can be different, leading them to make different choices that are better aligned with their personal values and goals:

  • If you value financial stability and security, you might choose a job that offers a high salary, good benefits, and a stable work environment.

  • If you are passionate about a particular cause or mission, you might prioritize working for organizations that embrace those values, regardless of salary or job title.

  • If you value autonomy and flexibility, you might seek out remote or freelance opportunities that allow you to set your own work hours and location.

  • If you are looking to gain experience and build your skills for a future career, you might prioritize choosing a job that offers ample opportunities for growth and learning, even if it doesn't pay as much initially.

  • If you value adventure and brand new experiences, you might choose a job that allows you to travel and explore new places.

The list goes on. The point is, you need to know your own optimization function, and even be aware that it can change over time at different phases of your life. If you know what you are optimizing on, not only will you make choices that are more consistent with your values, you will also be more confident in your choice as you can back it up with a clear rationale.

After Making a Decision: Acceptance

Arguably, the most important key to overcoming decision paralysis is the ability to live with the consequences of your decisions. It's a collaborative effort amongst your past, present, and future selves. Here's how you can practice acceptance:

  • Acknowledge that you can't change the past. Hindsight can lead us to doubt or criticize our choices, but we must remember that we cannot change what has already happened. So such thoughts are counterproductive.

  • Don't judge your past self based on present knowledge. We always gain new information and experiences that may make our past decisions seem not so great. However, it is important to remember that we made the best choice with the knowledge and resources we had at the time.

  • Focus on the present moment and your future goals. Instead of mourning a decision you made in the past, channel your energy towards your present and future goals. Learn from your past, but don't let it define or limit you.

  • Practice self-compassion. It's important to let it go if we made a decision that didn't work out as planned. Treating our past selves with empathy helps us to be more courageous in making future decisions. If you always resent your past self for making a bad choice, then your present self will only be more fearful in making decisions that can be critized by your future self.

By practicing acceptance, you can build resilience and a growth mindset, which will help you become more productive and live a joyful life.

Framework Recap

We all experience decision paralysis at some point, but it doesn't have to hinder our productivity and happiness. At HeroMode, we have developed a simple three-stage decision-making framework to combat decision paralysis.

  • Before making a decision: Reduction. Ask yourself the following questions:

    • "Can this decision be made by someone else?" (Delegate)
    • "Can I use default choices, or randomly choose one?" (Automate)
    • "Do I need to decide now, or can I make this decision later?" (Defer)
  • During the decision making process: Optimization. Ask yourself the following questions:

    • "What am I optimizing on?"
    • "What are my values and goals?"
    • "How have my values and goals changed over time?"
    • "Which choice is most aligned with my values and goals?"
  • After making a decision: Acceptance. Remember the following:

    • We can't change the past.
    • We always know more now than we did before, so don't judge your past self's choices based on present knowledge.
    • Remember the rationales behind your past decisions. They reflect your values and goals at the time.
    • Be kind to your past self. So that your present self can make choices confidently, without the fear of being criticized by your future self.

With practice and determination, you can unlock your productivity potential and live your most joyful and fulfilling life, without being hindered by decision paralysis!