In western culture, it’s commonly accepted that having lots of choices equals freedom, and the more we have, the better decisions we’ll be able to make. However, studies show the opposite is true. The more options we have, the more likely we are to suffer from choice paralysis and use poor judgment.
Choice paralysis is when, faced with many options, we get lost in the details of each and either make a decision we’re dissatisfied with or we give up and opt not to choose any alternative.
Here’s how to prevent choice paralysis from inhibiting your ability to make great decisions.
Limit Your Options
Research has found that the more options you have, the poorer decisions you make. This sounds counter-intuitive; however, your brain gets overwhelmed when you compare lots of similar information. Instead of looking for the option that best fits your needs, you’re likely to get confused about what you need. Your confusion creates choice paralysis which dampens your good judgment.
To avoid choice paralysis, you need to minimize the number of options you consider. Here’s how:
- If you’re making a decision that requires researching your options and/or getting feedback from others, set caps on the amount of information you collect. For example, decide to only collect X amount of options, speak to X amount of people, or stop after spending X amount of time on data collection.
- Yield information from a limited quantity of credible sources. When possible, limit your information search to pre-vetted sources such as industry-leading websites, review sites, and referrals.
- Reduce the number of criteria you consider. A primary reason why people tend to make worse decisions the more options they think about is that they get lost in the weeds of comparing every little detail and forget to focus on the criteria that make the most significant impact. To prevent this from occurring, think about your must-have characteristics and only focus on those in your decision-making process.
- Stop searching once you’ve found a solution that meets your needs. If you’re paying attention to details, there are no perfect solutions and searching for them wastes time, adds confusion and will leave you disappointed when you run out of time to make a decision.
Remember, choosing from a limited quantity of high-quality options will yield much better results than evaluating an abundance of mediocre ones.
Deliberate Under Deadlines
One of the most damaging effects of choice paralysis is the tendency to waste hours - if not days - comparing details that don’t have a significant impact on your decision’s outcome.
To avoid this, you must set deadlines for making decisions. Set your duration on a sliding scale based on the decision’s importance and the number of stakeholders it affects.
For example, let’s say you’re looking into adopting a new CRM for your company. It’s a significant financial investment, and the outcome is going to have a substantial impact on your sales and marketing teams. For a decision like this, you might give yourself a deadline of four to six weeks to ensure you have enough time to get your team’s feedback and thoroughly consider each solution’s features.
For mid to low impact decisions such as where to host a team lunch or how to respond to short-term conflicts, set aside a maximum of thirty to sixty minutes to deliberate. To always meet your deadlines, do not add any more options to your consideration list until you’ve determined none of your initial picks meet your needs.
Think About Categories, Not Details
A key trigger of choice paralysis is viewing options in a too nuanced way. In the US, we’re culturally changed from a young age to notice differences. So, when presented with similar options, we’re prone to zero-in on all the little details that make them unique. The problem with this is it that all the small variances distract you from the more substantial characteristics that separate one option from another.
While helping companies such as Pepsi and Campbell’s Soup to develop new products, psychophysicist, and market researcher Howard Moskowitz discovered that it is difficult for people to distinguish what they want on a granular level. Instead, people prefer one to two different types of most products and are generally happy with all options in their ideal category.
For example, he helped Prego realize that consumers want tomato sauce that is spicy, plain, or extra chunky and have weaker preferences regarding other specific flavors. Prego used that insight to revise their recipes, so they fit one of those profiles. Now, though there are tons of flavor varieties, people will limit their purchases to their preferred category.
To avoid choice paralysis, group your desired outcomes from big decisions into a maximum of five brackets that encompass your overall needs and wants.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to decide which new product idea you want to produce and release. Instead of breaking down all the details of each idea, focus on key issues such as:
- Production costs
- Competition/market viability
- Time to launch
Comparing ideas based on key categories rather than specific details saves time and allows you to make decisions based solely on the most critical factors.
Take Breaks from the Decision-Making Process
Studies show that one of the most effective ways to make difficult decisions is to stop thinking about them. As soon as you reach the point of choice paralysis, you’ve lost your sound judgment making it counterproductive to continue focusing on the subject.
Taking a break gives your subconscious brain the opportunity to take-over, analyze the data you’ve collected, and make connections that are more intuitive than your conscious mind is capable of. Following your break, you’ll have insights that will bolster your thought process.
If you’ve already done your due diligence and are just stuck making the final decision, a brief walk or hour working on another project may give you the clarity to finalize your choice.
However, if you’re stressed and don’t know what to do, sleeping on it for a day or two will give your subconscious time to thoroughly evaluate what’s best and enable you to make a faster decision when you resume working on it.
Using these decision-making strategies will enable you to avoid choice paralysis and make the most rational decisions in the least amount of time.