How to overcome decision paralysis

By boris, February 03, 2014

It happens to the best of us. Faced with a major decision (be it business, financial, life), we’re unsure of which way to go. Worried about making the wrong decision, we wait, do more research, seek more input…basically do anything besides make the decision and act on it. In many cases, the more choices we have, the more likely we are to freeze.

As an entrepreneur or investor, you can’t afford to freeze. I generally pride myself on being able to make very quick decisions based on both data and gut, but sometimes there’s just no conclusive evidence or gut feeling to guide the way.

Here are four techniques that I have used in order to get past this paralysis:

1. Let the decision sit for awhile: Sometimes you just need some extra time for an idea to percolate, and after a few days or weeks, the right path will become more clear.

2. Talk to somebody: a small comment or bit of advice from someone else can often solve the puzzle in your head. In other cases, just the act of talking about the situation out loud provides an instant revelation of what to do.

3. Pro-con list: I’ll admit that this is probably the least effective method for me, as a decision is often not just a simple list of reasons for and against. But for some, the process of writing out the pros and cons helps distill their thinking.

4. Minimize your regrets: Here’s the principle that I’ve really started to embrace. Ask yourself the following: If you look back at this decision 10 years from now, which path will you most regret not having taken?  For example, think about the decision to stay on a safe career path vs. starting a company that has a huge potential upside but also very high risks. Rather than just focusing on minimizing risk, I like to take the approach of minimizing potential regrets when faced with a hard decision.

What do you do to overcome decision paralysis?

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  • One method that works for me is to make smaller decisions on things.

    If a decision has implications for a long time period in the future, like months or years then split it up. Make smaller decisions, agree (normally with yourself) that it’s ok to change direction later and to review them.

  • bwertz

    Great advice – agreed, that usually works well.

  • Antonie Henning

    Somewhere between 5-10) Evaluate the worse case scenario. Difficult decisions are often difficult due to psychology/fear/emotions. Evaluating the worse case scenario helps to put these into perspective. What is the worse that can happen, being totally broke in 36 months? Game on.

  • atkingyens

    I always reflect on my core values and try to make decisions in a way that best aligns with them 🙂

  • Andrew Bertolina

    I agree with your processes about decision making. I’ve heard great investors’ quotes, e.g. Henry Kravis saying “Let’s sleep on it” when it comes to a doing a big deal or not. The problem from the entrepreneurial side, is that with innovation comes uncertainty (“the more choices we have, the more likely we are to freeze”).

    I like your 1), 2), 4). For a big decision, I will gather opinions/data and then go with the decision I won’t regret / that I feel passionate about.

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