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How do you deal with decision paralysis?

by Raj Thimmiah1 min read13th Apr 20213 comments

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I have too many choices in too many things and I can see that it's crippling my ability to get things done. 

I'm struggling a great deal now to come up with plans and stick with them. I know choices are bad but I'm not sure what to do about it. 

I think the solution from this video on the paradox of choice is to lower expectations but how do you actually do that, routinely?

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In general I work to reduce volume of choices I have to make (offload some responsibilities, maybe) and also to reduce the cognitive load each choice imposes. I have a few strategies for the latter (my Partner and 5yo both have a hard time with decision paralysis)...

  • Many choices are routine, or specifically come up often enough it's worth it to choose a permanent default. e.g. "Always get rum raisin ice cream if it's available, otherwise see if anything sounds better than chocolate"
  • Use a random number generator to select a default. e.g. "Make a list of options and ask Google to select an integer on the range of 1 to [size of the list]. If nothing seems obviously better, go with it."
  • Use process of elimination. e.g. "Make a list of the options and scratch off the worst (or at least the least good) one. Repeat until there's only one option left, or until the remaining list offers an obvious choice."
  • For choices with few options but big possible consequences, make better use of your brain time by actually examining those consequences (this is not necessarily a traditional list of pros and cons)(this should be done in text form to make it less likely you'll waste a lot of time and energy retreading the same ground). Before predicting the consequences for each option, make a list of possible consequence-types and your outcome preferences for each type. Maybe rank those preferences. If your options still look the same after that, you probably know what you need to find out for the tie-breaker. Else, they really are basically the same and you can throw the dice. e.g. When buying a house, decide how many bedrooms you need at minimum, how much square footage you need, and what you must have nearby; and decide how much you're willing to negotiate on all categories. This can reduce the search-space dramatically, and if you end up with multiple choices at the end you'll know they're all at least sufficient.

Basically, I proceduralize the decision-making process in one way or another. The more mechanical I can make the choosing process, the less cognitive load in imposes on me.

Very importantly, there's a skill to letting go of all the other options. You will never get to taste all the ice cream, and you just have to be OK with that. Even if it's not really true because, e.g., you have regular access to that shop, the brain is worse at delaying gratification than it is at letting go of the idea of that particular gratification entirely. Like all skills, you get better at this with practice.

Just tried the consequences thing and it's helpful and different from standard pros/cons as you said. I think I internalized from somewhere that lists and process of elimination don't work which now looks clearly wrong and I want to get into the habit of using more.

make a list of possible consequence-types and your outcome preferences for each type. Maybe rank those preferences.  

missed this part on first read, will try that

okay, that was useful and made choice more certain. Thanks for the suggestion.

 

Do you have a blog? Maybe consider turning th... (read more)

2kithpendragon8moI'm pleased to have been of service! :) I occasionally blog here on LW. I'll add this topic to my list of stuff I might write a top level post about, and we'll see what happens!