Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.—Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”
Decision paralysis is officially a thing. Trust me. I read it on the internet.
Seriously, though, I read a lot of psychology books and articles these days, and I also conduct hands-on research on live human subjects. One subject, myself. I’ve always had decision paralysis but didn’t realise it was decision paralysis. I just thought I was a weirdo and that the nature of my weirdness was unique. Apparently, I am just as unique as everyone else—hence, not at all.
Decision paralysis is a crippling condition when you can’t decide. For me, it gets worse when my depression and/or anxiety get better—I mean, when they get the better of me, when they flourish and I therefore don’t. Deciding consumes a lot of mental energy. Also a lot of time. It’s usually pretty frustrating and doesn’t necessarily lead to a decision being made.
In a research experiment, it was found that the more choices you have, the less likely you are to choose something. Research subjects were offered two or three choices, and they picked one relatively easily. When they had a dozen or so choices, however, they more often ended up not choosing anything at all because the number of possibilities was too overwhelming. I so get it.
The other day I was with a friend and asked her to wait for me a minute while I get something at the chemist’s. I needed one thing, shampoo. When I located the shampoo shelf, I nearly fainted because there was an array of dozen variants from my preferred brand (the cheapest one). I clutched the shelf and slowly descended in a yogic squat to examine the options. It made my head spin. It took me forever to pick the blue one. My friend was exasperated. I objected that I wasn’t fucking horrible, as she suggested, but just had a case of decision paralysis. She wasn’t impressed.
One practical psychology book I read and was hugely impressed by proposes to limit decision paralysis with to-do-today lists. It’s a modified to-do list, except you only put on it what you have to do on a particular day. You should colour-code tasks which must be done, which may be done and which don’t have to be done. The tasks should be spread randomly all across the page. OK, now, WTF. I hate randomness, and I find it obvious that if it’s supposed to work, you have to write down your tasks in the order in which you want to do them.
I sometimes use the method, but not often, because I’m already super organised. I mean, I have a regular schedule for each day and I stick to it. When I can’t stick to it, I get extremely anxious. You can’t mess with your rituals when you’re OCD. I suspect I even unconsciously brush my teeth in a prescribed number of strokes in a given order.
Now that you know that decision paralysis is real, do you have it and if so, what do you do about it?