How to Overcome Decision Paralysis

Too much choice can be paralyzing. Here's how to make sure too much choice doesn't give too few results.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #520

In the book The Paradox of Choice, author Barry Schwartz lays out the research on how humans deal with choice. There’s a lot of research, and the results are surprising. Our culture deeply assumes that more choice is good for us. All the research says otherwise. Too much choice can often be worse than no choice.

More choices equals less choosing. You go to the store to get a new suit of clothes for work. You find two great options: a fluorescent paisley leisure suit and a more conservative plush velveteen tiger-striped onesie. The choice is obvious. No one wears a onesie at work, so the next thing you know, you’re walking down the street proudly glowing in your new suit.

More Than Two Choices Can Paralyze Us

With too many choices, you’re much more likely to choose nothing, and start avoiding the decision altogether. Try buying toothpaste. Do you want tartar control? Whitening? Extra-minty breath freshening? Cinnamon flavored? Bubble gum flavored? Total, full-mouth pizazz? Inflatable 3-color bonanza for your tonsils? 

ARGH! You freeze, staring at the toothpaste aisle like a deer caught in headlights. It’s too much. You start thinking that it’s easier just to get all your teeth replaced with ceramic crowns. Then you won’t have to make this choice. STOP! You are caught in decision paralysis. Do not get your teeth replaced by crowns. Instead, simply defuse the situation.

Satisfice, Don’t Maximize

Part of your stress comes because you want to make the best decision. That’s called "maximizing." But there are too many qualities that need to be best: whitening, tartar control, and mouth pizazz. Not to mention price. None of the products maximize all of these things. Instead, "satisfice." Get the first option that is good enough on the criteria you care about.

Ask yourself what you care about. Then only look at options that address your cares. Settle for the first option that’s good enough, instead of trying for "best." 

What do you want in a toothpaste? Cavity-prevention and low price. Great! Look! On the bottom shelf is Aquafresh. It has all the fluoride, and is 1/3 the price. It satisfies your needs. The fact that it has three colors and freshens your breath is a happy plus. 

You’ve made your choice. Now pay and get home to your shmoopie. Find some activity to engage in once you’ve brushed your teeth. I’d suggest specifics, but this is a G-rated article.

Roll the Dice

When faced with too many choices, grab some dice, or a random number generator (I like Random.org and its app, which generates truly random numbers, not wimpy-man fake random numbers). Then roll the dice and choose the option the dice tell you to choose.

"But...but...," I hear you cry, "I hate that choice!" Excellent. In that case, eliminate it from the lineup and roll the dice again. Choosing randomly like this is actually a way to find out what your unconscious mind thinks. And there’s been a fair amount of research suggesting that your unconscious mind is much better than your conscious mind at complicated decisions.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.