Imagine a situation where you have to choose a good project management software for a big upcoming project at your office. You are excited at the opportunity of being the lead and eager to choose the right tool that will maximize your and your team’s productivity.

But you find yourself evaluating parameters such as budget, features, integration with other tools, and compatibility with existing software. You know it has to be something the team adopts instantly. It should do its job well. And it should be a well-thought decision, appreciated by your bosses. The act of deciding overwhelms you, and you end up spending days unable to make the final choice.

This situation is what psychologists call ‘analysis paralysis’, or the inability to make decisions due to overthinking.

What causes analysis paralysis?

In the age of Google, we humans have instant access to information that, ideally, should empower us to make better choices. However, the more information that’s available, greater the struggle to arrive at a final consensus. Here are some reasons why we may be prone to analysis paralysis:

  • Low confidence – If a previous decision did not work out well or deliver the expected outcome, we might second-guess ourselves and mistrust our decisions or decision-making capabilities. Sometimes, it might be a simple lack of practice in making important decisions that causes analysis paralysis.
  • Perfectionism – Perfectionists want to make the right decision every time. But this is an unrealistic goal. Some perfectionists also struggle with the indecisiveness that accompanies impostor syndrome. Finding the perfect solution can sometimes nudge us to choose no solution in the end.
  • People pleasing – In some cases, the decision may affect others or have a long-lasting impact. So, we seek validation through others’ opinions and feedback. However, this, too, can send one into a vicious loop of examining options, pros, and cons without eventually choosing any single course of action.
  • Anxiety – The need to be a perfectionist, people-please, or deal with imposter syndrome can cause anxiety, draining us of mental energy to make a fitting and quick decision and exacerbating the feelings of analysis paralysis.

Have you experienced analysis paralysis?

On a physiological level, here are some signs to watch out for.

Physically, you may experience a rapid heart rate, fatigue, loss of sleep, and sweating.

Mentally, you may observe a drop in productivity or performance, inability to focus, and intruding thoughts. Prolonged episodes of analysis paralysis can kill creativity and reduce overall happiness. Some offshoots of analysis fatigue are also the ‘paradox of choice’ and ‘decision fatigue’, both of which are characterized by inaction.

There are several studies examining how the paradox of choice works. The most famous one was conducted in 2000 by Stanford University, during which they observed shopper behaviour at a supermarket where two types of jam-tasting booths were set up on different days. One had an extensive array of jams, while the other had a lesser, limited choice. The researchers discovered that while more shoppers stopped by the booth with more options (product attractiveness), greater sales (decision-making and action, i.e., actual purchasing behaviour) occurred on the days when the limited numbers of jams were on display in the tasting booth. The study’s findings highlighted that having a plethora of choice does not, in fact, lead to faster and better decisions.

So, how does one deal with analysis paralysis in the age of information explosion? Check out our next post for some tips.

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