How to Avoid Decision Making Paralysis for Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Defining Decade" by Meg Jay. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is decision-making paralysis? How does it affect your life and choices?

Decision-making paralysis is when you realize you have limited decisions in life and can’t choose what path to follow. Once you start thinking about what will get you where you want to go, you’ll find that it’s easier to make decisions.

Read more about decision-making paralysis and what it means.

Decision-Making Paralysis: Look Realistically at Your Options

As a child, you’ve probably been told you can do “anything you want” with your life. Whether or not that was true when you were a kid, it’s most definitely not true when you’re an adult. Your choices are actually quite limited. The options you have before you are determined by your past—who you are, where you’ve come from, and what identity capital you have—and your vision of the future—where you ultimately want to be. 

But this shouldn’t upset you; it’s actually a good thing. It is far easier to choose among a few options than infinite options. Having too many options often leads to anxiety. When faced with infinite choices, the pressure to make the best choice over all the others is overwhelming and results in paralysis. In the face of excessive options, it can feel safer not to make any decision, so that you don’t risk missing out on something better. 

In one revealing study, researchers set up sampling tables in two grocery stores. The first offered samples of six different jams, and the second offered twenty four. While the twenty-four-sample table attracted more attention, the six-flavor table resulted in far more sales (30 percent as opposed to only three percent). 

The best way to move beyond decision-making paralysis is to think honestly about what options are available to you. Make a list of the realistic options you have based on your experience, education, strengths, interests, and goals. Maybe you decide you could either continue working at the coffee shop, go to art school, take a job as an administrative assistant, or travel through South America until your savings are exhausted. Examine these options rationally. Which will lead you to a place you’d like to see yourself in ten or twenty years? Which are maybe just another excuse to put off committing to adulthood?

Making yourself aware of your true options is the first step towards setting realistic, workable goals: the building blocks of future happiness. 

How to Avoid Decision Making Paralysis for Life

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Meg Jay's "The Defining Decade" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Defining Decade summary:

  • Why the twenties are your most important decade
  • How you were fooled into thinking it was an extended period of youth and freedom
  • Why you should use this decade to find personal and professional success

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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