Let’s say you’re choosing a restaurant for an upcoming dinner with a friend visiting from out of town. It’s normal to do a little bit of hemming and hawing (do you want tacos or pizza?), but many people in this situation will find themselves so overwhelmed by the prospect of choosing that they’ll actually feel paralyzed by anxiety. Those people could be struggling with decision paralysis, a term for when you have intense difficulty making a choice. We caught up with licensed mental health counselor Alana Carvalho to learn more about decision paralysis, including how you can try to overcome it.
Decision Paralysis Is Hindering Your Happiness. Here's How to Overcome It
Meet the Expert
Alana Carvalho, LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in helping individuals, couples and families build balanced, connected and rewarding relationships. She is especially passionate about helping individuals learn about codependency and perfectionism to start their healing journeys. Carvalho is the author of Raising Empowered Children: The Codependent Perfectionist’s Guide to Parenting and the host of ‘The Codependent Perfectionist’ podcast.
“Decision paralysis, simply stated, is an intense difficulty making a choice between options,” Carvalho explains. “The feeling can be so intense that its paralyzing to us, meaning we may feel extremely stuck and unable to move forward in making a choice.” Some signs that you’re experiencing decision paralysis include procrastination, researching for an inordinate amount of time and feeling anxious when thinking about the decision to be made. Decision paralysis can be caused by a host of things, from a fear of making the wrong choice or regretting your choice to just having too many good options available.
While it’s not an official medical diagnoses (meaning there aren’t stats on how many people deal with it or any agreed upon guidelines for treating it), decision paralysis can be common for folks with ADHD, anxiety and especially codependency and perfectionism—but none of those are necessary to experience decision paralysis. “Oftentimes, it’s connected with a deep sense of not trusting ourselves and our intuition so we’re trying to figure out what is ‘right' to do.” Carvalho continues that when it comes to anxiety, codependency and perfectionism, there can be a lot of fear of doing something wrong. “[This] can heighten the pressure we put on ourselves to make sure we always make ’the right’ decision, rather than acknowledging that it’s OK to make decisions that don’t end up in our best interest because we learn so much from them.”
So what can you do if you struggle with decision paralysis? First, try to not procrastinate for too long. We know that’s easier said than done, but research has shown that putting things off makes you less likely to ever do them. For example, in a study published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, smokers who delayed their quitting date because of lowered willpower saw the least success in actually quitting in the future. Carvalho also says that it’s important to listen to your gut. “To me, the most effective thing we can do is check in with our body and see what it’s telling us,” she explains. “This will help us build a sense of trust internally so that we can keep strengthening the connection with our own intuition.”
Finally, remember that just because a decision doesn’t turn out how we want, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right decision for us. “We need to become more okay with the discomfort of things not always working out, and that is a helpful experience for our growth.” So maybe that taco place wasn’t the right choice for dinner; you can always get pizza next time.