One of the many inhibitors of creativity is the experience of analysis paralysis. Whether you encounter it in life decisions, such as choosing between career paths, places to live, and what car to buy, or confront it in your creative pursuits, analysis paralysis comes in many forms. Recently, I’ve been battling this phenomenon of mental paralysis over the battlefront of creative writing. With my attention pointed toward other aspects of my professional career for over a year, many months of neglected essay ideas compiled over time, leaving me with a stockpile ready to pick from. Having a surplus of ideas may be presumably creativity-inducing; however, once the feeling of analysis paralysis sets in, it can be challenging to strategize a plan of attack to bring the topics to life.
Most people encounter a bout of analysis paralysis daily, if not multiple times per day.
Too Many Options
We visit the grocery store... too many options. We go shopping for new clothes… too many options. We check our recommended feeds on social media platforms… an infinite inventory of content to engage with. We pull up our streaming services and are expected to choose between hundreds, if not thousands, of well-produced TV shows and films. Don’t even get me started on browsing news media… where can one even begin? In our highly-developed modern society, there are TOO. MANY. OPTIONS.
A couple of years ago, I recorded a podcast episode titled “Too Many Options,” published by Highly Inspired Podcast. I distinctly remember having several epiphanies, both in preparation for and during the recording of the episode. These epiphanies were all related to the fact that life in the 21st century is like continually drowning in decisions and choices, in an ocean of good, bad, healthy, unhealthy, and everything in between.
On one side of the coin, having access to an inventory of options to choose from is an irrefutable luxury, given that every human who has ever existed on Earth has had a different set of options and opportunities available to them. Every day that goes by results in newly developed technologies, products, techniques, and paths by which we can experience life; we are expanding our stockpile of options, generating an even vaster array of combinations.
While 50 years ago, there may have only been a dozen universally sold commercial brands of bread at the grocery store, now there are nearly a hundred. Our ceaseless propensity toward innovation, production, and creativity will continue to guarantee the generation of more “options” worldwide, which, in my opinion, is a beautiful thing, and I adore that trait of ours.
The Prevalence of Choice Paralysis
The other side of the coin reveals a caveat that the human mind is very familiar with, though we don’t quite understand how to navigate it yet: how to carve out our lives through hundreds of thousands of unique choices.
“It’s estimated that the average adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day. Each decision, of course, carries certain consequences with it that are both good and bad.” - PBSCN
If you think about it, it’s almost a miracle that analysis paralysis isn’t more commonly experienced by each of us, given the number of decisions being made on a daily basis, both big and small. The odds we feel stumped by decisions only a few times per day is a testament to how intellectually advanced we are with pattern recognition, logic, and reasoning, proving how we continually remain geared toward optimizing our days and routines as much as we are able.
Suppose the average adult makes over 30,000 decisions every single day. In that case, the reality of only a handful of those actually being puzzling equates to not even a fraction of the overall number. In other words, choice paralysis is only experienced a couple of times per day (i.e., far less than 1% of the average 30,000), revealing how equipped and skilled we are at executing decisions.
The Decision Style Test
I used to believe I was a strong decision-maker. As of the last year and a half, I now possess a contrasting opinion: I do not find it easy to be decisive, especially regarding major decisions. One of the main reasons why making significant decisions seems taxing to me is because I tend to think up an excessive amount of possibilities and outcomes hypothetically correlated to my choices.
Perhaps someone who considers themselves a “strong” decision-maker has a better handle on the amount of time spent “deciding” on a decision while also thinking through many potential outcomes. However, I believe there is a common stereotype for such decision-makers depicting them as being able to execute their decisions quickly, as there is typically a lesser amount of time that they sit with it and ponder all of the possibilities. So, if a decisive decision-maker can execute faster, with less doubt and more conviction, then the opposite end of the spectrum reveals the traits of a “poor” decision-maker.
There are entire libraries of information encapsulating the psychology of decision-making. I won’t even begin to attempt to boil down a whole arm of psychology, relaying the findings and research behind how the brain analyzes outcomes and makes decisions into one take. However, I think most decision-making categorizations can be simplified enough to agree on some overarching concepts. For instance, on a basic level, we all understand that decisiveness is a personality and temperament trait. It is a stable characteristic that outlines how we behave in decision-making situations. While the difficulty scale starts with mundane decisions on one end and impossible on the other, there will always be outlier scenarios that correlate to unprecedented decisions no one has experienced prior.
Decision-style tests have developed exponentially throughout the past decade. Typically, they are tests that employers require their employees to take to assess their ability to analyze a hypothetical problem and contemplate a possible solution. Employers choose these tests within the corporate world because they allegedly reveal other valued skills simultaneously: problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and time management.
I’ve come to understand that most careers involve some form of decision-making requirement. Indeed, some more than others. It’s led me to think about ways to become “better” or more effortless decision-makers. If analysis paralysis is a bottleneck halting both time efficiency and creativity, how can we minimize the number of times we experience it daily? How can we become better at weening out hypothetical outcomes by creating a probability scale of what is most likely to happen? How can we free up mental bandwidth and optimize our potential by closing tabs on open decisions? These are all questions I have been thinking about recently, and I am actively developing methods to achieve better results in my personal life.
Decisiveness: A Male Trait?
Not only is decisiveness considered a “good” and valuable trait, but it is also considered a masculine trait.
Decisiveness results in speed and clarity, making it one of the most prioritized traits above almost anything else in traditionally masculine workplaces. Not only does it involve the ability to think outside the box and develop solutions (creativity), but it also incurs having the ability to logically determine realistic outcomes and weigh all of the options (logic & reasoning). Men typically have a predisposition toward mitigating bias and emotions, which also, in turn, contributes to faster and smoother decision-making.
We all can agree on the following decision-making steps:
Step 1: Identify the situation requiring a decision to be made.
Step 2: Collect data and gather context on the situation.
Step 3: Analyze the data and context involved.
Step 4: Come up with solutions and locate available resources to apply to the scenario.
Step 5: Assess the solutions, alternatives, and consequences by listing the pros and cons.
While some may disagree that decision-making is a linear process, it is most of the time. Even regarding highly complex decisions requiring a more drawn-out span of time to evaluate and decide, the series of steps still occurs in a linear format. Some decision processes may be more methodical than others, and another critical note is there’s a massive difference between collaborative and individual decision-making techniques.
Sure, expedited decision-making may come more naturally, incurring less stress, for men. However, half of the humans who exist on Earth are female. Nearly all of those females will have to make a choice/decision at some point in their lives. Clearly, that means women possess innate decision-making capabilities as well.
Is there an Optimal Approach to Decision-Making?
Perhaps there is no optimal approach to decision-making, and the combination of both men’s and women’s organic traits has allowed us to increase our daily amount of decisions year over year. I have no clue how one could quantify the average amount of decisions made by the human race annually, but maybe someday, someone will attempt it. Assuming our increased activity and prevalence of options continue to compile over time, the number of choices and opportunities that will be revealed to us will require a larger quantity of decisions.
My stance on strengthening one's decision-making ability is that there is no one-size-fits-all method. Everyone’s personality and temperament are wildly unique, and each of us has to continue developing refined ways to save time and prevent stress by making decisions more intuitively and reasonably. Moreover, some decisions maybe shouldn’t be made quickly, with solely the goal of being fast and “decisive.” Sometimes, allotting a fair amount of time so that a decision can naturally carve itself out on its own might lead to a better outcome. I believe we should all focus on strengthening our muscles to identify the context and determine the decision-making requirements for all of the simple and tough choices we’ll inevitably make.
Sometimes, reading content that puts these thoughts I know we all have into words is helpful. If you found it useful in any way or resonate, I would love to hear your feedback and opinions. Feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.