Blog Cover Image 1

How to overcome decision paralysis

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 5/11/20 7:00 AM

Deer in the road quote

Almost all of us are facing decision paralysis to some extent right now.

As entrepreneurs and sales leaders it may be where, what and unfortunately who to cut to conserve operational costs.

Many managers are struggling to decide how to motivate a team now and get them to focus through their own survivors guilt of still being on the job when their co-workers are gone.

And as sellers, deciding what to do and say to help prospects make a decision that is in their best interest can feel like an hour by hour struggle.

Where does decision paralysis come from?

Why does decision paralysis seem to strike at times when the one thing we need to do is make intelligent and speedy decisions? 

One reason is because uncertainty causes fear, thought distortions, a need for perfection, and therefore- lots of anxiety. With too many options and no way to tell which is the best one, the anxiety of needing to make a choice now without knowing what the future will look like, and a fear of failure- or making the wrong choice- it leads to cognitive overload. And when we feel overwhelmed, we opt to “wait and see what happens” while we binge watch The Tiger King on Netflix.

And if you haven’t been through this before, that lack of exposure or practice to making decisions in uncertainty is even more difficult due to what cognitive research calls “case based reasoning”, which basically means we solve problems by recalling past experiences or reference points to make what we feel is the right decision. Without any past references, or anchors, to help us, we can gather all the information we need but still not feel confident in our decisions. 

The unknown unknowns of what a good future looks like leaves us like a deer in the headlights in the middle of the road- with everyone around us screaming “Get out of the road!”

Pushing Past Paralysis

So how do we push past the paralysis so we can do something? There are 3 key components to consider to help counter these cognitive bias’- your mindset about what to do, confidence in your abilities to make good decisions, and taking action on those decisions.

First is the mindset about what to do. With too many options, we become overwhelmed. In order to overcome this overwhelmed mindset, we need to structure and limit the options we consider. Structure can be ranking options on a scale. 

In addition to limiting and structuring options, we also need to make sure these options resonate with our values and how we identify ourselves. Not only will it make it easier to decide between options, it will make it more likely that we will actually do the thing we decide on.

Once you have some idea on what your options are, it’s time to reinforce your perceived ability to select and follow through on a good decision. How many times have you had an idea on what to do, but your lack of confidence in your ability to make good decisions has stopped you? Maybe you’ve made mistakes before, like the rest of humanity, and that is stopping you from making a decision now. 

To help counter this bias, look for social proof of your decision. By looking at examples of what others have done, it can reinforce the idea that you are making the right decision. 

When making a choice is still difficult, try focusing on the process to decide- rather than the decision itself. Study how others made similar decisions- and like watching a YouTube video on how to fix a leaky sink- when you observe how others have done it in the past you will feel more confident in the steps to take to do it for yourself.

But be mindful of following what others do- just because what they did worked for them doesn’t mean it will work for you.  

For business owners, entrepreneurs, and sales leaders who still need to save on operational costs- our sales data partners at Objective Management Group have developed an analysis tool to not only lay out the options of who to retain, but also give you confidence to select the right decisions according to data and science- thereby focusing on the process to decide.

To prevent further decision fatigue, make your important decisions as early in the day as possible. As our day continues, we tire of the decisions we make and as a result- put it off. Set a deadline for yourself, not just the day, but the time of day.

Now, if you are a leader facing a longer term decision the future is especially hard to envision right now. Right now many of you are struggling with the concept of revenue growth when you are faced with operational cuts and challenges due to our current circumstances. And that is why visualizing your future state is so important. It can be as simple as asking the question, “When do we want to see growth again?” or “When do we want to be back on track?”

Finally, taking action is the whole point of the decision making process. Here are a few cognitive strategies to help you and your teams take action.

Tapping into FOMO (fear of missing out) is a way to tap into our emotions to create a sense of urgency in ourselves and others. Our tendency to loss aversion- or the fact that most of us hate to lose more than we love to win- feeds our competitive streak. 

You only have to look at what your competition is doing to take over market share to get a sense of urgency. If you were them and knew that you could gain market share by acting first, wouldn’t you do it?

And if that doesn’t work for you, or if your competition is playing the wait and see game as well, then make a promise. Make a promise to your team, to your customers and by doing so you will create a sense of social obligation. Like the person who has a gym buddy is more likely to go to their planned workouts- when you make a promise you are more likely to keep it.

Another way to combat inaction is to reduce the friction needed to take action. Behavioral economist George Loewenstein conducted experiments where he found that when we don’t act in our own best interest it is often due to the battle between our emotions and our logic. In times like these, our emotions can overwhelm us. If that is the case with you, using pre-determined criteria for action based on objective data, and logic. This will prevent you from putting a pause on your own plan of action.

If you need someone objective to talk over your decisions, that is what I am here for. Reach out to schedule a time and share this post with other leaders who you know are struggling with the tough decisions of today.

Topics: sales training, salespeople, video