We all do it. Faced with a tough decision, we pause to think about it. Then we keep thinking about it, and thinking about it, and thinking about it.
We analyze to the point where we’re incapable of making a decision and taking action.
Some of us rarely find ourselves in this position, and others encounter this obstacle on an almost daily basis.
Wherever you are the analysis paralysis spectrum, here are 10 strategies you can do when you find yourself incapable of making a decision.
1. Talk about it.
When we are faced with a tough decision, the battle of making the right choice often gets played out in our minds. We’ll be consumed for hours or days with lengthy debates and endless what-if scenarios.
Try simply getting out of your head and into a conversation. Forcing yourself to put words to your thoughts will often bring you more clarity than you can achieve by just talking to yourself.
Plus, having a thought partner to discuss those thoughts with and ask you questions can be the exact nudge you need to make a decision.
2. Make a list of pros and cons.
Just like speaking with someone, making a list forces you to put words to your ideas and feelings. Write down a list of pros and cons for each decision you could make, and push yourself to make the list exhaustive.
Just seeing your thoughts on paper can provide new insight and perspective on which decision might be the right one for you.
3. Read a book about it.
Many of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make over the years were tough because I felt like I didn’t have enough information about a particular topic.
If your analysis paralysis often comes with the feeling that you need more information, try reading a book on the topic. No matter the subject, there’s a relevant book.
Let’s say that you are facing a difficult decision about the team you manage. The team is stretched really thin and you are not sure whether you should hire a new person or restructure the team’s workflow to gain efficiency.
You could read a book about how to scale your team (e.g. Growing Great Employees, by Erika Anderson), or a book on hiring the right people (e.g. Topgrading by Bradford D. Smart), or a book about a leader who faced similar challenges (e.g. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight).
Books can give us a new lens through which to see our challenges, which can lead to new and surprising solutions.
4. Weigh the pains against the gains.
With a fresh sheet of paper, make a four by four grid. Your table should have two columns and two rows. Label left column Pain and the right column Gain. Label the first row Current and the second row Future.
Voila! You have a classic pain vs. gain model.
In the top left quadrant (Current / Pain) write about all of the pain points of your current situation. What would it cost you to stay the same? In the top right quadrant (Current / Gain) write about all of the ways you benefit from the current situation. What is positive about staying the same?
In the bottom left quadrant (Future / Pain) write about all the pain points associated with making this change. What will making this change cost you? In the bottom right quadrant (Future / Gain) write all of your thoughts about what you will gain from making this change.
5. Take some baby steps.
Don’t decide yet, just take a few tiny steps in each direction. If the decision you have to make involves choosing from multiple paths, simply take the tiniest baby steps down each path to see how it feels.
Sometimes it’s hard to decide before we’ve actually tried something. Most of us would never buy a pair of shoes without trying them on first. We insist on trying them on and walking around a bit to see how they feel.
Try that approach when you find yourself in analysis paralysis. Walk a few steps (or a few miles) down each possible path to experience the reality of each choice. Often, it only takes a few steps before the right choice becomes vibrantly clear.
6. Look to your heroes.
What would one of your heroes do in your situation?
Personally, I’m a huge fan a Seth Godin. I haven’t met the man (yet), but I’m lucky because he’s a prolific writer. So, when I’m stuck on a decision I’ll ask myself what would Seth do (W.W.S.D.)?
After a few minutes Googling Seth’s thoughts on a particular topic, I’m usually struck with just enough wisdom and perspective to make a decision.
Your heroes are your heroes for a reason — turn to their superpowers when you need them most.
7. Consult with someone who has had to make a similar decision.
Many of us just need someone who is five steps ahead of where we are in life to help light the path for us.
If you don’t have a mentor or coach, this is the exact moment you should consider getting one. No matter what tough decision you are trying to make in your life, there are countless people who have been in your position.
Find someone you can rely on who has walked a similar path and allow them to light your way.
8. Make a storyboard of each potential path.
Storyboarding is one of my newest favorite tools and it can be incredible for dealing with a tough decision.
Create a storyboard of each possible choice you can make. Frame by frame, be as detailed as you can, considering the potential reality of your decision each step of the way.
I’ve found storyboarding to be really magical. There is something about the combination of words and pictures in a story format that can really bring to life the ideas in my head.
9. Crowdsource advice.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the wisdom of the internet is not always very wise. However, crowdsourcing advice on a tough decision can be extremely valuable in helping us see new perspectives.
Perhaps you just shoot an email to five of your friends asking for their input. Or maybe you send a long survey to your top 20 clients. Every social media platform has a polling feature these days, so your options for capturing data are limitless.
Whatever the decision, asking other people what they would do if they were in your shoes can be extremely eye-opening and inspiring.
10. Stop thinking about it for a few days.
When all else fails, stop thinking about your decision entirely. Force yourself to take a mental hiatus for a few days.
Two things will happen. You will get some distance from the topic and be able to re-approach it with a slightly clearer head. And your subconscious mind will continue working on the issue and surprise you with new insights when you’re ready to return to the topic.
I hope that helps.
Give one of these strategies a try next time you’re experiencing analysis paralysis and let me know how it goes.