Emotional Regulation: 6 Ways to Move Past Decision Paralysis
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
I learned a new term recently which explains why I struggle with certain decision making and excel at others. It’s called ADHD paralysis and it’s very similar to what many of my clients experience when in the midst of a divorce.
This paralysis traps a person between “there is so much information to consider” and “I can’t make up my mind”.
This can result in procrastination, avoidance and sometimes complete decision paralysis which renders one unable to act on any decision until this one is made. This is the “I can’t do that until I do this” thought process. Sometimes it can result in rash decisions being made, just to ‘get it over with’ which often results in disastrous results and regret.
When the sense of overwhelm from decision paralysis becomes chronic you may find yourself ruminating about all of the things you ‘could have’ or ‘should have done’ or ‘should do', which then entrenches the paralysis.
Example of decision paralysis during a divorce:
You have decided to separate and seek a divorce but you don’t want to hire a lawyer yet until you know if your ex is going to hire one.
You know you should at least do your research and contact a few lawyers but you don’t do it until you find out whether your ex has hired a lawyer. You know you should get your financials in order, regardless of whether you hire a lawyer but you want to wait until you decide whether you are going to hire a lawyer and see what the lawyer says about your financials. So you end up doing nothing to move the divorce forward.
Example of decision paralysis at work:
You need to start your strategy plan for the meeting next Friday but you don’t want to start until your boss tells you he is okay with your latest idea.
You’ve emailed your boss about this already but haven’t heard back and you are reluctant to follow up in case your boss gets irritated. Since you’ve determined you don’t want to work on the final report until you get the final okay from your boss on one item, you decide not to work on the report at all. When your boss finally gets back to you, you now only have one day to complete your report and the anxiety that produces paralyzes you even further.
Tips to Mitigate Decision Paralysis
1. Recognize when you’re in ‘decision paralysis’ mode.
When you find yourself ruminating or delaying decisions until other things happen, stop and write down what’s happening. Pay attention to how your body feels and write that down. Pay attention to what you are saying to yourself and write that down. Once you learn to recognize you are in paralysis you can learn to adopt strategies to get out of that mindset.
2. Reduce your daily To Do list to 3 items.
I used to write long task lists for myself each day because I derived a lot of satisfaction from checking items off my list when they were completed.
So instead of feeling energized by all that I accomplished, I would end each day feeling like I accomplished nothing. Especially when I had to add those uncompleted tasks to my list for the following day, which already had a long list of tasks.
Be sure to do this on weekends as well. Believe me, if you suffer from decision paralysis, particularly if you have ADHD, it can happen any day of the week.
3. Recognize you don’t have to control everything.
When you are overwhelmed and in unchartered territory, the lack of control can be paralyzing. As human beings we continuously seek control over all aspects of our lives and when we can’t it can be distressing.
One thing I learned early on is that if you are going through a divorce the first thing you need to do is accept the fact that you will not be able to control everything and some days you won’t be able to control anything…other than your reaction to what is happening.
4. Expect the unexpected. Plan for the unexpected
How will you handle it when your plans go awry, because you know they will? How do you plan on mitigating the damage if things don’t go as planned?
Do you always like having a plan B in case your optimal plan doesn’t pan out?
Are you willing to consider plans others may propose when yours doesn’t come to fruition?
If you find that you are blaming yourself or others, will you be able to redirect your mind towards finding a solution?
5. Do something, don’t do nothing.
We often get fixated on completing a task in a sequential manner, but life isn’t sequential. Just because we didn’t complete the entire project doesn’t mean we didn’t accomplish anything.
As Desmond Tutu said: “There is only one way to eat an elephant; a bite at a time”.
Don’t wait until you contact a lawyer, to gather your financials.
Start compiling them now.
Don’t wait until you hear back from your boss to start the report.
Start working on the portions that don’t require his feedback.
The cure for procrastination is the same as the cure for a strained back. Keep moving!
Each time I strain my back all I want to do is rest it but that is the worst thing I could do. Resting will only make my back stiffen even more.
Same thing happens with procrastination. The less you do, the less you do. Do something, anything, when you are stuck, even if it is just organizing your desk, feeding the dog, going for a walk.
6. Switch gears
When things aren’t working the way we want our inclination is just to try harder. I’ve found that forcing myself to complete a task when I am unmotivated to do so, is counterproductive.
As Einstein said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and
expecting different results.”
When you find yourself stuck, unable complete a task or make a decision, just step away.
Do something completely unrelated to what is troubling you.
This will allow your mind to rest...
allow your cortisol levels to drop...
allow you to focus when you return to the task.
Taking a breather will help you gain perspective on the issue and the way you should handle it.
Note: The content is this publication is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.