What researchers can say about our decision making process with some degree of certainty is that it can be negatively impacted by stress, especially when sustained over prolonged periods.
“Stress decreases our working memory capacity, so we have fewer cognitive resources to wrap our heads around all the different options, even for things that are relatively inconsequential,” explains Art Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, and regular Fast Company contributor. “Even minor decisions take a certain amount of cognitive effort, and there’s a limited amount of that we’ve got in a day before we’re sort of done.”
OVERCOMING DECISION PARALYSIS
Markman recommends a number of strategies for overcoming decision paralysis, even in difficult or stressful circumstances. The first is acknowledging that most decisions are not set in stone, and that choosing is only the first of many steps toward achieving a particular outcome.
“We blow the decision up into being a much more significant part of the outcome than it really is, because a lot of what allows us to succeed at almost everything we do is how we follow up from the decision, rather than the decision itself,” he says. “If you take the perspective that everything is really a process, then it actually removes a lot of the stress around decision-making.”
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