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Frozen by indecision

Friday, 19 February 2010

Have you even been completely, utterly, frozen and paralysed by indecision? Have you ever had one of those times when you simply can’t see a way out; you have no idea what to do; you don’t know where to go next? I have.

This is the final article in the series that started with a look at striking the balance between absolute certainty and simply going with the flow. For reference, the earlier articles in the series are here:

  • being flexible or determined
  • utter conviction in leadership

being a rock, or going with the flow

leadership of unswerving belief

  • positive mental attitude
  • doubt versus uncertainty

positive mental attitude

doubt or uncertainty

Personally, those times in life where I’ve been paralysed in my decision making, both in personal and business contexts, have been unpleasant to say the least. With the benefit of dispassionate reflection and 20/20 hindsight however, I’ve come up with a few different categories of indecisiveness which help to understand the causes more thoroughly, and therefore act on them more appropriately.

I don’t have enough information/knowledge/skills

If this is genuinely the reason, then the solution for your decision making is relatively straightforward. If you don’t have the information, you can probably find it, either by searching yourself more thoroughly, enrolling others, researching more broadly, and so on. Knowledge can be sought. Skills can be developed.

If it’s not just you, but the whole of human experience that doesn’t have the information, knowledge or skills, then you’re going to be taking a risk anyway, and, so long as you’ve used the information that is available to analyse the risk properly, you’re doing the best that can possibly be done!

A real watch-out here though is "paralysis by analysis" – using the need to analyse further to delay making a decision…which leads me to:

I don’t want to take responsibility

A rather more challenging and fundamental problem is that you might be delaying or avoiding a decision because the consequences of getting it "wrong" appear too great.

If we assume that this is "true", then a number of options appear: testing; risk analysis; sharing responsibility; and so on. Often, decisions can be broken down into smaller chucks and tackled bit by bit, so that, as results come in, the course that you’ve chosen can be adjusted and altered.

However, there are also times when this is "false". The use of potential negative consequences is a rationale that you give yourself for avoiding doing something. We can over-analyse, we can wait in the hope that the decision will be taken out of our hands, or we can expend huge amounts of effort trying to extricate ourselves from the situation in which a decision has to be made. If this is the case, we need to understand:

Why am I avoiding it?

If we are willing to go to great lengths to avoid decision-making, at some point we really ought to do ourselves the honour of simply asking why. An honest assessment of this could bring about a much deeper level of understanding about the situation, about our approach, and about our true feelings, and, by putting the decision into a different context, offer us different opportunities to make it.


There are many, many more reasons than this, and being honest with yourself about these reasons is the first step in overcoming indecisiveness. Please add your thoughts, experiences, other categories and challenging ideas below.

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