3 Steps to Beat Decision Paralysis, Avoid Regret and Kickass

I hate making dumb decisions.

Photo by Brandon Lopez on Unsplash

Or if I’m being honest, I hate that someone might think a decision I’ve made is dumb.

So I ask myself,

“Am I certain this is the right move?”

Then I wait.

I do nothing (or rather I keep doing what I’ve always done), telling myself, that when the moment is right, I’ll be certain and make the move.

Will my work have the same impact if I make a dumb decision? Will people no longer respect me? Will my career be over?

I’m paralyzed by the question of certainty. But I have a new paradigm now. I’m searching for peak performance in all aspects of my life.

Anything that paralyzes cannot work in a framework of peak performance.

Mental paralysis, in the form of inaction, creates pain.

Pain in the form of:

  • Regret — to feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity).
  • Doubt — to feel uncertain.
  • Resentment — to feel bitterness or indignation at (a circumstance, action, or person).

Regret that I haven’t taken action.

Doubt that I ever will.

Resentment towards those who have.

So I do nothing and the cycle starts again.

The Spotlight Effect

People commonly believe that the “social spotlight” shines more brightly on them then it actually does, a phenomenon researchers1have dubbed, the spotlight effect.

This is our ego at work.

This is because of a phenomenon related to the spotlight effect, known as the self-as-target bias, or the sense that actions or events are disproportionately directed toward the self³.

Basically, we believe other people think as much about our lives as we do.

They do not.

You awkwardly fumble through a presentation at work, stumble during a workout at the gym, or have a “bad hair day” — each may seem shameful and unforgettable to us, but multiple research studies have shown these events often pass without notice by those around you.

In truth, we’re just thinking about ourselves all day long.

So much so that we rarely take the time to notice all the stupid shit that other people are doing.

Regrets are the result of a reluctance to seize an opportunity because of a fear of failure and the social judgment it might bring.

Step one to overcoming decision paralysis is understanding this is our ego working against us.

No one cares when you make a mistake, (and as research suggests very few people are even aware of your failures), so neither should you.

“Ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Of repeating and retaining your success. It repulses advantages and opportunities. It’s a magnet for enemies and errors.” ~ Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy

The Certainty Effect

Decision makers have a strong tendency to consider their problems unique.

They isolate the current choice from future opportunities.

Overly cautious attitudes to risk result from the failure to appreciate the effects of statistical aggregation in mitigating relative risk⁷.

This yields two conflicting errors in decision making:

  1. An expectation of future outcomes is based on isolated incidents anchored in the individuals own experiences; and overly optimistic forecasts.
  2. Evaluations of risk are based on the perceived uniqueness of decision without examining full-range of possibilities; and overly pessimistic forecasts.

We treat probabilities as nonlinear: Overweighting small probabilities and underweighting large probabilities). We also heavily overweight “certain” outcomes, (0% and 100% chance), more so than uncertain outcomes (any other probability between 0% and 100%).

This phenomenon has been coined the “Certainty Effect.”

According to researchers6the “Certainty Effect,” in the domain of gains, because people overweight certainty and gains are desirable outcomes, overweighting a sure gain leads people to choose it over a risky gain.

Conversely, in the domain of losses, because people overweight certainty and losses are unattractive outcomes, overweighting a sure loss leads people to not choose it over a risky loss.

The “Certainty Effect” predicts risk aversion in gains and risk seeking in losses when there is a choice between a sure and a risky option.

Which means we’re much more likely to make a risky decision when faced with a sure loss, than a sure gain.

Step two to overcoming decision paralysis is to dismiss our natural bias to overweight certain outcomes for our perceived unique problems.

Once you realize no one is paying attention (especially small decisions) and certainty (with big decisions) is impossible, you’re free to kickass.

Now go kickass!

Thank you,

Ryan Hanley

Originally published on ryanhanley.com.


  1. Do Other’s Judge Us as Harshly as We Think? Overestimating the Impact of Our Failures, Shortcomingsrecognizingand Mishaps
  2. Analysis Paralysis: When Root Cause Analysis Isn’t The Way
  3. The Spotlight Effect in Social Judgment: An Egocentric Bias in Estimates of the Salience of One’s Own Actions and Appearance
  4. Judgment Under Emotional Certainty and Uncertainty: The Effects of Specific Emotions on Information Processing
  5. Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk
  6. Risk preferences and aging: The “Certainty Effect” in older adults’ decision making
  7. Timid Choices and Bold Forecasts: A Cognitive Perspective on Risk Taking

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