Anxiety and decision paralysis

Postby Valtra » Thu Mar 21, 2019 1:58 pm

Hello everyone,

I’ve a teaching position at a UK university, which also comes with other management responsibilities. Everyone here thinks I’m great at my job, and paints a rather rosy future for me. I’ve got neither enemies nor obvious competitors in my department. Colleagues are nice and my boss is OK. Surprisingly, this makes me feel really vulnerable and fragile. As the adage goes, “the higher you fly the harder you fall”.

My coping strategy is avoidance: I tend to postpone issues for the fear to get something wrong, make an embarrassing mistake, or revealing a hidden weakness. This surprises me, since I rationally know for sure that the best strategy is to spend a little time and effort to deal with a problem right now, rather than to wait until later, when it may get worse and take longer to deal with. The result is form of paralysis, either by postponing key decisions or by deliberately ignoring things I’m supposed to keep tabs on for the fear of discovering something that requires immediate action.

I’m determined to stop it as it’s getting really annoying. It's a nasty form of self-sabotage, and I want to tackle it before it gets unmanageable. My question is: a) is there anyone out there who has experienced something like that and has found a solution?; b) If so, can someone point me to relevant self-help resources?

Any help would be massively appreciated.

Many thanks

PS Some further information about me, just to stress that there’s nothing obviously wrong and I myself consider what I’ve outlined above purely irrational.

- I’m healthy, don’t smoke, sleep a lot and exercise regularly. I’m almost teetotal abstemious and follow a healthy diet. All in all, I’m fairly happy with my lot, to the point of feeling guilty for not being super-duper-happy all the day.
- In my previous incarnation I was living and working in continental Europe: low wages, temporary positions with no employment certainty, and high taxation. You get the picture. Then I came over to the UK, taught English to myself, and went to strength to strength until I was offered my previous position.
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Postby Richard@DecisionSkills » Fri Mar 22, 2019 1:52 am

Valtra wrote:My question is: a) is there anyone out there who has experienced something like that and has found a solution?; b) If so, can someone point me to relevant self-help resources?

I experience similar issues on a recurring basis. The solution is relatively simple.

First, the reason for the recurring issue in my case can be traced back to around 2012. Prior to that year I worked in government service for 20 years. During that time I made plenty of tough decisions and towards the end of my service I managed 16 full-time and roughly 20 part-time staff. While the decisions I sometimes faced had high consequences, there was plenty of support and structure for those decisions. My decisions were channeled by organizational norms, policies, training, collaboration, and years of experience.

Enter 2012 and I have total freedom, no structure, no support. Plenty of decision paralysis and plenty of failure followed.

The solution that helped me was to accept that in a given week there is only so much that can be accomplished. Therefore, I established a single rule, a single ritual that I use to this day called “Planning Sunday.”

As implied by the name, every Sunday I allow my mind to wander, to reflect on big picture, abstract goals and ideas. Anxiety can sometimes creep in, I experience cognitive conflict, lack of surety, and some decision paralysis as it relates to long term plans. Working for myself, I could go any number of directions, so there is always this feeling that the current direction is leading to a lesser or greater degree of failure/success.

The mind can really take you to some interesting places, so Planning Sunday is a time to write everything down, to clear the mind. To enjoy the freedom to get it all out. Then, having spent time reflecting on the big picture, I set to answering one question, “What do I want to accomplish next week?”

The reason this helps with any lingering anxiety or decision paralysis, is that regardless of my long term abstract goals, there is little doubt about things that I need to accomplish or would like to accomplish in the upcoming week. It doesn’t take much to focus in and determine that next week, regardless of my long term objectives, I want to finish reading book XYZ, or file taxes, or I want to run X miles, or learn 50 more symbols of Mandarin, or register to go to attend a professional conference, or send my students some new material.

Setting performance targets for the week, I have crystal clear clarity what I want to accomplish. Given this clarity, it is difficult for anxiety or decision paralysis to creep in. I have my self-imposed assignments for the week, now it is time to focus in and get them done. Next Sunday I can allow my mind to once again wander and reflect, but for now I just focus in on the upcoming week and hitting my targets.

In your situation, the same rules apply. Regardless of your overall responsibilities, there is only so much you can do in a given week. You can’t control precisely the outcomes you fear that might occur in a semester. You can’t project with perfect certainty how a particular goal will turn out several months from now. But, you can look one week ahead and determine what you wish to accomplish.
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Postby MichaelS » Fri Apr 19, 2019 8:00 pm

I've had the same problem. I just had a twinge of it before checking in here. A client wanted a discount for a special situation. I didn't know what to do. I paused and did another task came back about 10 minutes later. My mind had time to process a little. I came up with a decision.

The big thing is to commit to making a decision in a certain time if that helps. Say 10 minutes.

Also is it major or minor. I divide decisions up by major: big life things: career shift, buying a house, car, having a baby could have repercussions years later. Minor: worst that can happen will only effect me for that day.

When you can label an decision as minor you can act faster knowing there is no big downside to making a bad call.
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Postby Valtra » Mon Apr 29, 2019 8:44 am

Hi Richard, thank you for taking the time to reflect on your experience and write this post. I must say it works. It’s a feasible strategy and I can honestly say it does what it promises (I tend to cycle a lot and it may get fit in the process…) I hope that other users may benefit as well.

Have a lovely day!
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Postby Maxbor » Thu May 30, 2019 3:01 am

The World infamous aiel and natureboy only posts when the Lakers are losing. Isnt that a troll?
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