How to Beat Analysis Paralysis: 7 Habits to Help You Stop Overthinking Things
Twas’ the night before exams and all through the dorms... ill-prepared students were filing add/drop forms.
On the other side of town, an ad executive grows weary… as his career defining pitch is still merely a query.
People like these have turned overthinking into an artform.
They are victims of analysis paralysis and, as such, their own worst enemy.
And you can relate.
It didn’t just happen overnight.
It’s not a new concept.
In some ways, analysis paralysis is just another level of procrastination.
It starts by understanding what you’re dealing with here.
On its most basic level, analysis paralysis (also referred to as paralysis by analysis in some circles) occurs when you find yourself overthinking… obsessing even… to the point where a decision is never made.
Nothing gets done.
No problem is solved.
No answers are found.
You become paralyzed.
You are drowning in indecision.
I can throw you a lifeline!
In this article, I will:
- Teach you how to beat analysis paralysis.
- Offer simple (but life-changing) solutions to keep you from overthinking.
- Help you stop procrastinating.
But before we get started…
It helps to know a bit about where the idea came from.
Analysis Paralysis: A Definition
Some sources credit the concept of paralysis by analysis to a theory introduced by Psychologist Barry Schwartz, called The Paradox of Choice.
In a nutshell, Schwartz believed that while more choices allowed for more objective results… it also lead to greater feelings of anxiety, indecision, dissatisfaction and paralysis.
And when put in this position, people often aren’t able to make up their mind without overthinking things.
Furthermore, the pressure of having to weigh every possible outcome often results in a tendency to procrastinate.
Analysis paralysis can occur in almost any situation. Some of the most common are:
- Investment and money management decisions
- Career opportunities
- School work
- Life-changing decisions
If you’re a fan of the “pro/con” list… chances are you’ve fallen victim to paralysis by analysis once or twice.
It’s also highly likely that you’ve caught yourself overthinking something to the point where you missed out on an opportunity.
That you’ve missed out on... life.
The day has come, my friend.
Today, you will stop procrastinating and start living the life you were meant to.
Habit #1: Categorize your Decisions
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the list of decisions that need your attention, try putting them into one of two categories:
- Decisions that you need to make now
- Decisions that can wait
Doing so will immediately take some of the pressure off you.
Once you’ve prioritized the process, you can break it down even further with a few simple questions, such as:
- How important is this decision?
- How will this decision affect my next move?
- What is the worst thing that can happen if I make the wrong decision?
The last thing you want to do is go back inside your head and start overthinking things. This will frustrate you.
Not to mention, prove counterproductive to the process.
I’ll give you an example.
Your boss has offered you a promotion, which involves a move from the United States to Germany. He needs an answer in two weeks.
Clearly, that is a decision you need to make now.
1. How important is the decision?
- You have a wife and two children, ages 8 and 14
- You have a mom in assisted living nearby, who you are primary caregiver for
2. How will this decision affect my next move?
- Your wife will need to give her job notice
- You will need to find a new school for your children and start the transfer process
- You will need to arrange for extra help for your mom, someone to take her places
3. What is the worst thing that can happen if I make the wrong decision?
- You will all have trouble adjusting to life abroad.
- Your mom may feel abandoned.
- You are unhappy and decide to move back home after a year.
And there you have it.
The decision has been dissected for you.
All that is left to do is choose whether or not to accept the worst case scenario.
No need for overthinking.
Just ask yourself one final question...
Can I live with my answers to Question #3?
Whether your answer is “yes” or “no”... consider your decision made.
Habit #2: Define the Type of Decision You are Making
There are two types of decisions...
1. Big decisions and small decisions.
2. Plain and simple.
How do you know, you ask?
Just ask yourself if you, or anybody else, will care about your decision in the next week… month… year.
If the answer is no, it’s not a big decision.
In fact, there is most likely very little riding on it... so there is no need for overthinking.
Examples of small decisions:
- Which dress should I wear to my cousin’s wedding?
- Which type of food should I serve at my dad’s retirement party?
- Which brand of toothpaste should I buy?
- Examples of big decisions:
- Should I get married?
- Should I have children?
- Should I quit my job and start my own business?
Because we’re moving on.
Habit #3: Embrace Mediocrity
Often, one of the best ways to stop procrastinating and avoid analysis paralysis, is to tell yourself there is no such thing as a perfect solution.
Now believe it.
There are many occasions where an “acceptable” solution will get the job done.
The stress of having to strive for perfection is often a leading culprit behind paralysis by analysis.
Do not give into the fear.
Fear leads to overthinking.
Also, there is really no such thing as the perfect solution.
Every single decision has its positives and negatives. And trying to figure them all out in search of perfection is time consuming.
So what’s the best way to avoid this?
Especially if you’re a perfectionist?
Follow the old 80/20 rule, also called the Pareto Principle.
Author and public speaker, Brian Tracy, explains the concept well with regards to goal setting:
- Grab a piece of paper and jot down ten goals.
- Then ask yourself: If you could only accomplish one of the goals on that list today, which one goal would have the greatest positive impact on your life?
- Now pick the second most important goal.
Once you’ve done this, you will have determined the most important 20 percent of your goals for the day.
The ones most worthy of your time.
Habit #4: Eliminate Bad or Insignificant Choices
When faced with an important decision, it is always a good idea to make a list of your choices.
But you know what is an even better idea?
Eliminate the bad choices.
The choices that won’t positively affect your decision in any way.
You want to lose weight.
There are many options out there.
- Hiring a personal trainer
- Seeing a nutritionist
- Starve yourself
- Have weight loss surgery
- Download a fitness app
Do you see any bad choices you can eliminate?
I see at least one, possibly two.
Crossing these off your list will save you time and, thus, help you make your decision faster.
Take that, analysis paralysis!
Habit #5: Set a Time Limit
One of the biggest culprits behind analysis paralysis is a concept known as Parkinson’s Law.
In a nutshell, this theory states that work (or in our case, decisions) will take as long to complete as the time they are allotted.
If you allow yourself one day to make a decision... it will take a day.
If you allow 4 hours to make a decision… it will take four hours.
Obviously, bigger decisions should be given more time, as there is bound to be some overthinking.
You’re only human.
Author Celestine Chua, a self-proclaimed authority on Analysis Paralysis, follows this guideline:
- Small decisions: no more than a few minutes
- Mid-level decisions: no more than a week
- Big decisions: as long as needed, although usually two months or less
- In time, you will find what works best for you; but, keep this in mind…
- Spending more time than needed means letting the decision take up more time than it is worth.
- Close it and move on to other things.
Habit #6: Phone a Friend
If you find yourself stuck… you’re probably, say it with me, overthinking.
Analysis paralysis is in da house!
Sometimes the best thing you can do in a situation like this is phone a friend, colleague, family member, etc…
Someone who is up to speed on whatever it is you’re trying to figure out.
For instance, maybe you want to take up jogging and you don’t know which running shoes to buy?
After you’ve narrowed your choices down to a manageable few, why not have a chat with your neighbor, an avid marathon runner?
Makes sense, right?
Habit #7: Out with the Old, In with the New Way of Thinking
To be frank, you are your own worst enemy when it comes to overthinking.
And it likely all stemmed from childhood.
Think about it.
Maybe it was something as simple as your grandfather telling you to think long and hard before spending $1.00 on a pack of trading cards… because then you wouldn’t be able to buy that candy bar you’ll want later.
Or maybe your mom told you to choose only 1 of your 3 best friends to take to lunch and a movie on your birthday.
You had to choose.
And having to choose at such a young age, albeit over trivial things, set the wheels of analysis paralysis in motion.
You were being conditioned as a child to think about every single decision as if it were going to change your life.
And that just wasn’t true.
But when you’re a kid... you want it all. And not getting it all feels like the end of the world.
So you started overthinking things.
You began putting off making those decisions because you didn’t want to disappoint yourself or anybody else.
And you haven’t been able to stop procrastinating since.
All because of those small, seemingly insignificant changes you were forced to make as a child.
But you can end the cycle... now!
If you can channel how awful you felt then, you should be able to put today’s decision making into perspective.
As they say, don’t sweat the small stuff… and don’t give too much time to small decisions.
Your time is valuable.
Life is short!
Final Thoughts on Analysis Paralysis
To sum it up, I’ve outlined seven easy-to-follow habits for kicking analysis paralysis to the curb once and for all!
Just sit down and ask yourself:
- Does the decision need to be made now? Or can it be made later?
- Is this a big decision or a small decision?
- Is there a perfect solution?
- Can I eliminate any choices?
- How much time do I want to spend making this decision?
- Is there someone who can help me with this decision?
- Is something from my childhood preventing me from making decisions now?
Paralysis by analysis can be beaten.
It is not some unshakable force you can’t deal with.
As with any challenge in life...if you tackle it with a little flexibility and an open mind, you will prevail.
In other words, do not get stuck in “one way” decision making... instead, acknowledge the possibility of going another way and finding success.
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