Do You Have Analysis Paralysis?
Overthinking everything can make everyday life a challenge.
Posted April 24, 2019 | Reviewed by Matt Huston
You’ve met people like Jack: Ask him about whether he wants to join you for a drink and he says he’ll have to get to back to you. Crafting an email to his supervisor can take up a morning. Deciding where to go for a vacation can take six months of research.
Jack's got analysis paralysis (AP).
In Jack's world, all decisions are equal and all require lots of careful thought. He deliberates, he weighs options, he worries about what can go wrong. His brain is running, running, trying to compute endless possible scenarios, making the Tuesday date just as important and overwhelming as whether or not to take that new job. And if he has to deal with people who he particularly cares about—like his supervisor or girlfriend—the analysis gets even worse: He walks on eggshells and is fearful of saying the wrong thing, getting them upset. Bottom line, he is constantly anxious. Not good.
If you are struggling with AP, here are some tips to help you break this pattern:
Recognize when AP is kicking in.
In doing this for so long, this type of thinking has likely become automatic. You need to slow it down. Your anxious brain is telling you that the way to feel less anxious is to analyze more—this is a bad idea. This only feeds those anxiety circuits, making them stronger.
Step back by checking in with yourself when you find yourself focused on decisions or worries and ask yourself if you are over-analyzing.
Decide how important the problem is.
Anxiety makes everything important, and you want to learn to prioritize. Ask yourself: Is this a first-world problem? In the bigger picture of my week, my life, how big is this problem? What’s my worst fear? How likely, rationally, is the worst-case scenario apt to happen? And if it does, what can I do about it? What you are trying to do here is have your rational brain override your anxious one.
While you’re on it, ask yourself what is driving your concern: Is this a should—some rule you have in your head—or a want, something you know is important to you? If it's a should, you may want to slow it down even more and check in with those gut reactions; use them as information to help you prioritize.
Be alert to perfectionism.
The overly crafted emails are probably a sign of perfectionism running afoot. Perfectionism is just another variation of anxiety but is deadly for sorting out priorities—because there are none—and a sure recipe for forever getting mentally stuck in the mud when making decisions.
Stop walking on eggshells.
If you tend to be particularly cautious when dealing with important people in your life, if you weigh each sentence before speaking, each action by whether or not the other person will be pleased or at least not upset, your life once again slows to a crawl. The antidote to this is being bold, speaking up, seeing what happens next, and then if necessary, mopping up.
These suggestions can help you become more aware of AP and begin to push against its power in specific situations. But ideally, you want to put AP to rest, along with the underlying anxiety that is driving it. For that, you need to do some ongoing practice. Again, suggestions:
Practice making decisions quickly.
Obviously, this is the ultimate antidote to AP, but it is one that you can easily do if you start with small decisions. Have a sudden desire to go out for lunch? Do it! Jack's invitation to go out for drinks—just go!
By practicing with low-level items, you'll gain confidence. The goal is to become more and more comfortable with what initially feels like impulsivity. Impulsive here is good. It is skipping the AP and taking a risk, even if it's small. As your confidence and experience grow, you can take on larger ones.
Practice being less than perfect.
Here’s where Jack doesn’t deliberate forever about the email. Here you do the quick once-over washing of the car or ironing the shirt. Again, you can start small and work up, but the goal is lowering your expectations, feeling more comfortable “making mistakes," deciding that not everything is equally important.
Practice using your gut reactions as information.
AP is all head all the time; this is the counter of learning to listen to your gut, your feelings. This is what will drive your going out for lunch, but also whether or not you want to volunteer for that committee at work. Before you automatically raise your hand, or go down the rabbit hole of obsessing about it, see how you feel—want to or not? Then act on that feeling.
As you become more comfortable with being uncomfortable, more comfortable with relying on your impulses and gut-reactions as information, the final step is being assertive and speaking up and letting your feelings and needs be known. Once again, start small and work up to that mother, boss, husband.
Analysis paralysis doesn’t need to bog down your life. As with all forms of anxiety, the antidote is to do the opposite of what your anxious mind is telling you, run towards what you're afraid of in order to find out that what you think will happen doesn’t.
Ready to put the brakes on your AP?