I have a confession to make: I am a chronic (yes, chronic!) over-thinker. I am possibly the worst person you’ve ever met at making decisions, especially when it comes to writing. If you let me, I will sit at the computer for literally hours on end, churning through pages of information, jumping from one idea to another, not only confusing the heck out of myself but also making it near impossible to decide what to write about.
Even when I do eventually decide, it usually takes a ridiculous amount of time to write anything substantial because I’m also a god damn perfectionist. Everything must be “P E R F E C T” the first time, and until it is, I can’t possibly move forward.
Just picture a fully grown twenty-one year old woman crying on the floor, waving her arms in the air, exclaiming how her writing is a big pile of steaming fresh dog poop. That was me last week having a meltdown (so dramatic, I know!) writing an essay because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t wrap my brain around exactly what I wanted to say, or how to say it. Sound familiar…?
Ignoring the fact that I was having a tantrum equivalent to that of a two-year old child (just ask my poor boyfriend!), I was actually suffering from a serious case of ‘analysis paralysis’ – “the condition of being unable to make a decision due to the availability of too much information which must be processed in order for a decision to be made.”
If you’re anything like me, you will bog yourself down brainstorming, researching, tweaking and fixating on any tiny, insignificant detail… anything but just getting on with it. The result is coming up against wall, after wall, after wall – caught in an endless cycle of always thinking, thinking, thinking. You’re paralysed because you’re spending too much time analysing and not enough time making decisions, moving forward and actually taking action.
It’s embarrassing to say this scenario feels all too familiar…
The Paradox of Choice
With high-quality information just a click away (thanks Google!), it’s no wonder we constantly find ourselves in these states of analysis paralysis – trying to understand, comprehend and logically digest all the options available to us, and all of the many choices we can make.
I can’t help but think how much harder all this information makes the decision-making process – like the agony of deciding what to eat for dinner!
Psychologist, Barry Schwartz, calls this the “Paradox of Choice” – while more choices may equal objectively better results, it also leads to greater feelings of anxiety, indecision, paralysis and dissatisfaction. I for one, feel like a running, headless chicken, when faced with a multitude of choices and decisions to make.
There’s a good reason for this. According to a post by researchers at productivity app ‘Todoist’, our unlimited access to information doesn’t actually empower us to make better choices, but often makes us more fearful of making the wrong decision.
“This leads to us spinning our wheels in a seemingly inescapable purgatory of analysis paralysis, all the while getting nowhere on our important projects.”
The bad news is that analysis paralysis doesn’t just rob us of time – it also takes a toll on our productivity and well-being, according to studies in psychology and neuroscience.
1. It lowers performance on mentally-demanding tasks
It’s unfortunately no joke – overthinking is not good for performance. Studies repeatedly show that high-pressure, anxiety-producing situations lead to lower performance on mentally-demanding tasks. With self-doubt and anxiety weighing heavily on our shoulders, it’s no wonder we struggle when challenging assignments come knocking at the door.
2. It kills creative potential
Analysis paralysis doesn’t just lower our performance on mentally-demanding tasks. A recent Stanford study suggests that overthinking can also keep us from reaching our creative potential! I won’t forget my high school art teacher telling me to stop thinking about what to draw and just start drawing (the look of horror on my face!). Funnily enough, when I let go of overthinking, I was finally able to tap into my creative abilities.
3. It eats away at willpower
Beyond our creative potential, over-analysing a decision not only inhibits our ability to clearly assess a situation, but also depletes our limited supply of willpower much more quickly. The result? We feel more exhausted and overwhelmed – good choices are more difficult to make later on. Those chocolate biscuits suddenly look so much more enticing and that new Netflix series is jumping out of your screen, demanding to be watched!
How to Stop Over-analysing and Start Doing
Like me, I know you’re probably sitting there wondering how you can overcome this horribly time-consuming act of over-analysing and actually get s*** done.
That’s why I’ve put together five helpful tips that have helped me to overcome analysis paralysis once and for all!
Well, that’s not all true.
That’s why I’ve been over-analysing five helpful tips that will hopefully help you (and I) overcome analysis paralysis once and for all!
1. Clarify your objectives and priorities
Before you start any assignment or project, make sure you clarify your objectives and priorities. There ain’t nothing like a bad time than realising (on the due date, oops) that you haven’t set any objectives and don’t know what the heck your doing. Trust me, I’ve been there!
Next time you encounter a tricky decision, you can dodge analysis paralysis by asking yourself which option best aligns with your most important goal. If you were writing an article on dogs, you wouldn’t start looking for information on cats. So keep tabs on those objectives and eliminate anything that doesn’t align with your current goals.
2. Limit the time you spend searching for and consuming information
If you’re anything like me, your internet browser will often reflect the state of your mind…
This is exactly what analysis paralysis feels like – trying to understand, comprehend and logically digest all the information available to us. It feels almost impossible, at times, not to feel overwhelmed by it all!
One way to avoid this is by limiting the time you spend searching for and consuming information. I am notoriously bad at researching for days (or weeks!) and leaving myself very little time to actually write anything. Next time you start an assignment, try reading with a specific goal in mind or by setting a volume limit whenever your doing research.
3. The right decision is the one you commit to
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve changed my mind on a decision at the last minute – mainly because I’m always trying to conjure up a better one.
It’s tempting to believe that just by researching deeper and thinking harder that we can figure out the ‘right’ decision. The truth is that all the options may be equally valid – we may never be able to determine the ‘right’ choice.
Researchers at productivity app ‘Todoist’ remind us “it’s often our confidence and commitment to our decisions that determine whether they are the ‘right’ ones in the end”.
Our time and energy is better invested in developing a concrete, actionable plan to help our decisions succeed.
4. Get out of your own head
Your problem is your thinking, so one of the most important things to do when you’re over-analysing is to get out of your own head.
I, for one, find it extremely difficult not to over analyse everything. As a result, I often spend way too much time in my head (aka, Mel’s world) and not enough time actually living in the present. This makes it terribly easy to fall prey to analysis paralysis.
When you’re paralysed by a particular situation, why not try going for a walk to get some much needed air and clarity on it all. Or better still, reach out for someone else’s opinion – this can lead to a decision we’re more happy with than making a choice all by ourselves.
5. Hold yourself accountable to deadlines
The hardest of them all, setting a deadline and holding yourself accountable. I know first-hand how difficult it is to trick yourself into believing that self-imposed deadlines are real (luckily university does it for us).
But no matter how stressful and frustrating working on a deadline can be, Melissa Dahl from Science of Us reminds us that deadlines are “often the only reason people ever get anything done.” How else would we ever hand in assignment after assignment, far past the point of being overwhelmed and exhausted.
Beth Belle Cooper wrote an excellent article on how to stop missing deadlines, suggesting that adopting strategies like front-loading our week, giving ourselves a buffer and committing to public deadlines can all help us to overcome the deadline bias.
For the those of us that go through analysis paralysis on the regular, setting deadlines can help to keep that nagging over-analyser from taking over and ruining our success!
Hopefully these tips will help the both of us overcome the horribly time-consuming act of over-analysing – so we can start making decisions, move forward and take real and positive action.
While I can’t promise that there won’t be another meltdown of me exclaiming how my writing is a big pile of steaming fresh dog poop, It’s my hope that we can come to understand just how damaging our chronic overthinking can be. That we don’t have to be slaves to analysis paralysis. That we don’t have to come up against wall, after wall, after wall. That we don’t have to be caught in an endless cycle of always thinking, thinking, thinking. It’s important to know that sometimes, the best decisions are the ones we don’t agonise over.