If you suffer from analysis paralysis, you know exactly the state of being that I’m talking about. If you aren’t sure, then here’s a brief description.
Analysis paralysis is when you get stuck overthinking whether or not to take an action. Ultimately, it keeps you from making a decision, so you don’t act at all. The feelings that you experience while overthinking and “trying to figure things out” are usually anxiety and worry.
(Don’t get me wrong, thinking through a decision is important. What’s key is the “paralysis” piece of this. There is a threshold between when the thinking is helping you and when it’s not.)
If you are someone like me who was given a battery of IQ tests or other assessments that were really IQ tests in disguise, and then eventually placed into a gifted program in school, then you had adults reinforce the idea that your brain is good at solving problems. And if you’re good at solving problems with your brain, then why not use it to solve all of your problems?
But here’s the most important part of analysis paralysis and why I want to talk about it in this post: While you think that you are doing something, because thinking feels active (and also socially acceptable), really you are indulging in a state of confusion.
Here is another way to put it. Analysis paralysis is typically your brain getting hung up on a series of “what ifs.”
What if I make the wrong choice.
What if I regret the decision.
What if I embarrass myself in front of my colleagues.
What if I make a mistake and I get fired.
What if people expose me as an imposter.
You think that you are trying to be pragmatic and sensible as opposed to impulsive and overemotional. In order to avoid making a mistake, and potentially feeling humiliation or shame, you get your brain churning. And then you stay in that churning state, because it’s always safer to say “I don’t know,” and to sit in a state of blurry confusion.
This is because you are committed to the idea that there is a “best” or “perfect” decision or action. And that if you can solve this puzzle, you will feel that satisfying joy of reaching an epiphany, and you will continue on with your best life.
But you know that sometimes, even after weeks or months of analyzing and delaying making a choice, you can still regret your decision. That’s because you can’t predict the future. And, more importantly, you will still be human with lots of thoughts and feelings that you don’t like no matter where you are in the timeline of your life.
So how can you nudge yourself out of these thinking loops and thought ruts?
You can start by believing the following:
You get to decide what’s perfect.
Analysis paralysis is a form of perfectionism. And perfectionism is the belief that there is some objective or outside entity that can quantify what is perfect.
But there’s not. Perfectionism is your perception of what is good or better or best. It’s subjective. A person can go to prison and think that it’s the perfect thing for them. You can not make it past the third round of interviews for a “dream job” and then realize that you not getting the job was perfect because of other opportunities available to you.
I am so grateful for my problems these days, because they give me the chance to learn more about my core beliefs and how to work through painful feelings. Never before would I have imagined that having problems is perfect for me.
And that takes me to the next thing that can help you get out of analysis paralysis. And that’s believing the following:
The worst thing that can happen is you feel a feeling you don’t like.
Humans in a post-enlightment tech-obsessed capitalist society hate feeling feelings. They are inefficient, a mark of weakness, and the antithesis of rationality. And so we have given ourselves a million ways to avoid them. We overeat, overdrink, and overthink to avoid them. We indulge in recreational drugs or become overly medicated by prescriptions to numb ourselves from our feelings. Some people definitely need their medication because of a mental illness or because of the residual effects of past trauma, but many people don’t want to feel even an inkling of bad feelings like shame or humiliation. What happens is that we react to feelings instead of feeling them.
The more you avoid feeling a feeling, the stronger it will come back later. I know you have all experienced this kind of intense backlash. The more you avoid feeling shame, the more it will pop up in the middle of the night. It’s like a buoy you are trying to push underwater. This leads to terrific exhaustion, and ultimately, it just makes the feeling persist more strongly in your life.
Freedom from these persistent bad feelings starts with allowing yourself to actually feel them. You have to move through the painful feelings in order to get to the other side. You’re going to feel awful and like shit and there are typically lots of tears, but once you’re on the other side, alive and well, you’re going to think: that wasn’t so bad.
Analysis paralysis is your attempt to avoid feeling painful feelings. But if you’re not scared of feeling those feelings (including regret or shame), then you are free from the pressure of making the “right choice.”
Is your brain churning? Are you coming up with counterarguments?
Is your brain helping you right now?
If not, then I can help. I know exactly where you’re coming from. If I added up all the time I’ve spent in analysis paralysis it would add up to years. Years that I wish I could have back.