What is Analysis Paralysis?
Analysis paralysis is the inability to arrive at a decision due to overthinking a situation or problem. It is entirely normal that while making a decision, especially if it’s an important one, to take some time to consider and re-consider the options. But what happens when you weigh your options for so long that you are not able to come to any decision at all. This overthinking is known as analysis paralysis.(1, 2)
With analysis paralysis, people tend to spend a lot of time pondering over the available options to make sure that they are making the best possible choice. This can happen even with the smallest of decisions, such as which sandwich to get at the restaurant or which television to purchase. And when it comes to making high-stakes decisions, you may worry more that you will end up making the wrong decision even after carefully considering the pros and cons of every available option.(3, 4)
The worst part is that when you become trapped in an endless loop imagining ‘what is’ scenarios, you eventually start to feel so overwhelmed that you end up failing to make any decision.
5 Tips to Get Past ‘Analysis Paralysis’
Analysis paralysis can be a cause of great distress. Here are some tips that can help you get past analysis paralysis and break the pattern of overthinking everything.
Important to Recognize Analysis Paralysis
Broadly speaking, it is important to learn to recognize that you have analysis paralysis. Of course, it is a good idea to think thoroughly about the big choices in your life and the possible impact your decision will have on your life. So how is it possible to differentiate between analysis paralysis and healthy decision-making?
Typically, the process of decision-making involves quickly coming up with a list of possibilities. Then, equally as quickly, narrowing down this list by crossing out the choices that are obviously not the right ones. This process of elimination tends to take place in our minds within a relatively short period of time. For many decisions, it might be just a few minutes, while for some, it may take a few days, or major decisions may take even longer.
However, in people with analysis paralysis, they start to feel like they are drowning in the possibilities. They feel there are endless possibilities and start to feel overwhelmed when they try to separate one correct choice from so many available options.
If you find yourself in such a situation where you feel all the possibilities have merit, it won’t be surprising to find yourself drowning in the process of decision-making, as the need to consider them all equally can simply shut down the brain’s decision-making ability.(5)
Identify the Causes of Overthinking
It can help if you try to understand the reasons behind why you have trouble making a decision. Was there ever an instance when a previous decision did not work out favorably or as you thought? If that memory continues to haunt you, then it is likely that you will have trouble deciding and trusting yourself to make the right choice this time. You may even worry about others judging you if you make a particular decision.
You might also be worried about how making the ‘wrong’ decision will impact your future or your personal relationships. It can be especially challenging to make a decision that affects the lives of people around you.
There comes a time in everyone’s lives when you have to make a challenging choice. However, if you find that you are getting stuck thinking and overthinking and analyzing the various options for almost every decision you make, you might be suffering from analysis paralysis. Increasing your understanding of why this is happening can be the first step to breaking this pattern.(6, 7)
Make Your Choices Quickly
If you find yourself struggling to make any decision without analyzing and overthinking, apply the strategy of making decisions quickly, without giving yourself too much time to think. This may feel extremely unsettling, even terrifying, at first. But the more you practice, the easier it will become to make a decision quickly.
You can test your capability to make quick decisions in small ways, to begin with. For example:
- Pick a restaurant for lunch without reading any online reviews.
- Follow your impulse and to pick any brand of cereal without taking the time to think too much about it.
- Before heading out the door, decide on which shoes you are going to wear at one go. Do not go back and forth between your shoes.
- Choose the first show on any streaming platform to watch instead of checking its reviews.
- You may feel anxious at first, but allow yourself to get used to the idea of making quick decisions, especially in situations that have small consequences.
- Regular practice in making small decisions can help you become more comfortable with making bigger decisions.
Don’t Let The Decision-Making Process Consume You
Thinking for a long time may seem to be the ideal solution to arrive at the right answer. However, overthinking can actually cause a lot of harm.
Analysis paralysis can also have a physical impact on your health. It can affect your nervous system and also increase your overall anxiety, which can cause symptoms like high blood pressure, panic attacks or even stomach issues.(8)
You may also have a hard time concentrating on your personal life, work life, or school work if most of your mental energy is focused on decision-making.
A better or more helpful approach is to think about setting certain limits around your decision timeline. You may give yourself a time limit of one week or a few days to decide, and then set aside some time to think about it every day.
Use this time to focus on your decision. List the pros and cons, do research, and think hard during that time. However, when the daily time you have set is over, move on to doing other things.
Focus on Building Your Self-Confidence
There is no one in this world who understands you better than yourself. If some of your earlier decisions did not have positive outcomes, it is common to start doubting yourself and think that any decision you make will be bad. It is time to set aside this fear and leave the past and move ahead. Ask yourself what lesson you learned from these decisions and how you have grown in the time that followed.
Stop looking at the new decision as another opportunity for failure. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and grow as a person.
You can boost your self-confidence in the following ways:
- Remind yourself that it is okay to make mistakes. You are only human, after all.
- Encourage yourself with a positive pep talk.
- Think back to the decisions that had positive results.
Do You Need To See A Therapist For Analysis Paralysis?
Analysis paralysis usually occurs as an anxiety response. It can trigger a vicious cycle of fear, worry, and overthinking that cannot be easy to handle by yourself. If you find it challenging to stop this cycle of overthinking, you may benefit from seeing a therapist.(9, 10)
A therapist can help you in the following manner:
- Identify the underlying triggers or causes of analysis paralysis.
- Come up with an action plan to change this thought pattern.
- Work through your depression or anxiety symptoms that might be making overthinking worse.
It is important to seek help and get professional support if you find that the inability to take important decisions in your life has started to affect your work, personal relationships, or the quality of your life.
There is nothing wrong to think about all the available options before making a decision. However, if you constantly find yourself getting stuck in making a decision and perpetually in an indecisive state, it can help to explore what the underlying reasons could be. Challenge yourself to be a little impulsive when you need to make a decision.
Make a decision quickly and follow it through. And if you find yourself struggling, it might be a good idea to seek professional help and consult a therapist.
- Zuckerberg, B., 2008. Overcoming “analysis paralysis”. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 6(9), pp.505-506.
- Talbert, B., 2017. Overthinking and other minds: The analysis paralysis. Social Epistemology, 31(6), pp.545-556.
- Mann, D., 2002. Analysis paralysis: When root cause analysis isn’t the way. The TRIZ Journal, (May).
- Anderson, C.U.S.H.I.N.G., 2009. Overcoming analysis paralysis. Chief Learning Officer, 8(5), pp.54-56.
- Spacek, M., 2000. IS YOUR IT PROJECT STRUCK IN ANALYSIS/PARALYSIS MODE. Strategic Finance, 81(7), pp.24-24.
- Ch’ng Pei Eng, C.Y., Ming, C.S.P. and MHRO, A., 2020. Think+ Think+… Think= Overthinking. TEACHING AND LEARNING IN HIGHER EDUCATION (TLHE), 45.
- Metrinko, L., 7 Dangerous Effects of Overthinking.
- IDEA, M., 2008. 2 Analysis paralysis. Inside Intuition, p.33.
- Haupt, R.L. and Shockley, A.J., 2018. Ethically speaking: Analysis paralysis. URSI Radio Science Bulletin, 2018(366), pp.23-24.
- Bhardwaj, E., 2009. Analysis Paralysis: when to stop?. arXiv preprint arXiv:0903.5024.