Diagnosis: Analysis Paralysis
Analysis paralysis: being so overwhelmed by the analysis of a particular situation or decision that we are paralyzed to act. In 1965, H. Igor Ansoff wrote a book called Corporate Strategy: An Analytic Approach to Business Policy for Growth and Expansion, in which he referenced "paralysis by analysis" as a way of explaining people who analyze to the point of excess. The Oxford English Dictionary tell us that the earliest known use of the exact phrase "analysis paralysis" can be found in the 1970s in The Times. So, this is not a new concept. It's been around for a while. Many have written about it and belabored its origin.
If any of this is ringing true for you so far, you may be someone who suffers with this terrible challenge of the mind. For as long as I can remember, it has been my life. From simple decisions like what to eat or wear, to more weighty choices involving career and relationships — my analysis paralysis is equal-opportunity offender. (You can read a little more about how it affected my recent work trip to Chicago.) For much of my early life, I didn't realize that this was something that needed to be worked through. I assumed that everyone experienced life this way! It wasn't until I realized that this was an incredibly extreme way to approach life decisions that I knew I had a responsibility to try and figure out how to manage it. The first step to recovery is admitting the problem, right? That's where we need to start, if our personal and professional lives have any hope of evolving and growing…
There's something powerful about owning who we are, even the parts we don't like. For me, I had to accept I was a person who over-analyzed pretty much everything before I could even begin to do anything about it. And I had to keep accepting and recognizing it… Over and over again. It's like a muscle. We don't get stronger if we don't use it. We have to exercise our recognition muscles to even understand how much this is happening in our lives before we can do anything with it.
Write it down.
Getting in the habit of recognizing our over-analyzation doesn't make it go away. I've found that writing things down helps, though. It's like a mind dump. When I feel myself getting carried away with my thinking, I try to put it all down on a note card. Then I can see it, and I can visualize the situation with a different perspective. There's something about this that helps bring clarity to a jumbled mess of thoughts. I sometimes carry these cards around in my pocket to refer to later on, even. Seeing these thoughts can sometimes make them feel less intimidating.
Not everything is equal when it comes to the choices we make every day. They may feel equal, but the truth is that my lunch plans are significantly less important than where I'm going to live. And when I'm dumping out my mind regularly, I can start to see that this is true, and begin to rank decisions in order of importance. It's far more productive to expend our energy on bigger life decisions than to allow our entire day to be derailed by a lot of small choices. Prioritization at work and home helps me make sense of the choices that need the most mental energy, and the ones that need the least.
Ask for help.
None of this can be done alone. As I referenced earlier, I didn't realize this was a significant issue in my life for a long time. It wasn't until some friends began consistently pointing out these patterns to me that I even saw this as the debilitating problem it can be. Sometimes we are so internally focused that we need others around us — friends, co-workers, family — to help be our compass in the midst of the daily grind. This is especially true if we want to make any forward progress in our careers or relationships. And as we work through this complicated issue, we'll need the help of the people around us to make sure we are continually staying on the right path without getting distracted.
Will I ever be "cured" of my analysis paralysis? Likely no. But that's not my goal. My goal is to understand it and learn to work through it, not to get over it. There's not a one-size-fits-all approach to handling our analysis paralysis. It's an ever-evolving process that will change as we change, and as the seasons of our lives change throughout different circumstances. But… let's not think too much about that right now...
David Clark is a writer and community advocate at James & Matthew. He joined our team in 2016 and currently resides in Bloomington, Indiana, where he enjoys running and eating copious amounts of Chipotle.