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A client of mine is a teacher for elementary school kids. Every day, she gives her kids some free time in the afternoon to play games, be creative, and generally take a break from structured learning to have a little fun.
A few weeks ago, after she explained all of the different “stations” they could play at during free time (coloring, origami, music, games, building with blocks, etc.), most of the kids ran off to their favorite station. One little boy, though, stood paralyzed at the front of the room, tears welling in his eyes.
My client crouched down and asked him, “What’s wrong, sweetie? Why are you so upset?”
“I like all of these stations. It’s too hard to choose one,” he said, fully crying now.
My client told me later, “You have no idea how much I related to him in that moment! I’m constantly in analysis paralysis, overanalyzing my options and feeling totally overwhelmed. Seeing that kid just standing there, crying and paralyzed at the front of my classroom … my heart went out to him because I feel the exact same way all the time.”
I don’t know about you, but I totally relate to that little boy sometimes, too. When you have a bunch of choices in front of you, it can feel impossible to pick one.
What if you choose wrong?
What if you miss out on something?
What if you regret your decision?
What if you feel like you don’t have enough information to decide?
We live in an amazing time where we all have more choices today than most humans have had throughout history. It’s downright amazing to think of all the careers and life paths that you could pursue nowadays … things that our ancestors couldn’t have even dreamed of!
Yet, the more choices in front of you, the more likely you are to question and doubt your decisions. And if you’re someone who’s already prone to overanalyzing everything … you’re likely to slip into full-on analysis paralysis, just like that little boy crying in the classroom.
It makes sense that so many of us are overanalyzing and stressing out over our choices more than ever, but there is a way out of the mental chaos.
HOW TO STOP OVERANALYZING EVERYTHING
If you’re paralyzed by indecision — about something as small as where to eat lunch or as big as which career path to choose — then try going through each of these steps to get out of overwhelm and feel more confident about your decision.
1. Quit the endless researching.
There’s this temptation to believe that, if you could just gather enough info and think hard enough about something, the answer would magically reveal itself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.
In reality, if you get 5 friends’ opinions and read 5 articles on the topic … you’ll just wind up with 10 different recommendations and feeling more confused than ever.
I get that some research might be necessary so you can make an informed decision. But after a certain point, all it does is weigh you down. So ask yourself, “What specific questions do I need answered in order to make a decision about this?” After you’ve answered those questions, stop Googling!
2. Choose based on your feelings instead of emotions.
Eventually, after you’ve done the research, you’ve got to get out of your head and check in with how you feel about your options. Why? Because…
You can’t logic your way into a feel-good decision.
I used to think, years ago, that making emotionally based decisions was not smart and kind of impulsive. But that’s only because I didn’t realize the difference between deeper desired feelings vs. your more fleeting emotional state.
Danielle LaPorte gives the best description of the difference between the two:
“Emotions, for me, are very fleeting. I can feel 900 emotions in a day. I can feel rage, I can feel [good], I can feel happy, sad. A bunch of them are petty. ‘Hey, hi, goodbye!’ They’re very fleeting. Whereas feelings, the physically desired feelings, are much deeper, much deeper and much more steady. They’re the oceans instead of the mist.”
If you’re considering your choices based on how you deeply want to feel — instead of your current, fleeting emotional state OR what makes the most logical sense — your analysis paralysis will start to melt away. So throw out your mental pros/cons list and consider which option is going to get you closer to how you ultimately want to feel.
3. The 90 Percent Rule.
I read about this in Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism, and it totally blew my mind. It’s really simple, but it can be so hard to follow through on.
Here’s how he describes it:
“As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0 and 100. If you rate it any lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it. This way you avoid getting caught up in indecision, or worse, getting stuck with the 60s or 70s.
Think about how you’d feel if you scored a 65 on some test. Why would you deliberately choose to feel that way about an important choice in your life?”
Choosing only the 9s and 10s takes a lot of courage. But once you clear out the 6s, 7s, and 8s, you won’t have much left to overanalyze.
4. Take one small step in any direction.
OK, so you’ve emerged from the online research black hole, considered how you ultimately want to feel, and cut out any option that’s not a 9 or 10. Chances are, one choice is standing out above the rest by now. But if you still feel like you have too many choices and you’re mired in indecision, take one small step in any direction.
When you’re prone to overanalyzing, the last thing you’ll want to do is throw yourself 100% into a choice — your FOMO will kick in hardcore. So take a baby step.
Set up an informational interview. Go to that grad school open house. Take a weekend trip to the city you’re considering moving to. Buy the domain for your potential future business.
You can always reevaluate and course-correct, if you need to. And remember my favorite quote from Marie Forleo:
“Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.” — @marieforleo
YOU CAN’T CHOOSE WRONG
Remember that little boy who was crying over which station to play at during free time? My client told him, “The point of free time is to have fun, and it sounds like you’ll have fun at any of the stations. So you can’t choose wrong! Let’s choose one station today, and you can choose a different one tomorrow.”
That’s true for you, too. You can’t choose wrong. And you can always choose again later on.
If your ultimate goal is just to feel good and enjoy life, any number of roads will get you there. So don’t worry so much about taking the “wrong” path.
Once you’ve made your choice, then use your over-analytical mind for you, not against you. Devote your brainpower to figuring out how to make the absolute best of your decision, instead of letting it run wild with worry and second-guessing.
Now tell me: Are you forever overanalyzing every decision? How do you deal with analysis paralysis? Leave a comment to tell me about it!
Kristen (& Rachel)
IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU’LL ALSO LOVE…
How I got over my FOMO (October 2018)
Why you should keep new ideas to yourself (December 2018)
How you can stop freaking out about not knowing the future (April 2019)
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In your blog you said,”if your ultimate goal is to just feel good and enjoy your life then any road is good “. But what if your ultimate life goal is to be the chairperson of some great company. What of your life time goal is to built a company and provide something extraordinary to the world..
Bg — Really great question! I believe that the reason any of us want anything is because we believe it will make us feel a particular way once we get there (which is really just your definition of feeling good and enjoying life). If your biggest life goal is to build a company that provides something extraordinary to the world, then maybe you want to feel impactful, or successful, or purposeful, or innovative, or something else altogether. And that feeling is your true end goal. There are many paths you could take to get to that feeling and to improve the world around you. So if building a great company feels like the route you want to choose to get there, that’s awesome! Go for it! We could definitely use more innovative, passionate leaders who want to make a positive impact on the world. 🙂
Thanks for the advice, it was really helpful but I Wonder how come you know the answers to our hidden questions?
You guys need to stop reading my mind! I have been dealing with analysis paralysis over the past week with moving forward with starting a millennial lifestyle blog. I have over 20 topics saved and have written about 4 posts (through Word to save and edit), but haven’t moved forward with buying the domain and officially setting up. Great Read!
How funny that I literally gave the example of buying your domain name as one small way of getting out of analysis paralysis … and that’s exactly the next step you need to take! I’d say that’s a pretty clear sign of what you need to do. 😉 I love that this topic was so relevant for you this week!
I really loved this article; very simple and easy ways to make choices easier. I am one of those who is stuck in analysis paralysis. When I completed Meyers Briggs, this shows up as a characteristic of my personality type (INFP). The satisfying part was understanding why this happens. However, analysis paralysis still drives me crazy! I hope these tips can help!
Glad to hear you loved this, Rich! Personality assessments, like the Meyers Briggs, are awesome for understanding yourself and your tendencies. They can help you have way more self-compassion and judge yourself less because you understand WHY you are the way you are. But just because you understand your challenges doesn’t mean you always know how to deal with them. So I hope these steps will help you move past your tendency to fall into analysis paralysis!
You guys (gals, *pardon the minor analysis paralysis lol) are pretty awesome.
I really enjoy your daily emails and your podcasts.
Thanks so much, Courtni! Day = made. 🙂
This is such a timely blog post! I too struggle with this—feeling like I have to wait for all of the information and worry often about whether or not I’m making the “right” decision. In terms of how have I been dealing with it, it’s taking more time that I like 😬I’m trying to intentional point out the fact that I can always change my mind or make a difference decision later, and self-reflect on the times when I’ve done this and it worked out in the past. It’s a slow process changing years of conditioned responses!
Glad this post was perfect timing for you, Jon. 🙂 I love what you mentioned about reminding yourself that you’ve changed your mind/decision in the past, and it’s all turned out fine. It can be reassuring to remind yourself of your own resilience, in that way. It’s a slow process of change, but you’re clearly making progress!
Great blog Kristen! I’ve always been one to over-analyse everything (as small as what to buy for lunch, to what job to take! argh!) and it’s exhausting. I’ve always just assumed this was part of my personality, but am starting to realise that it is possible to ‘feel’ your way into making decisions (rather than fry your brain over it!) and I love the tips you have provided to help! 🙂
I’m totally familiar with that “fried brain” feeling lol! Really glad this post is helping you start to feel your way into decisions, instead of staying stuck in the cycle of overanalyzing them to death. Would love to hear how some of the strategies I mentioned work for you! 🙂