Thursday, December 13, 2007

Paralysis by Over-Analysis

A few days ago, I got an exciting email from someone who attended the Nov 26th workshop.
"The thanksgiving session was awesome, and thanks so much for it and for everything you said. I really am going to throw my life in a backpack and go to New Zealand--I told my family about it and everything--probably right after next Christmas. A good friend might actually come too! So thanks for getting me to stop thinking about it and actually do something. I feel like that might be a common overachiever problem, overanalyzing to the point where you are paralyzed by the options..."
As a fellow overachiever, I completely agree. Even the best of us occasionally get stymied by our own "Paralysis by Over-Analysis." We find ourselves trapped in our own decision-making process... mulling over the pro's and con's, carefully deliberating on the best options, and trying to be sure make the "right" decision.

Most of us suffer from "Paralysis by Over-Analysis" at some point in our lives - Do I need a new job? Should I go back to school? Or maybe work a few year to save up money? Would I like to move to a new city? Do I want to stay in this relationship? Is it ok to spend this much money on this?

Since none of these have a "right" or "wrong" answer, we can waste a lot of time trying to optimize our decision. We don't have perfect information so we have to go with what we've got. But as overachievers, we always want to do (or have) the best, so when we're not sure of what that is, paralysis sets in.

Frozen in this state, we've temporarily lost our ability to make choices. We end up just "doing what we've been doing" as a default and become even more frustrated with ourselves and unhappy with our situation. And that's the last thing we want!

Since life is about being happy and creating the life you want, here are a few decision-making philosophies that I've come across that might help you in your next "Paralysis by Over-Analysis" moment:
  • Make a decision, and then make it the right one. (Wisdom from a former boss...whatever you decide, go with it entirely. Don't look back or second-guess yourself.)
  • If you make a decision to do something now, you can always make another decision later to change something if it's not working. (This way you're making a decision now, with the option of making another decision later... 2 decisions vs. indecision!)
  • Right or wrong, do it at 100%. (Wisdom from a former rugby coach...Even if you screw up, do it at 100%. People will see your courage and respect you for trying.)
  • Go easy on yourself if you do make a mistake. The world goes on and hopefully you've learned something from it. (According to Jack Welsh, it's how you recover from the mistake that's important!)
It's my firm belief that a few bad decisions are part of learning, and any decision is better than no decision. What do you think? Please comment...
  • Have you ever found yourself in a state of "Paralysis by Over-Analysis"?
  • What have you learned about decision-making that you could share?
Sometimes it's nice to have someone to gently nudge you out of the analysis phase. If you need a nudge, email me at and we'll have you making decisions in no time!


Anonymous said...

I think indecision can be an athlete's worst enemy. There's no room for "Paralysis by Over-Analysis" in sports.

A lesson I learned early in my rugby career was that any decision was better than no decision. After being flattened a few times from "thinking too much" about where to pass or which play to run, I quickly learned that indecision, not curiosity, killed the cat.

With a little bit of reassurance, I was making mistakes in no time :) Then I learned from those mistakes and grew as a player. Now I hope I make more good decisions than bad, but at least now I'm not afraid to try.

Hoop said...

Once again, you're reading my mind :)

I'm fairly indecisive about most of the things that you mentioned. I mean, I have trouble picking one dish off a dinner menu! And I'm pretty sure that the overthinking Anonymous mentioned is one of my bigger rugby weaknesses...

My new decision-making philosophy is very similar to one you touched on: Pick an option, and commit to it. Do it wholeheartedly and enjoy it as much as possible, and whatever the outcome, I'll learn something that can be applied to the next situation. So far, it's been working for me and I'm excited to see what's next! I'm sure I'll make a bunch of mistakes along the way, but like Anonymous said, I'm not afraid to try.

Anonymous said...

WHEW!! thanks i needed this. you have no idea what ive been going thru. i think one of the hard parts is being willing to do the hard work that comes with the big move you end up committing to. sometimes you just dont want to face the challenge. but admittedly, im always happiest when i did make the effort.