Take a moment and reminisce about those mornings you woke up at the beep of your alarm. You get stuck in your thought, wondering what to have for breakfast, what to wear to work, and the color of shoes that matches your jacket. Making simple decisions like this can be daunting. This results from analysis paralysis, the inability to make a decision or choice due to overanalyzing or overthinking the problem. When overwhelmed with the abundance of choices or options, it may impede your cognitive sense such that you focus solely on the problem rather than take actions that solves it.
For instance, you are the team lead of your local volunteer community. You’re tasked with finding a nice outdoor hangout spot for your team. To fulfill the task, you are all about getting the best spot. While also considering what type of games, drinks, and snacks the team prefers. Since external guests will be at the hangout, you are more inclined to leave a lasting impression; you become torn between multiple variables. There is no perfect hangout spot in the grand scheme of things. However, considering all of these can heighten indecision and cause you to overanalyze the situation.
Barry Schwartz, in his book The Paradox of Choice, says
“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard”.
The Impact of Analysis Paralysis
A 2000 study by psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper highlights how consumers respond to decision-making. On different occasions, they display a plethora of jams for consumers to purchase. Day one: the table has 24 varieties of jams. And day two: the table has six different types of jams. Iyengar and Lepper concluded that consumers were 10 times more likely to purchase from the table with only six jams than those with 24. This conclusion stems from the understanding that purchasing something as little as a jar of jam requires cognitive energy. The more we analyze and compare trivial things, the more mental energy we consume and the less likely we can make a decision.
Analysis paralysis can lead to;
Reduced Efficiency on Creative or Critical Thinking tasks
The frontal cortex is the brain’s working memory responsible for focusing on information or tasks that require cognitive attention. Learning, thinking outside the box, and creating new ideas are mentally taxing activities. Hence if we exert too much cognitive load on the working memory, it may become difficult to focus on anything.
Destructive Thought Patterns
Overthinking never gets anything done. Instead, it hinders your chances of reaching the outcome you envision. It conjures up negative thoughts or visuals that impair our decision-making process.
Ceaselessly contemplating and feeling anxious is the recipe for destructive thought. And it looks like this;
“What if I was more confident, my insecurities will not be getting the best of me.”
“I should have volunteered to represent the team; my team members must think I’m not proactive.”
“Given the kind of supervisor I’m assigned to, I will probably spend a lot of money on my project.”
Breaking free from thought patterns like this can be burdensome, but it is not impossible. With consistent practice, you can train your brain to think differently.
Here is how to overcome analysis paralysis and stop overthinking everything;
Trim Down Alternatives
When you have various options, narrow them down to the lowest minimum. By doing so, you can trash out a lot of fluff that might cluster your choice of making a quick and pristine decision, giving you a clearer mind to focus on the expected outcome rather than wailing about the problem.
Pick a Timeline
Being time bound is the first step to achieving anything. When we lose track of time, we get lost in the noise and camp on frivolous things. Likewise, when it comes to making a decision, if you don’t have a timeline for when a decision is to be made, you may find yourself spending a good chunk of your time tossing back and forth without any tangible result. To overcome this, set a specific time to make a choice or conclude a decision.
Take Actions on Your Feet
It is not all the time you have to scrutinize and dissect everything before you give a judgment. Certain things require you to be impulsive. If you are constantly overanalyzing, practice making inconsequential decisions like what to eat for breakfast, what to wear, and the fastest route to work; this, in the long haul, arms you with being decisive and quick with making bigger and consequential decisions.
It is normal to feel uncertain about everything. But anxiety and self-destructive thought begin to creep in when we allow ourselves to overthink everything. And this can sometimes lead to missed opportunities. For example, if you miss the deadline to deliver an assigned task because you can’t come to a conclusion or are just too indecisive and scared of being wrong, it can cost you your job. You can conquer this if you trim down your alternatives or options, pick a timeline, and act on your feet.