Understanding Analysis Paralysis and How To Overcome It

decision making

My husband has been searching for a new smartphone for a while. He spent months investigating the different models and came up with two final candidates: blackberry passport and the iphone 6. However, after another few months, neither of them won the battle. They both have their pros and cons and my husband still haven’t got a new phone after six months of research (let’s wish him luck!).

What my husband is experiencing is a very common syndrome of modern-day life – analysis paralysis. We face analysis paralysis when we over-think and over-analyze a situation so much that a decision is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. In my coaching work with clients who are looking to make changes in their personal and professional lives, analysis paralysis also makes regular appearances and is the one of the common blockers that prevent people from living the life they really want.

In the age of information overload and abundances of choices, it can be even more difficult to make decisions than ever, from small ones like which smartphone to buy, to big ones like which job offer to accept or career path to take.

Why does analysis paralysis happen?

There are both external and internal factors that affect our brain to make a choice.

External factors include the overloading information from the media, colleagues, family, friends and society, as well as information from our past experiences. There is just so much information and different opinion out there and we don’t know which one to follow.

Internal factors include our decision-making style, our tendency to over-analyze the situation and the possibly false belief that there is a perfect solution out there.

So what is your decision-making style?

Everyone has his or her own decision-making style. American economist and psychologist Herbert Simon has distinguished two types of decision-making strategies: Maximising and Sacrificing. In simple terms, sacrificers are those who select the first option that meets a given need or select the option that seems to address most needs rather than the optimal solutions. In contrast, for maximisers, the question they often ask is “are there any better options out there?” Maximisers want to study and compare as many options as they can and select the optimal solutions.

Research has shown that maximisers experience significantly less life satisfaction, happiness, optimism, and self-esteem. While they may get a better deal or negotiate a higher salary, they are also likely to experience more stress and anxiety in life because they are always in search for better options.

Whilst there is no right or wrong strategy here (for example your strategy may be different when it comes to buying stationary vs. choosing a job offer), it is important to be aware of your own decision making style so that it serves you in a useful way.

Why do we tend to over-think?

The dark side of ego, which is also known as our inner critics (or what I like to call as the “top dog”), typically drives our tendency to over-think or over-analyse.  The “top-dog” relates to our sense of security and tends to take over whenever we feel anxious or uncertain. Over-thinking and over-analysing is just one of the ego’s defensive mechanisms to deal with the inevitable changing nature of life.

Whenever you hear the little voice inside saying something like “ You are not good enough to do it”, “Are you sure you want to give up your day job?” or “You can’t do it ” – it is most likely that the “top dog” is trying to grab your attention.

The “top-dog” tried hard protecting us when we were a child as it reminded us to work hard and meet expectations to avoid disappointing our parents or being criticised by teachers. Gradually, the “top-dog” gained its prominent position in our brain and tended to stay with us for the rest of our lives.  When you notice the “top-dog” speaking, don’t ignore or over-identify it. Instead, try acknowledge it and reply with a kind yet firm voice: “Thanks for sharing your concern. I know you are trying to protect me but I don’t need you right now and I know what I am going to do.”

How we can overcome analysis paralysis? 

I want to share four tips to help you overcome analysis paralysis:

1. The grandparent test 

Imagine you are 90 years old and you are sitting with your granddaughter. You are talking to her about your greatest achievements and things you are most proud of in your life. You are also talking about difficult decisions you had to make in your life (including the one you are facing right now).

In fact, your granddaughter has come to you with the very same dilemma you have right now. What advice would you give to your granddaughter? And that’s the advice you should follow yourself.

Looking at your life with the end in mind not only helps you put things into perspective, but also makes you focus on what really matters without letting the fear take over.

2. The worst case test 

The fear and the ego tend to stop us making the change we want to make. Whenever you face a dilemma, whether it is about changing jobs, ending a relationship or relocating to a new country, try ask yourself what is the worst that can happen if I change? Get specific and write out all the things that can happen on paper (it is often not as bad as you thought). Ask yourself honestly if you are prepared for these worst case scenarios.

Once you’ve done that, also ask yourself what is the worst that can happen if you don’t make the change and stay in the status quo? Would you regret few years down the line that you didn’t make the change when you have the opportunity? What is the cost of doing nothing?

Once you have the worst case for both scenarios, it will become apparent to you whether you should make a move. Remember if you change nothing, nothing will change.

3. One step a time 

Rather than making decisions for the next ten years of your life, try focusing on making your next step right. It is like climbing the mountains. The best advice I have received is to focus simply on reaching the next rest point rather than reaching the peak. When you reach the next rest point, you will then make another decision from that point depending on the weather, the trail condition, and etc.

This is not to say that you should completely ignore your end goal – you know that your end goal is to reach the top of the mountain — but rather than focus too much on it right now, focus on making your next step count. This will take the pressure off you and will also help quieten the dark side of your ego. Remember one of the biggest fears of the ego? Uncertainty. By focusing on the next rest point you not only reduce the burden of your mind by minimising the assumptions you have to make but also soothe your “top dog” by reducing the perceived uncertainty.

4. Flip the coin (aka the gut instinct test) 

Last but not least, don’t forget to trust your gut instinct. Sometimes we can be so living in our head and forget that we actually know better than we can tell. Listen to what your body tells you – does your body react differently when thinking about the two different career paths you are going to make? Does your stomach feel a pinch when thinking about a new opportunity? Pay attention to what your body and your gut is telling you.

There are lots of ways to access your intuition (a topic for another post), but we are going for the easier route here – flipping the coin. It doesn’t matter which side of the coin it turns out, but pay close attention to what your gut is telling you the split second before the coin lands. If you secretly wish one particular side of the coin would land on the table, you know what your instinct is telling you.

I hope these four tips can help you make your decisions easier, and wiser. I’d love to hear from you – what do you do when you have a difficult decision to make? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

If you find the article helpful, please do share it with friends so that they can also have more ease making choices.

Until next time,


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