In a world increasingly flooded with information, drowning in the sea of doubt and uncertainty seems inevitable. We see many alternatives, and we can spend hours or sometimes even days evaluating what to choose. Because of this we slow down, we reach a point where, without realizing it, we stop moving forward.
Surely this phenomenon sounds familiar to you, because it has happened to all of us. It’s called paralysis by analysis, and in this article we’ll tell you everything you need to know about it and how to deal with it.
Paralysis by analysis, what is it?
This concept is used to define the state in which we find ourselves when we put off making a decision or taking an action for a long time because we are over analyzing the cons or the pros that each option presents. It usually happens because we want to make the best decision possible and we are overwhelmed by the fact that we could be wrong.
We are more prone to it when we are presented with too many options or information regarding the action we are about to take.
How does paralysis by analysis affect us?
When we fall into it our brain starts to spin, we analyze every little detail, we look for reasons to give the go-ahead to something, but immediately we find a pebble that makes us say “no”. And so, we repeat the cycle over and over again without ever reaching a solution.
What happens if we allow this situation to drag on?
Delaying action and overanalyzing information clearly won’t help us meet our goals. But the problem with analysis paralysis is that it has many more drawbacks than just wasting time. It also damages our minds and personal peace of mind, which has a negative impact on our productivity and performance as workers and business leaders.
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Here are some consequences that may not be so obvious at first glance:
1. It destabilizes your self-esteem.
When we don’t take action, and we become paralyzed, we can jeopardize our self-confidence, we can feel inadequate and that we no longer control the reins, not only of our company or business, but of our own life.
2. It disaligns you from your main goals and objectives.
Getting stuck on the same problem, especially if it is a very specific one, makes us lose focus of the big picture. Something that at first was a small obstacle can later become an impenetrable wall, and as a consequence we move away from our main objectives and goals.
3. Wear out your mental energy
We can agree that not knowing what to do produces a lot of stress, anxiety, and ultimately frustration. These high-pressure emotions exhaust our brains, fatigue our minds, and put us at a disadvantage in tackling tasks that are cognitively demanding. Performing at work will become costly for you if you maintain a preoccupation like this. In fact, beyond the mental fatigue, just concentrating will seem impossible when your mind has “that problem you haven’t solved yet” so much on its mind.
Precisely for this reason you will have seen that the great geniuses of the world such as Steve Jobs or President Obama used to always wear the same outfit. By not having to spend time thinking about what to wear every morning, they saved their mental energy for what they considered really important, that is, their jobs and projects.
4. Block your creativity
Creativity is a soft skill in high demand in the business world, so the last thing we want to do is minimize it.
And the thing is, according to a Stanford University study published in the online journal Scientific American, thinking about things, in addition to hindering our ability to perform cognitive tasks, also prevents us from reaching our full creative potential.
Grace Hawthorne, a professor at Stanford University’s Institute of Design, teamed up with behavioral scientist Allan Reiss to find a way to scientifically measure creativity through brain imaging:
“Study participants were placed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine with a non-magnetic tablet and asked to draw a series of drawings based on action words (e.g., vote, exhaust, greet) with 30 seconds for each word… (…), Subsequently, participants rated the drawing of each word based on their difficulty in drawing. The tablet transmitted the drawings to researchers at the d.school, who scored them on a 5-point creativity scale, and researchers at the School of Medicine analyzed the fMRI scans for patterns of brain activity.
The results were striking: the prefrontal cortex, traditionally associated with thinking, was more active in drawings that participants rated as more difficult; the cerebellum [the part of the brain traditionally associated with movement] was more active in drawings that participants rated as more creative. Essentially, the less participants thought about what they were drawing, the more creative their drawings were.”
These results suggest that overthinking a problem makes it difficult to do the best creative work. So avoid extinguishing your creative spark by trying to let your ideas flow without overanalyzing them.
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6 Tips for Overcoming Paralysis by Analysis
There are different methods you can try to get out of this mental loop. Depending on your particular case it is likely that some will be more effective than others. We advise you to give each one a try until you find the one that works best for you.
1. Limit your options
As we said at the beginning, indecision is greater when we have several options in sight. If in your case this is the reason that paralyzes you, try to reduce the number of variants to a smaller number. The same when it comes to information, set a maximum number of sources or data to review, or consider exactly what you really need to know and focus only on those pieces of information that answer or solve that specific doubt.
When you’re faced with a difficult decision, avoid analysis paralysis by asking yourself which option best aligns with your most important goal or value. A good trick to do this is to write down all the options and considerations you have, and visualize them, putting them from your mind to paper. This will allow you to more easily discard the leftover options or considerations and stick with the truly relevant ones.
2. Set deadlines
Do you know Parkinson’s Law? It was created by the British Cyril Northcote Parkinson in 1957, and states that “work expands until it fills the time available for it to be finished”.
Above all, if you are a business leader, you cannot afford to postpone certain decisions infinitely, it is possible that several departments of your company are waiting for you to keep the progress of operational processes.
Use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage and set a deadline for a decision. Make a commitment to your employees, colleagues and partners to present them with an answer or solution by a specific date. The pressure to deliver will give you the push you need to stop procrastinating.
3. Don’t set expectations too high
They say the sky is the limit, and it’s okay to dream big. But don’t demand so much of yourself, the top is not reached with a single decision or action, it takes several steps to get to far away places. Sometimes the road is not even a straight climb, you will encounter bumps or small downs, and it’s valid.
Creating impossible goals in unrealistic deadlines will only make you find a thousand and one excuses to avoid doing what you have to do, whether it’s launching a new product, starting a startup, or developing your personal brand. So, instead of wasting time, thinking about how to take a mega leap, dare to take a short but firm first step without hesitation.
4. Escape from your mind and consult with others.
In a TED Talk titled “Why We Make Bad Decisions,” psychologist Daniel Gilbert explains the cognitive biases that make us lousy at making rational decisions and predicting the choice that will make us happiest in the long run.
“It has been shown that people overestimate how unhappy they will be after receiving bad test scores, becoming disabled, or being denied a promotion, and underestimate how happy they will be after winning an award, starting a romantic relationship, or getting revenge on those who have wronged them.”
According to him, studies have shown that other people, who may be complete strangers, are better at predicting our future satisfaction after a certain decision than we are.
So, the next time you catch yourself thinking about a particular issue, set up a meeting with a co-worker, supervisor, mentor or friend. Having to present your thoughts to someone else forces you to synthesize the information you’ve been gathering in a clear and concise way. In addition, external validation of your ideas from someone whose opinion you respect may be just what you need to overcome self-doubt and gain the confidence to take action.
5. Start before you are ready
Starting a business, merging with another company, launching a new product, are decisions fraught with uncertainty, because something that looks good in theory, may not necessarily be reproduced accurately in practice. Even more so if we are just starting out and lack experience, daring to take this leap may seem scary, and it certainly is.
But we must understand, that fear and uncertainty will always be there, we will never feel completely prepared, because no one has a crystal ball to know how our business or venture will do in the future. We can only find out once we make it happen.
Gathering and analyzing more and more information is a tempting way to try to overcome the uncertainty of big risks. And it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we’re making progress. Avoid falling into this trap, in the end, taking action is the only thing that will materialize our possible success or failure.
Next time you get stuck in analysis mode, remember that successful people start before they feel ready and figure out the rest as they go along. So far, no famous entrepreneur has had a perfect track record, you don’t have to have a perfect track record to reach your goals.
6. Don’t think of all your decisions as final.
Remember that you are human, making a mistake is not a sin, you are not necessarily going to sink the rest of your life by choosing the wrong path. Neither will your company. Keep in mind that rectification and corrections are possible, if something goes wrong on the first try, try to learn from that failure, get up and try again.
To decide and to do is a power that does not run out after a single use, on the contrary, it is a resource that you will always have at your disposal as long as you are alive.
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We know that being a business leader is not easy, running a company demands the ability to act with the greatest possible certainty and bear the responsibility for the results. It can be overwhelming, that’s why having a business consulting and management team like TAS Consulting can be a great relief.
We are ready to help you face the challenge and encourage you to make the best decisions. If you want to take your business to the next level, contact us. Click here.