Ever sat with a decision or problem and simply been unable to solve it? No matter which angle you looked at it from, there simply wasn’t a clear-cut way forward? This kind of indecision is sometimes known as analysis paralysis and, in extreme cases, it can be pretty debilitating. Fortunately, we’ve got some tips on how to overcome analysis paralysis. There is a way out.
Which route you take will depend to some extent on the decision at hand, how serious it is, and, especially, how difficult you are finding it to come to a solution. Sometimes setting a deadline can help, but some decisions might require other interventions, like looking into the root cause or speaking to a therapist.
If you work in sales or customer support, it can be useful to know about how analysis paralysis works, since it can play a huge part in how consumers make their buying decisions. Failing to keep analysis paralysis in mind when you design and market your products or services could hinder your sales, and negatively affect your business.
Let’s try and understand this problem a little more—and look into some of the different ways to address it.
What does paralysis by analysis mean?
Analysis paralysis refers to when you’re unable to make a decision or solve a problem because you’re overthinking the options available to you. The constant mental toing and froing you do makes you feel metaphorically paralyzed, and you can’t come to a conclusion.
Analysis paralysis can affect small and large decisions—from what to wear on any given day to whether to buy a house. Some people also experience it chronically as part of other psychological conditions like ADHD and OCD.
More often than not, analysis paralysis affects decisions that have large consequences—like the ones concerning careers, relationships, family, and finances. You might find it difficult, for example, to execute a complex recruiting sourcing strategy at work, and constantly analyze whether you have considered every possibility or eventuality. Or (if you’re on the other side of the recruitment process), you could worry about accepting a new offer if it involves relocating your family.
In more day-to-day situations, studies have shown that consumers often find it difficult to select a particular product when they’re overwhelmed by choice. If you give them too many options, the indecision might cause them to simply walk away, without buying anything at all. So if you work in sales, understanding how analysis paralysis can affect your customers helps you better prepare your sales strategy.
Is analysis paralysis anxiety?
Yes and no. Analysis paralysis is one of the ways that anxiety can manifest. Many moments of indecision have anxiety at their core: you worry that you’ll make the wrong choice, or that there will be unknown repercussions to your decision that you’ll ultimately regret.
But analysis paralysis isn’t the same as anxiety, and anxiety can develop in many other ways for the people who experience it. They might feel constantly on edge, for example, find it hard to concentrate, or regularly worry about different areas of their life. In other words, while analysis paralysis likely has anxiety at its core, the reverse isn’t necessarily true.
What does analysis paralysis feel like?
Different people experience analysis paralysis in different ways, but some of the most common symptoms include:
- Ruminating thinking: You constantly mull over the different options available to you without settling on a decision.
- Lack of focus and feeling distracted: You find it hard to focus on tasks or to work consistently on something.
- Fatigue: You often feel tired and listless, especially when you realize that you haven’t yet come to a conclusion.
- Difficulty sleeping: You battle to sleep or to stay asleep. If you wake up, cyclical thinking about your decision often prevents you from falling asleep again.
- Loss of productivity and creativity: You find it difficult to be productive or to engage creatively with your work or personal projects.
- Depression: Analysis paralysis can make you feel helpless and hopeless, which can increase the risk of depression.
- Increase in heart rate and sweating: You might notice some physical symptoms, too. You could notice a rise in your heart rate or start to sweat from your armpits, the back of your neck, or your hands.
8 Tips on overcoming analysis paralysis
Getting caught up in a cycle of indecision starts to feel frustrating and exhausting, but there are steps you can take to help you improve your decision-making. Here are a few tips on how to overcome analysis paralysis. Bonus—these tips won’t just work for you, if you’re in sales, they’ll also work for helping your customers make a decision.
1. Slim down your options
When you’re presented with a problem or decision, you’ll usually find that some options simply aren’t viable. They could be impractical, or too time consuming or costly to implement. Try to identify these as quickly as possible and siphon them off, to narrow down the number of options you have to choose from.
For example, let’s say you’re a recruiter, and you’re struggling to decide on the best fit for a role. Some hopeful applicants might lack the required qualifications or expertise. So if you remove them from your shortlist, you’ll have a smaller pool of more qualified applicants to choose from. You can then use a more detailed screening process to decide between the remaining applicants (recruitment automation tools might help you out here).
2. Start by making small decisions quickly
If you find it difficult to make any kind of decision—big or small—then this tip might seem daunting at first, and a bit tricky to manage initially. But if you get used to making smaller decisions, you can gradually build your confidence to help you make more significant ones.
You can start by trying to make quick decisions about matters that don’t have significant consequences, like deciding which restaurant to eat at, for example, or which flowers to buy a friend. Start small, stick to your decision, and prove to yourself that you can make decisions quickly. It’s an empowering feeling, and it’ll help to bolster your self-confidence.
3. Set a deadline
Having a deadline in mind can sometimes give you the motivation you need to come to a decision. When you set a deadline, make sure it’s achievable—be realistic about how much time you’ll need. Some decisions take a few hours to mull over, while others take a few days, especially if you need to gather more information.
But be careful of giving yourself too much time. The point is to motivate you to come to a decision. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’ll end up putting off the decision altogether.
4. Try to sidestep perfection
Perfectionism is one of the biggest culprits behind analysis paralysis, but dealing with it can be tricky, especially if you battle with ADHD or if you’re prone to obsessive thinking.
Remember, though, that no one can really predict or achieve the perfect outcome. This is especially because there are so many factors that are outside of your control—you really can’t account for everything. Sometimes, you just need to go with the “good enough” outcome.
For example, If you’re holding off on applying for jobs because you’re questioning every aspect of your resume, remember that there’s no way of making it perfect for every position. At some point, you need to acknowledge that you’ve done your best, and send it off.
5. Remember that very few decisions are final
You can usually change your mind. Even after investing time, energy, and resources into something, it’s always possible to reconsider your original decision, and try a different course. People change careers all the time, and they often don’t just move to new positions, but entirely different professions or industries.
It’s OK to retract your decision and adopt a different approach if things don’t work out. Realizing that your decision isn’t an absolute can help take the pressure off.
6. Look into the root causes
If you look closely, can you identify why you tend to overthink certain decisions? Did a big decision in the past have unintended consequences? Do you base your decisions on what others want, more than what’s right for you? If you’ve previously had negative experiences like this, they can hurt your confidence in your decision-making abilities.
Take a look at why you feel insecure and try to break this pattern if you can. Talking it through with a friend, close family member, or a professional might help.
7. Put tools in place for support
There’s an app for that! Well, no, not for making every possible decision, but for automating aspects of your life so that they proceed smoothly. If you struggle with analysis paralysis on a regular basis, technology can help you prepare for decisions that you have to make routinely.
Maybe having customer service response templates ready would reduce the time it takes to respond to a tricky customer, for example. Or, if you need to reach out to a prospect or respond to an email, but can’t find the right words, you can use Magical’s AI writing assistant to help you frame a response.
Similarly, having a productivity tool will remind you to stay focused on one task until it’s done, rather than constantly flipping between different items on your to-do list.
Look at your particular problem or decision, and think about whether some software could ease your indecision.
8. Ask for help
If you’re battling with analysis paralysis in your professional life, speak to your supervisor or someone else you feel comfortable talking to. Sometimes, just being honest can help. It can be a handy reminder that you’re not alone, and that everyone feels a little unsure at times. Your supervisor might end up sharing some helpful tips, or they may refer you to someone else.
It’s also worth visiting a doctor, psychologist, or mental health professional if you’re battling with severe or chronic analysis paralysis. There are forms of therapy or medication that can help.
Overcoming analysis paralysis: the takeaway
Sometimes, getting over a bout of indecision can be relatively easy. A simple pros and cons list could help to show which way a decision leans, breaking your analysis paralysis fairly quickly.
But if analysis paralysis becomes a regular or serious problem, it’s worth taking a step back to try and see what’s causing it. Look into the issue, speak to someone at work or a healthcare professional, and try to find a way forward. It’s possible to break the cycle of indecision and to enjoy and embrace the decisions that come your way.