Table of Contents
- What is analysis paralysis
- Recognize and observe the problem
- Understand your reactions and triggers
- Conquering analysis paralysis
- Closing thoughts on analysis paralysis
What if there was a magic framework for dealing with analysis paralysis? A framework that would allow you to conquer your doubts and finally get results. Next thing you know, starting with something new is no longer an issue for you. And, whenever you feel like you are becoming overwhelmed, you know exactly what to do. Fortunately, such a framework exists. In this article, you will learn all you need to understand the nature of analysis paralysis and how to crush it.
What is analysis paralysis
Let’s start with the taking a look at what analysis paralysis actually is. The boring definition of analysis paralysis goes something like this. It is the state of over-analyzing a situation so much that a decision or action is never taken. As a result, the person becomes paralyzed because she is overwhelmed by the flood of data. There are many reasons why this situation can happen. One of the simplest examples is that the decision at hand is too complicated.
When you stand in front of complex decision, it is often much harder to decide or take some action. I know, this is not rocket science. However, this is important to mention. The reason being it is often the main cause of analysis paralysis. There is one saying we can use to illustrate this. This saying is: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Imagine you could see all these thousand steps in the form of stairs at the beginning. What are the chances of you being scared?
For many people, this image could be enough to paralyze them. If you want to make this example more real, think about all you know right now. Then, go back to the time you entered elementary school and imagine all this knowledge again. Back then, that this image could cause analysis paralysis as well. The problem is that current level of your knowledge is too complex. You can’t grasp it all at once. The same can happen if you buy book on programming and see the table of content.
Is having too many options bad?
Another reason can be that there are too many options. I believe that this happened in life of almost every person. Imagine you are in the mall to buy green tea. When you find the right shelf, you find out that there are about twenty different variants of green tea. If you are not well-versed in this topic, this can amount of options can overwhelm you. On the hand, if you are tea enthusiast, you might solve this with calm mind. Let’s take one example web designers will know.
Let’s be honest now. Did this research help you with anything? It probably did the opposite. Not only you don’t know what language to pick. Now you also know about the opportunity cost connected to your decision. What does it mean? If you choose one language, you automatically discard the rest. Sure, you can learn a number of languages at the same time. However, you probably can’t learn all of them. Therefore, if you choose some languages you let go others.
This is one of the reasons why having too many options causes analysis paralysis. Every time you make a decision you say yes to something. In addition, you also say no to something else. Significant number of our decisions are binary. In other words, you have this or that, not both.
The problem of having too little information
In addition to having too many options, there is another cause of analysis paralysis. You can have too many of too little information. The problem is that it is very hard to get the amount right. Here is what I mean. Do you remember the example with languages? In that example, we had too many options. We can translate these options to units of information. As a result, we can say that we had too many information. This flood of information was the cause of analysis paralysis.
This proverbial coin has also its other side. We can have too little information. As a result, we are not paralyzed because we don’t know what option to choose. Instead, we are paralyzed because we may not see any options at all. Let’s apply this to the example with programming languages. This means that you want to learn new programming, but you can’t do that because you don’t know about any languages. Well, this is very unlikely in the age of Internet. Still, it can happen.
Okay, I have more feasible example. In the past, I wrote an article about calisthenics. Let’s assume that you want to start with this sport. By the way, it this is one of my passions and hobbies. Imagine you heard about muscle up and it caught your attention. As a result, you’ve set a goal for yourself to do a number of muscle ups in a row. The problem is that you don’t know to do that. You saw someone perform this exercise. However, you don’t know the steps leading you have to take.
As a result, the probability that you will experience analysis paralysis will increase. So, yes, having too many information or options can paralyze you. However, too little can have the same effect.
Finding the right amount of information
In addition, it is very hard to find the fine line between too much and too little amount of information. What makes this even worse is that, for different people, this line may reside in different places. What do I mean? You may need more information to take action or make decision than your friend. There is also another thing we have to consider. Everyone has also different capacity to absorb information. What can cause analysis paralysis for one may be okay for another.
As a result, it is impossible to give any advice that will work on 100% and for every individual. For this reason, I will not try to do that in this article. Instead, I will give you a number of tips or ideas. Then, you can take these ideas, test them and experiment with them. Finally, you can use your observations to tweak these ideas to fit your needs. Hopefully, you will find what works for you.
Recognize and observe the problem
The first step to attack this problem with analysis paralysis is knowing that it exists. This is the most important step everyone has to make. It is similar to dealing with any other problem. You have to know about it first before you can do something with it. Ignoring is not an option. The same is true for trying to convince yourself into believing some fairy tales. Illusion is still illusion. It doesn’t matter how you believe it or want to believe it. However, this is not the end.
When you recognize the problem you have to observe it. This means watching it from the angle of someone who is objective. This means not making any assumptions or deductions. You are only an observer, not a participant. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it sounds. You are part of the problem you are trying to solve. Therefore, it will require effort to distance yourself from the situation. And, to observe your emotions without any judgment.
However, this is exactly what you have to do. You have to understand the triggers that evoke analysis paralysis. Then, you need to understand how you react. Finally, you need to know how much information you can work with without falling over the edge. The same is true for the other side. How little information you need to take action or make decision. When you know these factors you can create a strategy to crush analysis paralysis. I speak from my personal experience.
Understand your reactions and triggers
I am well-known for my perfectionism. Well, this is mild description of my obsessive personality. Analysis paralysis was a big problem for me. I was wrestling with it for a long time until I found a strategy to handle it. The most important step in this process was understanding my triggers and reactions. When I found what was causing analysis paralysis, it was a big step forward. I was able to predict when it will happen. And, I was soon able to prevent analysis paralysis from happening.
When you understand your triggers and reactions, you don’t have to watch the inevitable. Instead, you can take proper actions that will help you crush analysis paralysis before it manifests. Knowing these triggers and what reactions will follow is the key. It is just like a habit loop. Just like with the habit, you can break it only when you know all the parts. When you know the cue, you can take some specific actions to avoid it.
The same is true for routine and reward in habit loop. You can manipulate with each of these parts of the loop. For example, you can replace your current routine with new one. This way, you can relatively easily transform bad habit into good one. And, you can also change your behavior and thinking patterns. As a result, you can train yourself to react in a certain way when you feel that your are getting too close to the state of analysis paralysis. Enough of theory, let’s get to practice.
Conquering analysis paralysis
The good thing about analysis paralysis is that it’s triggers are pretty much universal. As we discussed, it is usually about the amount of information you have to handle. On the following lines you will learn about a number of steps or tips. My personal preference is to use these steps in the order I described them below. However, that doesn’t mean you have to use the same approach. Use whatever works for you. If something doesn’t work for you, just don’t use it.
Start with your “why”
Have you seen this Ted talk by Simon Sinek? In this video, Simon discusses how simple, but powerful it to start with the question “Why?” We talked a lot about motivation in the terms of how to motivate your team. And, if you read that article, you know that intrinsic motivation is much stronger than extrinsic. In other words, when you want to do something from the depth of your soul and heart, it will beat any reward. Daniel Pink in his book Drive says the same thing.
So, if you want to lose some weight or quit smoking, intrinsic motivation will be a much better fuel for this goal. The same is truth for building a business, or a startup. Don’t build a business for the sake of making money. Build business to solve problem and help others. Now, what has to do intrinsic motivation with analysis paralysis? When you become paralyzed, you need to sustain your motivation. Otherwise, you are more likely to get stuck, give up and throw in the towel.
The first step to crush analysis paralysis is to understand your “why”. You should remind yourself why do you want to do what do you want to do. In other words, what is the bigger picture? We discussed this in the article on goal setting. If you want to achieve some goal, you can use this as a fuel to keep you going. In case of analysis paralysis, you can use this to help you get through the initial block of resistance. Your “why” is like that small spark that keeps your inner fire burning.
So, the next time you will get overwhelmed, remind yourself why are you doing it. Keep in mind your reasons and motivation. Use them as a fuel. Remember that your goal is to keep yourself in the motion. Think about analysis paralysis like a punch in a face. It can slow you down. It can even stop you for a moment. However, you can’t allow it to knock you down.
Smaller steps are better
Your second step, after getting back to your why, is dissecting the task. One of the causes of analysis paralysis is complexity of the task or decision. When you try to tackle something that is too big, it will scare you. This is why we like to compare things to rocket science. We can say the same thing about the discipline of design. Design is also very complex subject. There is a huge amount of knowledge you have to learn and understand in order to learn the foundation.
Much smarter approach would be thinking about it as a sum of smaller modules. And then, tackling it one module at a time. For example, you can start with block bindings. Then, you can move to strings and regexp. Another step can be learning about functions. This way, you are slowly building the foundation and expanding your knowledge. This may look as too slow. However, it is more sustainable. And, you are less likely to experience analysis paralysis.
Fail to plan, plan to fail
The third step to deal with analysis paralysis is to plan your progress. You need to know the bigger picture. Then, you have to make this picture more achievable by dividing it into smaller steps. And, after that, you have to create sustainable plan to get yourself through these steps. Dividing something big into smaller steps on its own is not enough. You will get rid of the complexity. However, you will overwhelm yourself with flood of steps. As a result, you may get stuck anyway.
This is why you also have to set up a concrete plan. Let’s say that you decided to climb Mount Everest. You even divided this goal into smaller steps. This process helped you avoid analysis paralysis. It also helped you assess the situation and prepare yourself. As a result, you are on the right track. However, you are still not any closer to reaching your goal. Even though you know about all the steps it takes, you are still on the starting line. You are not even in the base camp.
It is important to take those small steps and put it in the right order or sequence. Then, you have to follow this sequence until you reach the finish line. You make just one step at the time and then another. Now, this doesn’t mean that this plan should set in stone. In a fact, I would encourage you to modify it any time you feel something is not working as it should. Every plan has only two important locations: the place where you start and the place where you want to get. Everything else is a variable. We often get to the finish following different road than we initially planned.
Make it as easy as possible
In this example, this first step can be opening your favorite text editor. Or, some online alternative. Notice that I didn’t say start coding. That’s too vague. It can be also too difficult as the first step. What should you code? How many lines should you write? How the syntax even looks like? What naming convention should you use? How can you test that your code actually works? What best practices should you follow? These questions are consequence of saying “start coding”.
This is why just opening your text editor is better. The key is getting yourself into the motion, start the activity. Then, when you are in the motion, you can start thinking about these questions. Designing a website is another example. You don’t have to worry about how to design the whole website in the beginning. Focus on smaller UI components. Think about the navigation or footer. Or, think just about what hero image to use.
Remember that the key is getting started. It doesn’t matter how small. Don’t think about the obstacles you will have to conquer. This will only get you closer to analysis paralysis. Instead, think about the smallest step you can make right at this moment. Then, just do it. The rest will follow.
Keep experimenting, keep learning
I think that you have enough of information to deal with analysis paralysis. Yet, I want to give you one last advice. Yes, this advice is to keep experimenting and learning. As you will train your ability to avoid analysis paralysis, your framework will evolve as well. You will be able to improve it. Maybe you will find ways that will help you shorten the whole process. In order to make this happen, you have to watch yourself. Observe the triggers and your reactions. Then, tweak the process in different ways and find what delivers better results.
Closing thoughts on analysis paralysis
The framework we discussed today can help you crush analysis paralysis before it will crush you. The hardest part of this framework is that you have to basically become your own mentor. You have to observe the triggers and your reactions without any judgment. Yes, you have to be mindful. The benefit of doing that is that you can learn to cope with anything. When you achieve this, analysis paralysis will no longer be an issue. You will know how to react in the best way.
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