‘Analysis paralysis’ is the most pleasing phrase in the English language. However, it is a less than pleasing the phenomenon. It is also one that I very much suffer from.
According to Investopedia, Analysis Paralysis refers to when “an individual or group is unable to move forward with a decision as a result of overanalysing data or overthinking a problem,” i.e. being indecisive as hell.
When I was around 16 years old, there was some young kid who was featured on the radio for ‘making it’ as a young pop star… This led me to have my first ‘midlife crisis’: I was 16, yes, but I was more or less past it now: I could never be ‘ahead of my times’ as a pop star.
Being a young pop star was never actually a dream of mine as I cannot sing for shit, but the point was, I hadn’t made the choice not to be ‘young pop star’ and now that choice had been taken away from me. Not only could I not decide what to have for dinner, but now my ‘goals and dreams’ had been taken from me. All because I couldn’t decide what these goals and dreams would be. Yes- it seems a little ridiculous, but it caused me a lot of stress.
Rewind further, back to 2004, when ‘The Paradox of Choice’ was written by psychologist, Barry Schwartz. Not to be confused by this guy:
Schwartz’s TED Talk on the same subject was later recorded in 2005. I was nearly 10 at the time and even back then was thinking about life’s different decisions… The Butterfly Effect had blown my mind, and making the ‘wrong choices’ and therefore fucking my life up, was a pretty scary thought.
Schwartz’s TED Talk discussed in detail that we are unhappier the more choices we have:
“All this choice has 2 negative effects on people… One effect is that it produces paralysis rather than liberation [because there are too many options] the second is that even if we overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the choice than if we’d had less options … It’s easy to imagine a different choice you could have made that could have been better.”
Way to make free will and the concept of doing anything with your life sound depressing, huh. Schwarz furthers this by saying:
“The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all”
If things weren’t already bad enough, Choice Paralysis can also impact our creative abilities. According to studies, the more we think about choices and decisions, the less creative we become. This is something I strongly relate to, being someone who overthinks things whilst simultaneously suffering from writer’s block. In fact, it’s the exact reason this post is so late (sorry, it’s been quite a week).
And since we’re talking about creative decisions, I can’t not mention the fact that Steve jobs wore the same outfit every day for bloody years… Yeah there was an actual reason for that, who knew?! According to Thrive Global, it was more than just ‘being on brand’:
“A minute more a day using his brainpower to decide which T-shirt to wear is less brainpower he would have to think about his company.”
This is due to ‘Decision Fatigue’:
“you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price [it’s why] ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket.”
Essentially you’re low on decision making ability so go for the easiest option. Advice from this article includes eating similar meals and working out at the same time each day to avoid decision making fatigue (as well as analysis paralysis!)
With this important discussion regarding decision making fresh in my mind, I listened to last week’s High Low podcast. (One of my favs- full list of favs here, thanks for asking). On the show, Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes discuss the topic of having kids. This is obviously one of life’s biggest decisions, yet still one that some people don’t ‘get right’. Alderton states,
“Societally we need to get more comfortable with the idea of regret… [it’s] seen as the by-product of mistake… What happens when you don’t get it right. It’s a symptom of wrongness…But life is a series of regrets… No ones life can’t be touched by choices that retrospectively we realise we would have done differently”.
It is a point: we are going to fail at life; we are going to make the wrong decisions sometimes and have regrets, whether that is ordering a gross pizza, or not having a child. It’s a part of life that we have to get more comfortable with.
Schwartz finishes his TED talk by saying: “The secret to happiness is low expectations”. That can be true in many ways, but is also kinda depressing. I think there are better ways to get over Analysis Paralysis:
Psychology Today suggests “practicing making decisions quickly”. This is something I’ve done for a while when it comes to those less important choices, such as ordering food (which can be an excruciatingly slow process).
Psychology Today also says to, “practice being less than perfect”, and I think this sums up the topic (and life) pretty perfectly. As Dolly Alderton mentioned, “we need to get more comfortable with the idea of regret”.
The moral of the story is, things aren’t going to be perfect all the time, the sooner we stop trying to make that happen, the better. Maybe Schwartz was right and we should just live life with low expectations…
Thanks for reading! Do you struggle with Analysis Paralysis? How do you deal with it?