Breaking the Cycle of Analysis Paralysis

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Is the desire for perfection keeping you from taking action?

You may be experiencing analysis paralysis.

Analysis Paralysis is the moment when your overthinking or overanalyzing puts you in a state of inaction. Anyone can experience Analysis Paralysis but the award for those most likely to experience it goes to the “perfectionists.” Perfectionists tend to spend a lot more time mulling over tedious details, researching facts, and calculating all the possible risks or consequences associated with a particular decision or action so much so that nothing actually gets done. In general there is nothing wrong with doing your research, calculating risks, and being detail-oriented but problems surface when you seem to be stuck in this phase of the process. There are several reasons for indecision and although you could argue that there are good reasons to hold back, remember that there is a difference between planning and procrastination.

So what do you do when you experience Analysis Paralysis?

Step 1: Unplug. If you are able to schedule some quiet time, do so. Find a place with limited noise and make it a phone-free zone or at least put your phone on “Do Not Disturb.” One “ding” of a text message or e-mail can be enough to knock you out the zone and it can take a while to recover from a single distraction.

Step 2: Breathe. Take a deep breath. In fact, take several deep breaths. Deep breathing helps relax the tension in your body and lowers your blood pressure which helps clear your mind.

Step 3. Organize. Having an idea is great; having too many ideas can be overwhelming. To prevent following each idea down the rabbit hole, jot down the ideas but flesh out one idea at a time. If you have a broad idea, create an outline by breaking it down into steps, and breaking those steps into steps. The more specific each step is, the easier it will be to prioritize.

Step 4: Prioritize. List all the tasks that need to be done and prioritize them by level of importance. If they are all extremely important, list them by the amount of time it takes to get them done. Getting all the quick tasks out of the way first will build your momentum and put you in the zone for the completing more tasks.

Step 5: Set specific deadlines. Setting reasonable and specific deadlines helps reduce the likelihood of putting things off until you feel “moved” to take action. There’s a saying that you can’t rush the creative process but you can help move it along by setting deadlines. Having, and sticking to, a deadline can activate the release of dopamine in the body. Dopamine is the “feel good” chemical and it feels good to check completed tasks off your list, which motivates you to continue.

Step 6. Get started. At this point, you have what you need to get started so it’s time to take action!

Additionally, here are some tips to keep in mind while you’re working through the tasks:

Tip 1: Snack away. While your brain is burning energy, certain energy-boosting snacks keep those wheels turning. Having snacks with you such as bananas, almonds, popcorn, hummus, or yogurt gives you the boost of energy you need to power through. Additionally, having snacks set out ahead of time keeps you from getting distracted by the allures of the kitchen.

Tip 2 Get physical. As you are working hard to meet deadlines, you can schedule stretching or walking breaks which may improve your ability to focus. You may want to reward yourself with a short walking break after each task completion or take a break after you’ve worked for a set amount of time. Either way, if you take a break, make it a brain-boosting break.

Tip 3: Strive for your best, not for perfection. Remember that things may not be perfect or go according to your plan and that’s ok. Striving for your best at the moment will keep you moving forward while striving for perfection may trigger anxiety and insecurity, which puts a halt in your progress.

Tip 4: Gather feedback. If you’ve come to a point where you’re put all you’ve got out there and need some fresh eyes, phone a friend. When gathering feedback, know yourself and where the feedback is coming from. Is this person knowledgeable on the topic? Does this person give constructive feedback (or are they just critical)? Will you get too caught up in trying to please them? Trust yourself and remember that the final decision is yours.

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Shavonne James, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist and the founder of Paper Cranes Counseling. They have openings for individuals that are working through issues of identity, multicultural experiences, intrapersonal/interpersonal effectiveness, and difficult life transitions. Contact them at www.papercranescounseling.com