Karen Salmansohn once said, “worrying about how things might go wrong doesn’t help things to go right.” That’s such a simple golden nugget, packing so much wisdom. And, yet, it’s one of the most elusive and counterintuitive things on earth. Over analyzing is in our blood and it’s been slowly dripped into our brains throughout school and our careers. It’s so subtle that many of us don’t even realize when we’re doing it, under the pretense of producing ever-better quality or preventing disasters through ever-preventable mistakes. But, how do you know what is the right amount of analysis? How can you stop overanalyzing so you can get out of the proverbial analysis paralysis?
Why Do We Over Analyze Things?
Nobody sits down with a problem and decides to overanalyze it. Over analyzing happens when it’s too difficult to assess the effectiveness of an end product, which can be anything that you do with your mind or with your hands—any physical or mental result of your work.
It would be fantastic to have a tiny zero to one hundred percent gauge that we could start before taking on a task and analyzing it until the reader gets to 100. That would be ideal, but, of course, it doesn’t exist.
Most of the work that we all do has a qualitative aspect, and quality is relative. In addition to everyone having different standards and ways of measuring quality, we are also concerned about how others perceive the quality of our work product.
Of course, the level of this behavior depends on the task at hand. If the job is to paint a wall, once you’ve completed the second coat, you might agonize a bit over some streaks or places that don’t look great, but eventually, you’ll stop, as there will be nothing more to analyze.
However, if you were to write a book, every page, paragraph, sentence, or even word could be written differently. That task is open-ended, and you could be overanalyzing it for the remainder of your life, and you could still make it “better.”
Do you always need to make things “better”? Definitely not. Why? Let’s look at some of the symptoms of over-analyzing and how they affect you.
Symptoms of Analysis Paralysis
One of the most apparent effects of over-analyzing is the lowering of productivity. When you have a task and put effort into it to get to a result, time is the primary way we measure productivity. When you spend extensive amounts of time analyzing a problem, you’ll inevitably affect your productivity.
The more you get stuck into one problem and overanalyze it in hopes of finding a superior solution, you keep your brain in handcuffs. Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time, and when you hold it focused too much on one problem, your creativity suffers.
A study led by Professor Grace Hawthorne of Stanford University Institute of Design revealed that the more you think about a problem, the more difficult it becomes to do creative work.
Another area affected by over-analyzing is decision-making. Almost everything you do is a decision. Within the context of a task, especially if it’s a repetitive task, decision fatigue means that the more you make a decision repeatedly but analyze that decision every time, you’ll begin making mistakes.
That was shown by a now-famous study that analyzed how decision-fatigue affects the ability of judges to grant parole to inmates based on facts.
Last but not least, overanalyzing will make you less happy. Yes, happiness might not be the ultimate goal, but being unhappy is a cause of many ailments in life. When you get stuck in a “maximizer” mindset, you’ll find fewer and fewer things that are satisfying in life unless the satisfaction is supreme. From there, where do you draw the line?
Are You A Serial Over Thinker?
So, how do you know if you are an over-thinker, and where is that line between trying your best and over-analyzing?
There are five things that you can catch yourself doing which might indicate you are an over-analyzer. If you touch three or more of these points, you are definitely one. Just a word of warning: you need to have your self-awareness well in check even to realize if you fall into one or more of these categories.
We’ll address how to go around these issues in the following section.
Perfectionism is a debilitating attitude where you will not accept any solution or result short of perfection. The problem with that–perfection doesn’t exist. When you try to plug in every hole by anticipating every scenario, you are simply trying to ensure an optimal solution. However, no matter how much you try, there will always be unexpected situations; no matter how good your solution is, it can always be better. So, perfection is illusionary.
When you have low self-confidence in a specific aspect, you’ll inevitably second guess yourself. You might be lacking experience in that field or don’t have enough skills to perform at the best capacity. When that happens, it’s even more challenging for you to assess if your solution or product is up to the standard because you don’t even have a good feeling about the standard.
Fear of Failure
Fear of failure takes the two points above, stuffs them with TNT, and sets them on fire. Fear of failure is perfectionism on steroids. Now, you’re not even worrying about not reaching a certain standard; you’re worried about crashing and burning at the end of it. There are few things as paralyzing as fear of failure, and if you ordinarily fall in that trap, you’ll find yourself over-analyzing to set up insurances for your non-failure.
Can’t Take Rejection
Fear of rejection is another one of the fears that keep you stuck in place. It often happens to people who take things personally and equate the quality of their work product with being the same as their quality as humans. For example, being afraid to get a bad review of your book might make you conclude that you are a lousy writer. Therefore, the longer you take polishing your work, the less likely you are to get such feedback and, thus, protect your core.
Mistaking Over-Thinking For Improvement
Paradoxically, you’ll often realize that you are over-analyzing something, but you’ll psych yourself into doing it by telling yourself that you are merely improving or growing. The fallacy here is that you’ll insist that you are more productive by over-analyzing because you’ll define new processes that you’ll apply later on. In other words, you’re only over-analyzing this one time, but then, when you have to do the same thing twenty times, you won’t. I’m calling it a fallacy because overthinking is a habit. If you do it once, you’ll do it again.
How To Stop Over Analyzing
Now that you have a good idea of what overanalyzing is, how it affects you, and a few hints on determining if you are an over-thinker, let’s focus on a few tips on stopping overanalyzing.
These are not in any particular order, nor do you need to practice all of them all the time. You’ll find that some work better than others, primarily through the lens of why you are over-analyzing. If you take the time to reflect and understand your reasons, you’ll be able to pick and choose those methods that work best for you.
Plan Important Decisions
In life, you’ll encounter small things and big things. Small items are buying groceries or picking a movie; big things are buying a house or having a baby. Overanalyzing small things is not as bad as over-analyzing the big things in life. So, plan those big decisions ahead of time. Set a time and place to think about them; otherwise, you’ll keep pushing them and only working on them in little bits and pieces, not even realizing that you are over-analyzing them.
Always Have a Goal
Before you start working or thinking about something, ask yourself, what’s the goal? What are you trying to accomplish with this? Once you know that, figure out the musts and distinguish them from the like-to-haves and the unnecessary. Never work on hypothetical tasks without a goal in mind. To that end, practice setting up good goals.
Limit The Number of Choices
Have you ever gone into a restaurant where the menu had only five items for the main course? How was that? I bet it wasn’t hard to eliminate two that you don’t want quickly and then narrow down the other three to two and then one. The decision was simple because there weren’t many choices. You can apply the same thing in your work by having limited options or predefined templates.
Work on Deadlines
Self-imposed deadlines are great ways to reduce the amount of over-analyzing you do. If you give yourself a firm point where you must hit “send,” and nothing and no one will stop you from doing so, you’ll find yourself crunched for time. That will force you to focus on the essential parts of that decision or project and won’t allow too much overthinking.
Apply a Decision-Making Framework
If you tend to over-analyze your decisions, one great way to get over that is to apply a decision-making framework, such as OOCEMR, proposed by Tony Robbins. This method forces you to go through a specific decision funnel where you do a one-iteration process and wind up with a resolution. This kind of system works particularly well with bigger, more complex decisions in your life.
Ask For Help
Unless you are alone on an island (in which case, why even over-analyze), you probably have people around who can help you when you feel you are starting to over-analyze. Your family, friends, or co-workers are great to help you see something that you’re missing. Often, when you get stuck between choices A and B, just having someone say A will jolt your brain out of analysis paralysis and help you go on. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you get stuck.
Divide and Conquer
You often get stuck in over-analyzing a solution because the problem itself is way too big. It’s so big that you can’t even assess properly if your resolution is good or bad. A method such as divide and conquer implies splitting the problem into smaller, less complex issues and working on those first. As you complete each one, you will eventually get to the whole solution. At that point, you’ll be less likely to overanalyze because you know that the pieces have already been established and need no further analysis.
This is a handy method when you are working with an ever-changing product or idea. For example, if you are a programmer working on an app, you might be over-analyzing the requirements and your solutions for days on end. The better way is to complete one thing, then push the app and deal with the feedback. You are more likely to produce a better product in the long run if you iterate fast and wait for feedback.
Make a Lot of Small Decisions
In point one, I talked about big decisions and small decisions. The more you make small decisions, the better you will train your judgment. When you do that, your self-confidence improves because you start to believe that you can make good decisions. Therefore, one way of preparing yourself is to make many small decisions fast and deal with their consequences afterward.
Improve Your Self-Confidence
One sure way to rid yourself of over-analysis is to sharpen your skills in the area you work the most. When you improve your skills, you’ll be able to do the work better, and, most importantly, you’ll know that you can do the job better, which is what matters the most. When you have self-confidence in what you know and do, you have better wisdom—you apply your knowledge better in real-world situations. When you do so, you’ll be less likely to over-analyze.
This one is a mindset problem you must work on. Life is full of uncertainty, and no amount of trying to prevent it will help you. It doesn’t matter how many walls you build; there is always the possibility of a taller tsunami. So, embrace uncertainty and accept that it’s always there. You may still fail regardless of how much you’ve agonized over something, and that’s okay. Once you shift your mindset in that way, you won’t tend to over-analyze because reality won’t scare you anymore.
Take Short Breaks
Mental fatigue clouds your judgment. The more you work on something, the less you can see it for what’s good or what’s wrong. You’ll often feel the need to “push through” to get this done, but the more you push through, the less output you get. You’re stuck. That’s when taking a short break can do miracles for you. In time, you’ll start to feel those moments when you are about to over-analyze. That’s the perfect time to take a break, reset your mind and body, then jump right in. You’ll be more likely to chose a solution without further analysis.
Over Analyzing Is Killing Your Productivity
So, please stop it.
I know—easier said than done. It’s like healthy food or exercise. Very logical, yet so elusive.
As I said initially, working on curbing your over-analyzing tendencies requires deep self-awareness and understanding of your behavior and mindset. If you feel like you can’t attack your over-analysis quickly, first look at your self-awareness and seek ways to improve it.
Then, come back here and start looking at these tips. Over analyzing is a habit, which means it won’t die easily. Even if you crush it, it will pop up every so often in moments of high stress. That’s okay. You’ll be equipped to deal with it and put it right back in its place.
Other Resources On Over Analyzing
- How To Stop Overanalyzing Everything And Overcome Worrying
- 8 Signs You Over Analyze Everything
- Analysis Paralysis: What It Is and How to Avoid It
- How to Beat ‘Analysis Paralysis’ and Make All the Decisions
- The Science of Analysis Paralysis
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Do you consider your self an over-analyzer? Why?
- Do you find yourself over analyzing everything or just projects you consider very important?
- What are the techniques in this article that resonated the most with you in combating your over analysis?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!
I am. I cannot do the simplest things without considering various potential outcomes. I ruminate on the past, how that feeds into the various hypothetical futures, and then ruminate on how long I spent ruminating.
I overanalyze everything, small and large. I analyzed if I should comment on this, because that would be a vulnerable thing to do, and is it even really important to share that I am in fact exactly what you described above; does stating it make any difference?
I find making small decisions, often to be most effective for gaining self confidence and climbing out of my darker stents of analysis-paralysis. Also, the well-branded “just do it” has become an internal voice I try to channel in really important moments.
I feel like I describe what it feels like to be in this analytical mindset best in a poem I wrote (link is in website provided).
Thanks for sharing this. I will keep trying!