Intelligent people are particularly prone to the overthinking that can cause analysis paralysis and lead to a failure to make decisions or take action.
What is analysis paralysis?
Analysis paralysis happens when we overthink things to such a degree that we are unable to make a decision or take action. We can spend so long searching for the perfect solution that we fail to move forward. This can leave us stuck where we are. It can be a painful experience as it literally paralyzes our lives making progress impossible.
Analysis paralysis often affects intelligent people in particular. Smart people do a lot of thinking. And while this is sometimes a good strategy, if we never move towards action, we cannot improve our lives. In our age of information, there can be so much choice that making a decision is difficult. We fear making a wrong decision. We can be sucked into analyzing the pros and cons and searching for further information. However, much of this information is conflicting. For example, every product available on the Internet has both good and bad reviews. This confuses us even more, leaving us paralyzed.
There are several causes of analysis paralysis and these can affect the brightest people more intensely.
We fear making the wrong decision
Often we don’t make a decision because we fear making the wrong one. It can be impossible to work out all the many possible consequences of the choice. Because it is impossible to know which decision is best, we avoid making any decision at all. This can be particularly difficult for academically smart people who rely on their thinking skills.
There is too much choice
In our current society, there is a huge amount of choice available. From the foods we eat, the hobbies we engage in, the things we buy, the careers we choose and the relationships we enter, our lives are made up of many choices every day. Having lots of choices seems like it would be a good thing. However, having many options can actually make it more difficult to choose the right one for us. It is also the case that we are never quite as happy with the choices we make because we are always wondering if a different choice would have been better.
There is too much information
For each choice we make, there are vast amounts of information available. Take an example of eating healthily. You will be able to find thousands of books, academic papers, websites and TV programs about this subject. It would be impossible to read or watch all of these resources. Even if we did, many of them are conflicting. Some tell us not to eat fat, some say avoid carbs while yet others suggest we avoid meat or dairy.
Bright people like to find a conclusive answer before they make a decision and this simply isn’t possible in the information age. With this overwhelming amount of information, it can seem that an informed choice is impossible and this leads to analysis paralysis.
Lack of focus
The incredible amount of options for our lives can also make it more difficult to focus. We can see so many people doing so many different things with their lives and we want to do them all, too. However, spreading ourselves too thin can mean that we do not do our best at any of them. With the constant distractions of TV, social media, the Internet and other people, we can find it hard to focus on what is really important to us.
We can also feel like we are missing out if we do not do all these wonderful things. This can lead to analysis paralysis as we can’t decide what we should do. This is also one of the reasons smart people sometimes fail to reach their true potential.
Trying to do too much at once
As a result of our lack of focus, we often try to do too much. Unfortunately, we only have the mental energy to make a certain number of decisions every day. As our energy is consumed, decision making becomes harder and harder. We begin to make less well-informed decisions and this can affect our productivity and creativity.
A high IQ is no guarantee of success if we become paralyzed by making decisions. Overthinking can lead to us being less productive and less creative. It can also lower our cognitive function, exhaust our willpower and undermine our happiness.
Ultimately, if our intelligence gets in the way of us taking concrete action, it can lead to failure, rather than success. This may be why so many intelligent people are miserable and feel that they haven’t achieved their potential.
Luckily, there are ways to overcome analysis paralysis so that bright people can move forward and achieve their true potential.
1. Prioritize your decisions
We have a limited capacity to make decisions. So to be most effective, we need to prioritize the most important ones. This is why successful people wear the same clothes every day. Steve Jobs wore the same outfit all the time because it eliminated one decision. Why wear out our decision-making abilities choosing which toothpaste to buy when we could save our energy for more important choices?
2. Make important decisions when you are freshest
Because we have a limited ability to make effective decisions, it is worth making important ones when we have the most mental energy. We have all experienced the situation where we struggle through work even when we are tired. We make mistakes, and get clumsy. This is not the time to make important decisions. Most people are better at making decisions early in the day: before their limited amount of mental energy and willpower runs out.
3. Limit time searching for further information
When you have a decision to make, decide how much time you will spend researching it. Obviously, different decisions will need different amounts of time. Choosing a toaster has fewer consequences that choosing a mortgage. Deciding where to go on holiday is less important than choosing a place to live. Work out the consequences of the decision and allocate a reasonable amount of time to make a choice.
There is a virtually limitless amount of information available on any subject. Reading too much will likely lead to further confusion. Choose a few reliable sources and avoid being drawn into every review or discussion about the topic. Set a time limit, do the research and then make the choice.
4. Be clear about your objectives
You can’t make an effective decision unless you are clear on your desired outcome. Before you begin any research, think about what it is you truly desire from the decision. This will help you to focus on the most pertinent information you need to make that decision.
For example, if you are choosing a new place to live, decide on what will affect your happiness most. Perhaps it will be proximity to work or the countryside. It might be good schools or a guest room. Once you know what will really affect your life and happiness, it is easier to focus. This will help you to be less drawn in by researching the areas which are not on your list. In work or your business, be clear about your objectives and focus only on those tasks and choices that will get you to where you want to be.
It’s worth having a list of things that are important to you handy to guide your decision-making. List important topics from personal choices, such as spending time with family, to business goals such as increasing sales. Then when you have a decision to make you can make the choice that is most in line with your goals.
5. Get another opinion.
Sometimes we get so confused by all the possibilities, it can be helpful to get a more objective view. It can be difficult for us to get some perspective when we are in the midst of a big decision. Taking it over with someone else helps us to clarify our own thoughts as well as providing us with a different point of view.
6. Take a small step
Sometimes, rather than searching for a perfect solution, it is better to take a small step. This provides us with real life feedback that can be more useful than mere theoretically information. If you are choosing a place to live, spend a weekend in the area. If you are thinking up a new marketing plan, then do a test run.
Not all decisions lend themselves to this step-by-step process. For example, it’s hard to test run having a baby! But when you can get some real-life experience, it can help you move forward and get out of analysis paralysis.
Using these strategies can help make decision-making easier. At the end of the day, making no decision is often the worst decision of all. Practice using these strategies to free yourself from analysis paralysis and begin to make more progress in your life.