If you struggle with overthinking and underperforming, you’re not alone. Endless meetings, emails, projects, to-do’s, choices, decisions, information can add up to serious overwhelm — and serious indecision. Hello analysis paralysis…
That’s why, when faced with these ongoing daily pressures and information overload, many exhibit what’s known as analysis paralysis: over-analyzing information while accomplishing virtually nothing. Analysis paralysis and overwhelm are killing our ability to execute effectively in times of uncertainty.
The Paralyzing Paradox of Choice
Psychologist Barry Schwartz found that, while increased choice allows us to achieve better results, it also leads to greater anxiety, dissatisfaction, paralysis and indecision. In this paradox of choice, our unlimited access to information often leads to fear of making the wrong decision. This causes us to spin our wheels on a seemingly inescapable hamster wheel of analysis paralysis.
In the meantime, we are getting nowhere on what’s really meaningful to us.
Instead of absorbing and then acting on the information we’re being inundated with, with analysis paralysis, we absorb it.
We get overwhelmed.
And then we simply…freeze up.
But when it’s your job as a leader to make effective decisions under pressure, you can’t afford to let indecision stop you from taking the necessary action to achieve your goals.
So, how do we overcome overwhelm, and maintain the forward momentum we need for success?
The stuck feeling of analysis paralysis — the junction of fear, perfectionism, and distractions that stops us from moving forward — is only escapable if we make decisions and choices to get unstuck, and then take action.
But to do this, you first have to develop a mental framework that will catapult you through indecision, and into consistent action.
Developing a Mental Framework for Success
The ability to break free of analysis paralysis, take action, and make good decisions under pressure, ultimately comes down to creating mental models that automate our decision-making and neutralize our anxiety.
Easy peasey, right?
Well, sort of…
Developing mental models means training yourself in a series of habits, steps or questions regarding how to think in an emergency.
This gives you a foundation so you can effortlessly respond, remain focused on what’s really in your Span of Control, and ignore distractions.
This mental framework helps you quickly interpret a situation and make better decisions.
You’re essentially training your brain to focus on the most critical matter at hand—and then ignore the rest.
Does a quarterback have to consider his next move once he catches the ball?
Do you think a Navy fighter pilot needs to read the aircraft manual every single time to remember how to make a smooth landing?
Of course not!
Years of training have made these actions like second nature. Even when the circumstances are different — more chaotic, stressful, and uncertain — the responses and action steps are the same.
Habits and routine behaviors so natural you don’t need to give them much thought, are critical to success. The beauty of creating habits is that, after a while, you don’t even have to think about them.
They don’t control your every conscious thought — you just execute.
These habits will define your future, and mental models are essential to developing these habits.
Creating a Course of Action to Combat Analysis Paralysis
A Course of Action is a type of mental model that outlines the steps you need to take to achieve success.
To deal with peak overwhelm, create a go-to list of three everyday actions that will help you re-center and refocus, so you can make the best decision and take the right action.
When your brain doesn’t have the capacity to think sharply due to task overload, rely on this Course of Action to move you forward.
Here’s a simple example of what a Course of Action might look like when you’re feeling overwhelmed:
- Gather information and put it down on paper
- Interpret the info (but don’t get stuck there!)
- Make a list of pros and cons regarding the opportunity.
Even if your list is as simple as going for a run, calling a friend and making some tea, just remember: they must all be things directly within your Span of Control that bring you clarity and return your focus.
Make these steps a habit to overcome analysis paralysis and support effective decision-making in high-pressure situations.