Have you ever had a big decision to make and you just couldn’t quite get to a decision point? Maybe you were looking to expand your business into another geographic location, or maybe you went to buy a car, but you just couldn’t make up your mind. Welcome to analysis paralysis. The arch enemy of many leaders. If you are like me, you are quite familiar with this phenomenon. Analysis paralysis is where you feel like you do not have enough information to make a decision, so you freeze. Action is delayed, and for many people frustration and anxiety increase. I have four steps that I find helpful in dealing with analysis paralysis.
Step One: Be Present
We have talked a lot about mindfulness and being present in this blog. Mindfulness nurtures our decision making space and creates high-resolution perception. This means that we are able to see the forest through the trees. When I am mindful, I do not necessarily get bogged down in the details.
When I am mindful, I am able to evaluate a situation with my head, heart, and gut. Examining a problem with mindful awareness through the lens of the head space allows you to look at all of the information and identify patterns and trends that inform the decision making process. The heart space allows me to examine how I feel about the situation. My emotions provide information, allow me to increase my decision making speed, allow me to assess relevance, and enhance commitment to action and the decision making process. Finally, my gut allows me to have the confidence to take action. Our gut is what leads us to say, okay, I’m okay and I feel comfortable with my decision. I have looked at all of the relevant information, made an informed decision that considers all of the stakeholders and what is best for the current situation, and now I will move forward in action based on that decision. Without being present, we get stuck in a circle of what if.
Being present and being mindful require intentionality. I have found several ways to increase my ability to be present, and I encourage you to explore what works for you. In order to stay present, I have to work on maintaining my physical and emotional health. So, I get up in the morning, eat breakfast, read a daily meditation, and exercise. For me, running is a way to really center and focus my day and whatever problems I have in front of me. Running is active, so when I am struggling with analysis paralysis it provides time and space to consider head, heart, and gut, and focus all of them through the lens of action. Even my mindfulness practice is focused around head, heart and gut. The process itself is head centered, the meditation is heart centered, and the exercise portion is gut centered. Creating a mindfulness practices that allows you to intentionally strengthen all of the components of living and decision making processes builds your capacity for moving through analysis paralysis.
Step Two: Set a Time Limit
One of the major components of analysis paralysis is not being able to make a decision or take action in time. For many of us, if we are working on our own, we do not have clear time limits for our decisions or actions. Think of a time that you had to make a major decision, but you had a time limit. How did you feel? I’m sure you were nervous, but ultimately you had to make a decision or take action. Even if you did not make a “decision” that in itself was a decision. You made the decision that you did not have enough information to proceed, or that it was not important enough to work through the process. However, there are sometimes when we don’t make a decision and it isn’t really a decision. It is more of a moment of giving up or feeling helpless because of analysis paralysis.
Have you ever been offered an opportunity or a job that sounded great, but your current situation wasn’t horrible, but you had to make a decision? How would you feel if you didn’t have a clear time frame on your decision? Without a clear time frame, you would continue to worry about your decision. You would continually be weighing your current situation against what could be possible in the future. When the constant anxiety over what could be is weighing on you, your decision making processes and engagement suffer. Once you have committed to a decision making time frame, you are creating space for careful thought and action. Once you have committed to your decision, it is easier to move forward with full engagement and commitment to your work.
Step Three: Have an Accountability Mechanism
You are working on being present. You have set a time frame for your decision. Great, now how will you hold yourself accountable? It is wonderful to have goals and time frames, but if they are just in your head, it is too easy to talk yourself out of really having to make a decision by a certain time. I encourage you to have an accountability buddy, who will gently and lovingly encourage you to follow through on your intentions. An accountability buddy will say, “I know you have a decision coming up, is there anything I can do to help you?” Or “How are things going with deciding whether to move the company to XYZ?” An accountability buddy is a gentle and supportive reminder that you made a commitment to yourself to be intentional, set a time frame, and move through analysis before it becomes analysis paralysis.
In addition to an accountability buddy, add mile markers to your calendar. These mile markers will help you outline what you need to consider and put time limits on them. Adding them to your calendar creates a visual, and if you add reminders, an audible reminder that you have a decision making process to follow.
You can also create a vision board of your problem, especially if it is a big decision. For example, if you are considering making a career shift and need to work through that decision, you could create a vision board that has representations of what you want to be. It could include: quotes that inspire you, leaders whose characteristics you would like to emulate, where you would like to live and work, and of course a date by which you want to meet each of your goals. Visual representations in highly visible locations serve as a reminder and inspire us to take action to meet our goals.
Step Four: Focus on Action
Now you have made your decision, so now what? It is too easy to get caught in analysis paralysis, work through the process, make a decision, and then be too exhausted to take action. Alternatively, we are still in analysis paralysis and haven’t even started taking action in the decision making process. It is important to keep in mind that the world is always moving forward. If we stop moving, we are essentially moving backwards. If you are stuck deciding whether you want to take the next step and increase the product offerings of your business, you are not only stuck in the current moment, but the world is continuing to move, and someone else may take over your market share. Now, this does not mean that you move forward without doing research, or taking all available facts into consideration.
Focusing on action allows you to consider all of the facts and emotions relevant to the situation through the lens of action. For example, if you are deciding whether to expand your web design services to also include cyber security packages and web hosting, you would look at: what does the market look like, are people interested in my services, what would I need to add to my current infrastructure, am I really interested in what I am proposing, and what would my first step need to be? While considering all of these items, you would be taking action to explore each component; such as, distributing a survey to explore your current client’s needs, distributing a survey to prospective markets, conducting an internal audit of knowledge, skills, and abilities, and research into similar firms. You are conducting research into your decision by taking action, not just conducting an internal conversation in your head. You set a time frame to complete your research. Once you have completed each stage of your research, you set a decision making date to decide whether you will move forward with your project, and once you decide, you take action with confidence.
Analysis paralysis is something we all experience at some point in our life, whether it be as a leader or in our private life. It can be extremely frustrating, but with these four steps you can catch yourself before you fall into the analysis paralysis trap. As a leader, demonstrating these four steps not only helps you move through analysis paralysis, but it provides an example or template for your organization to move towards action and progress.