Have you ever had a problem to solve or a decision to make, and all of a sudden your entire life became about finding the magical answer or solution? For example, let’s say your work doesn’t feel quite right, but you don’t feel confident about your other options. So, naturally, being the smart cookie you are, you go into research mode. You Google “find my purpose” and “can I actually get paid to do X?” You ask friends for advice and read endless articles on the topic. You pin the pins, read the books, buy the courses, take diligent notes in your journal, consult a psychic, and generally annoy everyone by complaining about how stuck you are.
Welcome to Analysis Paralysis, your own personal feedback loop from hell, the scourge of the heart-centered hustler, and the nemesis of creative types everywhere.
As painful as this paralysis can be, it’s actually the hallmark of a highly conscious, incredibly intelligent and liberated human being. Think of it this way.
Three people are walking along the dusty road of life when they come to a fork with five paths, each one leading off in a separate direction. The first person comes to the fork and immediately fears failure. She’s so afraid she’ll choose the wrong path that she sits down in the middle of the road and cries, going nowhere. The second person approaches the fork with his eyes focused directly ahead. His parents and culture taught him that when traveling, one should never turn left or right, only continue forward, so he barrels down the path in front of him without even noticing the other paths.
He’s made a choice, but it wasn’t a conscious choice.
Then the third person comes to the fork and get excited by all the opportunities in front of her. She begins to picture the scenery on each path and looks for clues about where each path will lead. Being the responsible sort, she draws a pro and con list for each in the dirt under her feet and imagines her what her life would be like on each of the roads. Then the sun begins to set and her excitement about all the choices betrays her—she decides that she loves all of them so much that she can’t possibly choose, so she sits down next to the crying woman, and they huddle together, vaguely wondering if they’re about to be eaten by coyotes. (Spoiler alert: they totally are).
The point it is this: When you have the gift of awareness and intelligence, your ability to see all the choices can seriously trip you up.
When you believe in freedom, it’s really natural for your mind to go into overdrive trying to find the right path to take. Ironically, the very powerful and useful qualities that give you sight can also act as anchors around your feet if you don’t know how to deal with them.
But, what if clarity were readily available you if you only knew where to look? What if finding the next few steps on your path were way less dramatic than you think?
For many of us, this has been a year of shaking up what’s no longer working, and I don’t know a single person who hasn’t felt the effects. For me, it feels like the Universe is surveying my life, separating what’s working from what’s not, and then setting all the “not’s” on fire. When I linger too long in Analysis Paralysis around an issue, the Universe usually makes the decision for me, and often not in the warm, fuzzy way I prefer.
If you’ve ever found yourself making yet another pro and con list instead of making a decision, here’s the process I personally use to snap myself out of Analysis Paralysis and into action.
First, adopt a growth mindset.
Tough love time here, kids. This decision you need to make? It is not the last decision you will ever need to make. Not even close. After this fork in the road, there will be another and another and another forever, amen. Endlessly analyzing this fork will not change that. There’s such a temptation to think, “Once I get on X path, I’ll never feel confused again.” Nope. Not how it works.
If you’re growing, there will be another hurdle to jump or another problem to solve after this one. Instead of wringing your hands over this life truth, learn to welcome it. When you find yourself analyzing, move your mindset away from an “I must get the correct answer” place to a “this is an opportunity for growth” mindset. I know it’s harder said than done, but if you want to get out of Analysis Paralysis, the very first step is changing the way you choose to engage with the situation.
Next, take Action. Literally, any action.
Action is the antidote to confusion, indecision, and lack of clarity. I repeat: action is the antidote. Oh, and did you pick up on the fact that action is the antidote to this particular poison? My favorite Marie Forleoism is true: clarity comes from engagement, not thought, and literally any action you take give you more clarity and knowledge around this situation.
Think about our proverbial travelers on the road of life. If our third traveler starts down a path—any path—she will be moving forward. If she walks a mile down one of the paths and decides she hates it or finds it filled with potholes, she can always turn around, visit the fork again, and choose another path. In fact, she might even get strategic, consciously choosing to walk a mile down each path to give it taste test before committing.
Even if the action you take doesn’t get you where you exactly where you want to go, you’ll know to cross that path off the list and try a different one. Unless you take this critical step, you’re going to be stuck in the fork and eaten by coyotes.
Then become a mad scientist.
The next step of banishing Analysis Paralysis can be fun: get comfortable with curiosity. Now that you’ve taken action, pause to evaluate how well that particular action worked. Did it help you accomplish want you want to accomplish? Did it make you feel the way you want to feel? What worked and what didn’t?
Refrain from telling yourself stories about what didn’t work, like, “maybe I’m just not good enough” or “this is hopeless.” Instead, choose a more empowering story, like, “Well, I tried that path and it is so not for me. I’m glad I don’t have any regrets about never exploring it. On to the next thing!” The key here is to get curious about why a particular path or action didn’t work for you. What does this valuable information mean about what to try next?
Next, get support.
Once you’re comfortable getting curious, it’s time to figure out exactly what you need to feel good about making a decision. Then, be ruthless about getting that support. For example, let’s pretend you have a 9-5 job that doesn’t fulfill you. You know you want to start a creative hustle, but you’re not sure which direction to pursue. You’ve already done the work of strategically taste testing different paths in the action step, and you’ve learned which paths are possibilities. Now it’s time to define exactly what you need to know, understand, or create in order to feel really confident in pursuing your chosen path.
If you’re picking your creative hustle path, maybe you want validation that what you want is a real job that could support you financially. In this case, you may seek out support from someone doing what you want to do and asking for an informational interview. Or maybe you want a plan for your job transition, so you hire a coach to walk you through the process step-by-step.
The most important thing in this step is getting exceptionally clear about whatever is still holding you back from making a confident decision. Once you know exactly what’s missing, you can get the support you need to destroy those last remaining blocks.
Finally, look backward. Walk forward.
Gratitude comes from realizing how far you’ve come, not how far you still have left to go. When you’re standing at the fork in the road, and you feel ready to take that first tentative step down your chosen path, pause for moment and look back at the road you’ve already traveled.
Believe it or not, you’ve navigated forks like this before. If you’ve made choices in the past, you have evidence that you can trust yourself to make good decisions. If you handled that sticky situation at work, survived that breakup, made it through that illness, you can do anything. And here’s the best part: this choice will be even better than your past experiences because you know so much more now! Blow a kiss to the road you came from and thank her. Then turn and walk forward toward whatever you choose.
This is the exact journey I take when caught in Analysis Paralysis and in a tizzy about what my next steps should be, and it’s saved me from the indecision coyotes many times. In fact, I often invoke my future self and ask her to remind me that as long as I’m moving forward, I’m doing fine. Following this process doesn’t guarantee ease or perfection, but moving forward feels so much more empowering than standing still, no?