The ‘paralysis of analysis’; when overthinking becomes a problem
Our day-to-day life is completely permeated by a multitude of decisions . Some of them are also quite important: deciding which car to buy, choosing which course to enrol in, whether or not to confess something to someone, etc. Being in a situation of having to make a relevant decision can be a source of anxiety, and we are not always able to manage this type of emotion.
Many times, instead of taking action and exposing ourselves to the negative consequences of the mistake, we remain anchored in the point of imagining the possible scenarios that will occur when we behave in one way or another. This psychological state very well portrays a concept that has emerged within decision theory: the paralysis of analysis .
What is the analysis paralysis ?
Defined above, analysis paralysis is an error in decision making that occurs when a person or a computer is immobilized in the previous analysis phase of the problem and a concrete action plan is never implemented.
Taking it more into the realm of psychology, the paralysis of analysis can be defined as the situation in which someone is immersed in imagining possible options but never uses any of them and no plan is ever realized.
Let’s go to the concrete
Have you ever thought of writing a novel, film or series? Have you ever stopped to think about the characters and situations that might appear in it?
It’s possible that you’ve been giving a lot of thought to the plot and the elements that might appear in this work of fiction, and it’s also very possible that the very wide range of possibilities open to you has seemed so overwhelming to you that you haven’t even written more than a few schematic pages. This scenario is an example of the paralysis of analysis, because the previous analysis, far from becoming a means to an end, becomes a stumbling block that is difficult to overcome and, no matter how much it helps you to get involved in a plan or project, it never comes to fruition.
Of course, the paralysis of analysis need not be limited to cases where you want to produce something material. It can also appear in your relationship with other people. Here’s a fictitious example that will probably ring a bell:
How will he take it if I tell him so? No, I’d better tell her this other way… or not, better that way. Although this would have the problem that… This constant reflection on what to do and the consequences of the acts may lead us to not know how to decide on any of the options, leading us to a dynamic of inaction .
Opportunity costs and real-world problems
Of course, the paralysis of the analysis would not be a problem if the analysis of possible situations and the anticipation of problems that might arise did not consume time and effort. However, in the real world, stopping to think too much about things may mean that they never happen.
The opportunity cost is what turns the paralysis of the analysis into a problem, and it is for this reason that we should take the analysis phase of the possible decisions according to their practicality . Stopping to analyse something for too long deprives us not only of other experiences, but also of learning based on experience, trial and error. Analyzing what exists and what can happen is useful because it serves to act accordingly, not because the simple fact of recreating ourselves in what passes through our minds during this phase will provide us with some kind of material benefit.
It should also be noted that there are cases where the paralysis of the analysis is only apparent. Someone who has a good time imagining possible novels may not have the real intention of writing anything: he simply practices mental gymnastics . Similarly, imagining things or even making plans in a systematic way can be stimulating in itself, as long as these thoughts have nothing to do with a real situation that requires a response. Learning to distinguish between the two types of situations may require some practice, but investing time in focusing on those things can translate into real benefits.