You have five million things you’d love to accomplish during your time on earth, but you’re starting to feel that you haven’t checked even a single one of them off your list. There’s so much to do and so many ways to go about it, and you’re stuck trying to decide what your next right move is. You’re trapped in analysis paralysis.
Analysis paralysis happens when you don’t move forward because you don’t know the right way to go. But instead of looking for the “right” answer, you can trust that every experience holds value for you. Through each one, you can move closer to the vision you have for your life.
The Cheesecake Factory Framework
If you’ve ever eaten at the Cheesecake Factory, then you know that their menu is big. Really big. The restaurant boasts that diners can select from among 250 menu options every day.
When you open up a menu like that, where do you even begin? There are so many possibilities. It can be overwhelming.
My friend Sophie solves this Cheesecake Factory dilemma by ordering the same thing every time: Chinese Chicken Salad. Hey, she enjoys that salad. It’s always delicious.
But after a visit to the restaurant, I could put a nagging question in her mind: “Hypothetically, theoretically, could you have enjoyed another menu experience more?”
I could ask that, but I won’t. Because the answer is no. She couldn’t enjoy another experience more because she didn’t order that other thing, and she really enjoyed the experience that she had.
This is a useful framework for our appreciation of our experiences in the world.
In our lives, there’s often an idea that there’s some downside to what we choose to do. We worry that we’re going to make the wrong decision, and that will lead to something that’s wrong in the world.
We end up in a state of analysis paralysis. We get so worried about making any decision out of fear that it might be the wrong one.
A New Perspective on Your Experiences
“Right” and “wrong” choices are just a narrative we tell about the world.
No matter what path you end up walking, it’s going to be the fulfillment of your potential.
You are an eternal being with the desire to experience every experience. So you’re experiencing life, and there’s no downside. You get to do whatever you want.
That frees you up to explore and keep moving in the direction of experiencing what you think you most love experiencing. Along the way, you can reevaluate: Am I closer? Did I feel better? Did I like that?
Pretend that you’re the one at The Cheesecake Factory, and you decide to follow Sophie’s lead and order a salad with chicken. Afterward, you say, “Did I enjoy that experience of eating the chicken salad?” Like Sophie, you did.
The next time you go, you decide to have something else. After that meal, you think to yourself, “I know that chicken salad is delicious, but this other meal was only like 80%.”
Was it a wasted meal? Were you living out of alignment because you didn’t order the salad? No, you learned something about yourself. You developed your understanding of your flavor palate and what you enjoy and appreciate. That’s not a waste at all.
I know that there are decisions in your life that feel a lot more consequential than what to order at a restaurant, but the concept still holds true.
Analysis paralysis comes because you believe there’s a downside. You think you’re going to make a misstep.
But when every experience brings you closer to learning more about what you really enjoy experiencing, there can be no missteps. Everything is going to be fine.
Both Sides of the Coin: Sophie’s Story
When I chatted with Sophie about analysis paralysis on my podcast, I asked her to think of something she was really grateful for in her life.
“Yoga,” she was quick to respond.
Next, I asked what was going on in her life that led her to yoga — what she had to go through first.
“I had to go through a really intense anxiety period and needed alleviation,” Sophie told me.
What triggered that anxiety? A time of deep indecision and tumultuous change in her life.
All those experiences are things that we might be quick to label as “bad.” But through the “bad” experiences of indecision, change, and anxiety, she found yoga, an activity that she was really aligned with.
So what is Sophie grateful for now? She’s grateful for yoga, but she’s also grateful for the indecision and the anxiety that led her there. She can’t have gratitude for yoga without gratitude for all of it.
That would be like saying, “I have gratitude for the head side of a quarter but not the tail side.” They’re impossible to separate out. They’re part of the same trajectory.
I encourage you to do this exercise yourself. Think about something you’re really grateful for in life, and then consider the experiences, whether good or bad, that got you there.
With those experiences in mind, let’s bring this back around to analysis paralysis.
Every positive experience that you have in your life will in some way trace back to a “negative” experience. That’s what it means to be human.
When you’re getting paralyzed in your decision-making, you’re assuming that there’s some right answer out there. If you choose it, you’ll get the good and avoid the bad.
But it doesn’t matter which thing you pick. Positive and negative experiences are intertwined, and each one is worthwhile.
As long as you continue to walk the path, it’s going to lead you to something you will love and appreciate.
Two Steps Out of Analysis Paralysis
Any move you make can lead you toward a life that’s in alignment. So here’s what you can do instead of staying trapped in analysis paralysis.
#1) Take a Breath
The very first thing you can do is simply take a deep breath. Go ahead and do it right now, even.
Realize that, at this moment, things are probably okay. In this exact sliver of time, you are all right. You have access to a breath. Everything is okay.
Take that deep breath and let it soothe you. It’s not just in your head; physiologically, a deep breath works to calm your nervous system.
Then, recognize that you always have access to this technique. There’s never a time when you can’t pause and take a deep breath.
#2) Know Where You Want to Go
Picture this: Last night, you hosted a wild party. This morning, your house is an absolute disaster. It’s absolutely not the way that you want your house to look.
But where do you even start with cleaning it? There’s so much mess, and it all feels overwhelming. You’re spinning in circles and saying, “Where should I begin?”
It doesn’t matter. Just pick one thing and start doing it, and you’ll be that much closer to a clean house.
You have a vision for your life: a clean house. You know what a clean house looks like; you’ve seen it before.
Without that vision, there would be no path. You might as well just sit in the mess.
The same holds true in life. Vision for where you want to go makes all the difference.
Habit 2 in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People centers around the importance of vision. He calls this habit Begin With the End in Mind.
So what do you want your life to look like? Once you’ve identified your vision, you can start literally anywhere to begin moving toward the goal.
Where to Start
Think about your messy house again. You have the vision for what you want it to look like. It doesn’t matter whether you start with the dishes or the floors.
Worst-case scenario, you start with the floors and then do the higher levels. When you clean the ceilings, some of the mess falls onto the floor, so you end up cleaning those a second time.
Lesson learned. Next time you’ll start at the top and work your way down. It’ll make your life a little easier next time.
But in the meantime, there was no real downside to doing the floors and then the ceiling. You got a little extra exercise in the process. And at the end of the day, you still have a clean house.
That’s a resourceful interpretation of the situation. It allows you to tell yourself a different story about what it means to take steps “out of order” or do the “wrong” thing.
So don’t worry about doing the next right thing. Just make the decision to do a thing. All the pressure isn’t on making sure it’s the best and most right move. As long as you have that end vision in mind, you’re going to be moving towards it.
There’s not one right path that you have to find, so you can say goodbye to analysis paralysis. Take a step forward and keep moving toward the reality you want to experience.
You’ll learn more about analysis paralysis as you listen to Sophie Weill and I chat in Episode 11 of The Shift to Freedom podcast.