The Big Idea
We have to become comfortable with a little bit of doubt
Questions I Answer
- How can I get unstuck?
- What can I do to deal with indecision?
- How do I confidently make decisions?
- How do I assess risk without overthinking?
Actions to Take
- Listen to my mini episode of The Week Ender: Parkinson’s Law and learn one of my favorite ways to create containers for myself and my tasks.
Key Topics in the Show
How overthinking and overplanning is actually procrastination
Letting go of your uncertainty and embrace ‘good enough’
Become a Satisficer: make decisions when your criteria is met, not waiting for perfect conditions
4 quick tips to help you stop overthinking and start taking action
Resources and Links
- Related Episode: Episode 016: Sunk Cost Bias
Welcome to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press, a podcast focused on finding success and happiness through the power of productivity. Each season, Tanya focuses on specific strategies to help you discover your own priorities and purpose. Season six is all about turning your stumbling blocks into starting blocks. You can also john Tanya for more interaction and support in her free Facebook group at inkWELLPress.com/Group. Now, here’s your host, Tanya Dalton.
Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, owner of inkWELL Press, and this is episode 73. Today’s episode is brought to you by, well, me. I’m offering a free training, and I’m going to be sharing a little bit more about that later on in the episode.
Let’s go ahead and dive into today’s topic, which is to stop overthinking and start taking action. Now, as you know, all season long, we’ve been talking about taking our stumbling blocks and turning them into starting blocks. To me, overthinking or analysis paralysis is one of those things that so many people do, and they don’t even realize they’re doing it.
It’s because we secretly hope that success will be easy, and that if we plan out every single detail beforehand, we won’t have anything to worry about, but truthfully, there’s always going to be problems, there’s always going to be struggles, and there’s always going to be fires to put out.
Many people overthink decisions until they become more of a burden than a choice. By putting it off, we create more stress and more work for ourselves. You see, overthinking is a form of procrastination. It causes delays. This type of procrastination is a choice. We don’t want to overplan to the point of delaying action. There will always be more information you could learn about for your potential decisions.
Really, it’s better to make a decision when you have adequate information, rather than developing one-more-thing-itis, gathering just one more piece of data, and you think, “Oh, maybe one more, maybe one more.” We get caught in this trap of overthinking, overanalyzing everything that we’ve learned.
In the history of mankind, we’ve never had this much access to high quality information to help us make decisions. We’ve got Google to help us search for information. We have watches that tell us when it’s going to rain. We even have alarms that let us know when traffic is bad on the road ahead.
The problem is with this abundance of resources is this abundance of information. We get caught in a flurry of information blindness, so overloaded with the information that we end up using these tools to dive into a time sucking hole of research. That leaves us more confused as to what the right action is.
I think that’s key here. What the right action is. We get so caught wanting to make that perfect decision, that right choice, that we don’t move forward.
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Psychologist Barry Schwartz coined the phrase the paradox of choice to describe his findings that we have an increased number of choices, we can achieve objectively better results.
But, if we have too many choices, that leads to greater anxiety, indecision, analysis paralysis, and dissatisfaction. Rather than feeling empowered by the increase of accessed information, our fear is even greater that we’ll make the wrong choice.
The problem is, this fear distracts us really from reaching our goals. We have short-term working memory that allows us to focus on the information we need to complete tasks in the moment. This working memory is limited, just like a computer’s memory. Studies have shown repeatedly that high pressure, anxiety inducing situations lead to lower performance on tasks that require more brainpower. Even worse, the more we want to perform well on the task, the more our performance suffers.
Researchers think that this is because anxiety and stress generate distracting thoughts that take up your working memory capacity that could really be used instead to complete the task you want to get done. Overanalyzing, worrying, getting anxious about the task all take away brainpower from the job you really want to do, completing that task.
This is very similar to decision fatigue, which we’ve talked about several times on the podcast. Now, as a quick reminder, decision fatigue is when we stop making good decisions because quite frankly, we wear out brain out working it hard on tasks throughout the day. We have to let go of this idea of making the perfect choice, the perfect decision. We have to let go of that certainty, and we need to start embracing good enough.
Have you started to notice how our friend fear keeps making an appearance again and again throughout this season? That’s because so many of our obstacles are rooted in fear. We have to become comfortable with a little bit of doubt to overcome indecision. There’s always a thousand ways we can second guess our decisions, even the solid ones. We have to let go of uncertainty and believe in ourselves that we have the ability to make good choices.
Researcher and author Brené Brown spent years studying people who she felt were living wholeheartedly, or people who were on a path to conscious choice. She found key qualities and commonalities between these people, which she details in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection.
One of these traits that she was finding again and again is the ability to let go of the need for certainty. Instead, these people trusted their intuition and their faith.
Intuition is defined by Brown as our ability to hold space for uncertainty, and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instinct, experience, faith and reason.
She defines faith as a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see, and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.
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We all have this intuitive voice inside of us. We might be silencing it with the need for this certainty. Rather than listening to our gut saying to make the choice, we start asking the people around us, “What would you do,” or, “What would you think if we made this choice?” What we’re really looking for is someone we can share the blame with if things don’t really pan out. When we ignore out gut feeling, we’re doing this because we know that it might lead us astray from what we think we really want.
Faith, believing without seeing, is required for wholehearted living. Most of our conflict and anxiety is created by our fear of the unknown, and our fear of being wrong. We need faith to let go of the uncertain, faith in ourselves, and in our intuition.
This doesn’t mean you’ll magically let go of all anxiety. On the contrary, Brown found that the people she interviewed were not necessarily anxiety free, they were anxiety aware. Anxiety was part of their reality, but not really part of their lifestyle. They cultivated calm and stillness in their lives to help recognize when they were feeling anxious, and they practiced staying calm instead.
It’s important to become a satisficer. That’s different than a satisfier. The satisficer is someone who makes decisions when their criteria is met, prioritizing an adequate solution over the optimal or perfect solution. Gretchen Rubin says, “In contrast to satisficers, there are also maximizers, or people who want to make the best possible decision.” For example, if they see a bicycle that meets their requirements, they still can’t make a decision until they’ve examined every single option out there. That can be a little bit debilitating.
It’s been found that whether you’re a satisficer or a maximizer can have a huge impact on your happiness and your wellbeing. Four different studies carried out by Swarthmore College found that maximizers reported significantly less life satisfaction, less happiness, less optimism, and self esteem, and may experience significantly more regret and depression than satisficers. Maximizers were also more likely to engage in social comparison, and experience more regret and less happiness after making a decision.
We don’t want to live like that. We want to feel empowered to make choices and to feel content with those choices once they’re made. We want to turn this stumbling block into a starting block, and I have some ways for us to do that, and I want to talk about that in just a minute.
First, today’s episode is sponsored by me, and my free training I’m offering, Five Healthy Habits to Boost Your Productivity. I’m excited that I am finally making the leap into YouTube, and I’ll be offering weekly videos every Tuesday. This event is just my way of kicking it off and making it a little bit more fun. It’s absolutely free, and the best part is, I’m not selling anything. It’s just a way for us to celebrate this exciting new step. Be sure to join me for Five Healthy Habits to Boost Your Productivity. You can sign up at inkWELLPress.com/FiveHabits. I hope to see you there.
Okay. Let’s figure out how to turn overthinking from a stumbling block into a starting block. As I mentioned, I have four ways for us to do that.
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First, I want to remind you, there will never, ever, ever be the perfect time for you to take action. The best time to really start moving forward is right now. It’s better just to start with a focus on the big picture, and troubleshoot along the way, instead of getting bogged down in all of the little small picture decisions and details that leads to analysis paralysis.
It can be really hard to think about the big picture when we’re so busy nitpicking all the little details there are to iron out, and when you make sure your small fires are the priority, they keep cropping up endlessly again and again, and you’ll never move forward in a big way, not in the way that you really want to.
Which leads to me tip number one. Review your goals and values. When you find yourself stuck in analysis paralysis, review your goals or your values, and ask yourself, what’s the best option that aligns with your goals and values? The next time you catch yourself making a big deal out of something, I want you to stop, and I want you to ask yourself how much this will really matter in five years, or even how much it really matters in the next few months. This simple reframing can help shut down the overthinking and make a situation that feels big in the present feel much more reasonable in the long term.
Now, details do matter. Don’t ignore problems until they become too large to handle, but don’t obsess over the perfect way to solve a problem either. Adopt the good enough strategy and move forward. Overthinking causes clouded judgment and higher stress, because we spend too much dwelling on the negatives of our choices.
Making sure that you’re reviewing your goals and your values when you’re making decisions really will help guide you. It’s your north star that we’ve talked about again and again on the show. It really is important to look at that as your guide for where you want to go, and to help you make your decisions.
Tip number two is become aware when you’re overthinking. I want you to start noticing the physical and mental signs of your own that show that you’re overthinking. Are you stressed and anxious? Does your breath get shallow, or does your heart rate go up? You have your own cues that happen when you start to overthink, and it’s important to really notice them.
A recent study published in nature communications found that the higher the level of uncertainty there was in a situation, the higher level of distress that was shown in the body. They had subjects play a game where they were required to turn over rocks to see if there was a snake hiding underneath. Now, let me make sure and tell you, it was a fake snake, but if there was a snake hiding underneath, they received a mild electrical shock to your hand, so you really didn’t want to find these snakes, right?
Naturally, it was to their benefit to predict whether a snake was hiding or not. The researchers purposefully made it confusing. They kept the subjects feeling very uncertain, and they tracked the stress levels, and they found that when there was a degree of uncertainty involved, the level of stress increased about 50%.
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When there is this uncertainty, we start to show it in our own cues. You might bite your nails, get excessively quiet, or excessively talkative. You might feel sweaty. Everybody is different. Start to take notice when you find yourself in that overthinking mode and you can start to pinpoint it again in the future.
That way, when you do start to notice these cues in yourself, you can step back from the situation, take a moment to become aware of your reaction to the potential decision. You can decide for yourself before you get in those situations what can you do when you become aware of these responses, to calm yourself down and allow yourself to let go of that stress.
By acknowledging that your stress has increased, that allows you to manage it by doing activities like deep breathing, or even taking a break and walking away from a little bit. Step back and assess the situation, and decide what you can control, and what you can’t. When you feel a little more in charge, your stress will lower, and that will help you really make rational, reasonable decisions. You just have to remind yourself, there’s no perfect time. There is no perfect decision. A good enough decision will always beat non-action.
The third tip is to structure your day to boost decision making. We’ve discussed the effects of decision fatigue in past episodes, so I know you’re familiar with that idea, but when you know that you have to make these big decisions, keep
that in mind. Prioritize time to make the decisions in the morning when you have more brainpower and more willpower. Block off decision making in your daily schedule, and do it in the morning to avoid making big decisions at the end of the day when that decision fatigue has started to set in.
One of the tricks that I really find helpful is to set a boundary by putting a timer to work. This builds off that idea of Parkinson’s law that we’ve talked about in the past. I call this giving myself a container. It gives me a container where I can explore my options, I can spend a little time researching, but then I’m ready to move on. I have that timed out so I don’t get stuck in a rabbit hole.
When you create this boundary, use that time to write down the things that are worrying, that are stressful and anxiety inducing. Get it all out for those let’s say 10 minutes, and when that time is done, throw out the paper and move on.
Another way you can use this idea of a container is to intentionally set a boundary for how much information you’ll consume. If you have to do research, approach it intentionally. Set a limit on how many sources you’ll look through. Don’t waste time on sources that aren’t helpful. Determine what you want to learn, and have a specific goal in mind to help you get through a lot of information without feeling overwhelmed.
For example, with this podcast, there’s always a ton of research that goes into each episode, and my assistant Liz helps with that. What she does, is she opens about 10 tabs related to a topic when we do a keyword search, and then she skims each article, and she closes any tabs that have information that’s similar to another article that’s already open, or if there’s articles that we don’t think are helpful.
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As she’s going through these articles, she’s taking notes, and if she gets halfway through an article without having any notes, she’ll go ahead and close it without finishing it. Remember sunk cost we talked about back in episode 16? That’s what’s being applied here. If something’s not working out, cut your losses and move on.
Of course, I also have a limit on the amount of information I can fit into an episode, and when we hit that limit, we stop researching. We don’t keep pushing and carrying on even though we could, because we get really interested in a lot of these topics, we stop what we’re doing because we know we have the right amount of information for what we need.
The fourth tip is to keep in mind you can almost always change your mind after the fact. We often hesitate in making decisions because we’re so afraid of making the wrong choice. There’s very few decisions in life that are truly permanent. You can usually change your mind later. Overthinking tends to be caused by fear, and instead of thinking about all of the negative things that can happen, I want you to stop, and I want you to visualize all of the positive things that could happen. Sometimes we get so caught up in our stress, all we can see is the negatives.
I want you to stop and look at the positives. Distract yourself with happier alternatives by giving yourself some time to do something positive and healthy, like exercising or meditating or dancing, playing an instrument, drawing, painting, something to shut down that analysis paralysis. You could even use your stress as a cue for a more positive habit.
I want you to approach decisions with that flexible mindset in mind. Instead of seeing decisions as the final solution that you have to stick with now and forever, view them as an experiment that you’re testing. You can make a choice, and then improve on it later. Life is flexible. We need to have a little bit of fluidity in our lives to really make things work.
This gets rid of that perfectionism trap, and the idea that our choice has to be the right choice. To be productive, we have to be willing to make choices, and take action. Focus on making progress instead of making something perfect. After all, perfection doesn’t really exist. We all know that, right?
As I mentioned earlier, overthinking is a form of procrastination, so next week, guess what we’re talking about? You got it, procrastination. I’m really excited for us to be diving a little bit further into this idea of why we put things off.
I also want to remind you to sign up for my free training, Five Healthy Habits to Boost Your Productivity. I’ll be doing that live on my YouTube channel, and you can sign up at inkWELLPress.com/FiveHabits. All right. Until next time, have a beautiful and productive week.
Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press. To join Tanya’s free group, simply go to inkWELLPress.com/Group.