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Paralysis by Analysis - The Paradox of Choice

Paralysis by Analysis - The Paradox of Choice


  • Gut feelings come from part of the brain responsible for deep emotions and feelings
  • Over analysis comes from part of the brain, which is biased by external influences, experiences and advice
  • Considering too many options makes it more difficult to choose and easy to regret a decision
  • Overthinking and comparing options requires large amounts of energy and takes us away from being present and productive

My Experience of Paralysis

For some time now, I have wanted a space to document my thoughts, ideas and interests. I began the practice of writing in my journal consistently about 6 months ago, which is where I write about more personal things that are not intended to be read by many other people. After many hours of research I realized that blogging may be an interesting personal project to test!

I spent days going back and forth researching what website hosting provider to use, the style of my blog, what I should and should not include, let alone what other people may think about my blog (this post was a draft for ~ 2 weeks), I finally decided to make the decision and go for it. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain. I spend a lot of time reading articles and posts that are of interest to me and I am really excited to finally be contributing to this giant online community!

So here we are, Paralysis by Analysis -  The Paradox of Choice. Oftentimes, when we consider a new venture or project, be it personal or business related, we overthink and over-analyze to the point of paralysis. Questions like:

  • What do you want to study?
  • Where do you want to work?
  • Where do you dream of visiting?
  • Where will you invest your money?
  • What hobby/skill do you want learn?

All come to mind.  Take a long travel trip as an example. Many of us dream to travel the world, see and experience different cultures and environments. But, these long plans can easily be put off by commitments such as work, housing rentals or the expense of travelling.  When we overthink our plans, the analytical part of our brain runs through thousands of scenarios and comes up with many reasons why we should not pursue our dreams, even when our gut tells us we should!

Why do we Overthink and Over-analyze??

Simon Sinek, an author and speaker who I follow, explained in his book Start with Why, a concept he refers to as the Golden Circle. Within his ideology, Simon explains the how the gut feeling we get, that "It just feels right" feeling comes from the limbic system which has capacity for feelings and emotions but not for speech, which is why it can be very difficult to put these feelings into words. However, the part of the brain, which is responsible for rational thought, higher order functions and analysis is known as the neocortex. This is where our over analysis and comparison to the point of paralysis stems from!

In other words, your gut feeling comes from a place deep inside you where there is minimal opportunity for bias or external influence, whereas your rational thinking driven by the neocortex is influenced by past experiences, advice and your external environment. Your limbic system knows what is good for you and what you want, your neocortex knows the experiences of other people and will often convince you to do what everyone else is doing. Long story short, trust your gut!

More Options = More Buyers Regret  

When planning a project or adventure, the more options you consider the more difficult it is to choose and therefore the more buyers regret you may experience after making a decision. Moreover, the more options you encounter, the less fulfilling the outcome will be as it will be very easy to  fall into the trap of comparisonitis. It costs time and energy to consider many options and often pulls you away from being productive and present. Below is a summary of the paradox of choice given by Tim Ferriss::

  • Too many choices = less or no productivity
  • Too many choices = less or no appreciation
  • Too many choices = sense of overwhelm

What if Everything goes to Plan?

Next time you are contemplating something, consider the following:

  • Forget what could go wrong, think "What could go right?"
  • When everything goes right, how would that affect you and the people around you?
  • Imagine how good it will feel when you finally do what you have always wanted to do
  • Often the probability and positive result of everything going right far outweighs the potential worst-case scenario

In most cases, the worst case scenario of things not going to plan is not life-ending or career shattering. There are many people out there taking jumps and pursuing their dreams, some of the succeed and some fail. Those who fail are still better off than they would have been if they had never tried!