Paralysis by Analysis

By Katie, 5:23 am

When I was in middle school, a few of my friends randomly decided that they didn’t like one of our classmates; we’ll call her Susie. They teased Susie relentlessly, calling her mean names, purposefully excluding her…basically going out of their way to make sure Susie felt humiliated.

Of course I knew what my friends were doing was wrong. And deep down I wanted to stand up to them. So every day when I left school I would think about how best to make my point. Should I make a big scene and risk losing all of my friends? Should I subtly hint that I was uncomfortable with their behavior? Or maybe Susie wouldn’t want me standing up for her in the first place; maybe she wanted to fight her own battles. What were the pros and cons of calling out my friends?

This thinking went on and on and on, until eventually the teasing stopped because Susie moved to a different school district. While I wavered back and forth about what to do, my chance to stand up for what was right had passed me by. :-(

I was recently reminded of this experience while listening to one of my father-in-law’s sermons (have I mentioned before that Dave’s dad is a pastor?) in which he used the phrase “paralysis by analysis.” He was preaching on the topic of courage, and one of his points was that sometimes we spend so much time thinking about doing something that we never get around to actually doing anything.

Lightbulb moment! 8-O

I confess: I am an analyzer.

Correction: I am an over-analyzer. Instead of jumping right into things, I prefer to sleep on it, carefully deliberate, consider all of my options, mull it over a bit, make a list of pros and cons.


Don’t get me wrong – much of the time this tendency has served me well, especially when my natural cautiousness has led me to pray and meditate before making an important decision. But sometimes all of that caution isn’t about tuning into my God or my heart; sometimes all of that caution is a way of avoiding what I know I need to do. The over-analyzing becomes a way of indulging my fear of moving forward, leaving me stagnant, motionless, and comfortable.

But sometimes it’s not supposed to be comfortable.

Again, I’m not talking about being thoughtlessly impulsive, about rushing into things that truly deserve thoughts, prayers, and meditations. I’m talking about those situations – like mine in middle school – where I know the right thing to do, what I’m being called to do, even, but am over-thinking it instead of just going for it.

At its core, “paralysis by analysis” is about fear. And while I’m perfectly OK with being the cautious type, I do not want to live my life in fear. Because in the end, my life will be defined not by what I thought about doing, but by what I actually did.

Have you ever experienced paralysis by analysis? Are you the type to over-think things, or do you jump right in?

28 Responses to “Paralysis by Analysis”

  1. Thank you so much for the reminder I needed – stop dwelling, just do!! I am such an over-thinker. I always think “but what if…” and then my mind comes up with some awful consequence (usually horse related things, not as important as standing up for people…but same principle? :P ) and all of this fear and stress is building up…and then I do it, and nothing. bad. happens.
    I also do it a lot when it comes to speaking up/out in a group of people. I was always the verrry quiet type. “If I say ____, they’ll think I’m stupid!” when in reality…people don’t think like that. So again – I’m building up unnecessary stress and fear!
    Like all things in life, it’s a learning process to let those thoughts do – and I’ getting there :) Thanks for sharing, Katie!

  2. Hhhhmmm…I honestly have to say Katie, that I really don’t agree. Especially with that feeling of being called to do something. I work really hard to not fill my life with “should” anymore because what should happen is what does happen. Had you really been called to do it, you would have. Everything, even the things we feel are horrible and awful, happens and instead of looking at what should have happened, I think we should look at the positive side of what DID happen.

    I hope that makes sense.

    • Katie says:

      I think it does, and I agree that it’s important to see the positive side of whatever has happened in the past, particularly in terms of personal growth.

      I think the key is that I’m not referring as much to situations where I feel like I SHOULD do something, but more situations where I really WANT to do something but am afraid. The over-thinking becomes a guise for the fear.

      • I think I see fear differently as well. To me, fear is an invitation to dig around it how I am really feeling about something. Sometimes, fear means it is the right thing to do and sometimes it means it isn’t. I guess I just think that if we really, and I mean really deep down in our truest selves, then, we will. Fear or not.

        • Katie says:

          You have my wheels turning this morning, that’s for sure!

          Im pretty sure I agree with you that if we’re “meant” to do something, we will, regardless of fear. Perhaps my real issue is that I’m not at the point yet where I can always recognize fear right away – I still have to catch myself in the “over-thinking” mode and say, “wait a second, what’s really going on here?”

          I hope to someday be at the point where I’m so in tune with myself and my fears that the feeling isn’t initially covered up by any other kind of behavior.

          So I guess what I’m saying is that, for me, I have to move beyond the “over-analyzing” in order to be able to dig around in my fear in the first place.

          • I like turning wheels.

            Maybe consider that the over-thinking isn’t fear but intuition.

          • Katie says:

            Good point. I think sometimes it’s fear, and other times it’s intuition. It’s a matter of learning to distinguish the two. But I honestly hadn’t thought about that part of it when I wrote the post.

            I can imagine you’re an excellent coach – helping people to question and explore and challenge their own thought patterns!

  3. Candice says:

    I love this post! Between my husband and I, he is the over-thinker and I am the impulsive one. I still analysis everything, but I tend to impulsively decide things at the same time.

  4. i typically just jump right in…my hubby is the over-thinker. but i’m thankful that we’re there to balance one another out…otherwise i’d do everything and be broke and tired and he’d never do anything!

  5. Tamara says:

    I used to experience this all the time:

    “I’m not happy in biology, but I could let my parents down if I switch, so maybe I should stick it out?”

    “I’d like to apply for this job, but I’m not sure if I’m what they’re looking for. It may be pointless. My boss may be horrible [*dissects wording of classified for clues into boss' character*]. I probably won’t get it…”

    “My clothes don’t fit, but if I buy new ones and lose more weight the money and shopping trip will be wasted. Should I wait until I’m size XYZ?”

    The last one’s particularly bad because I’d end up waiting for months, wearing ill-fitting clothes, and still waiting for yet lower numbers on the scale. Silly.

  6. Tina says:

    Oh boy do I do this! I over think so many things and usually they are the things that in my gut I know I just need to do.

  7. I just read in O magazine a quote by Elizabeth Gilbert that said “People underestimate the power of waiting it out.” While that quote really resonated with me (as I sometimes make impulsive decisions), this post does too (as I probably more often stay put because of fear). Like everything, it’s about finding a balance. I love this term (paralysis by analysis) and will definitely be using it in practice!!

  8. I think we’ve all experienced this. Middle school is a tought time. I watched others get teased and, I, too was teased. Both times, I wish paralysis by analysis didn’t exist. I wish I had stuck up for those getting teased and wished someone would stick up for me, too.

  9. I do things either one of two ways: too cautiously/indecisively (usually) or verrry impulsively (when I get fed up with being cautious). I REALLY want to work on making more choices inbetween these two things.

  10. McKella says:

    I too am an over-analyzer. Doing the right thing is hard sometimes, but I have the hardest time choosing between two good things, or things that both look good, but maybe aren’t the best for me. Still haven’t come up with a solution for that one.

  11. I swear there I moments where you are my twink and think the way I do :) Fear is a powerful force in my life affecting my decisions. And it’s not just big decisions but the little one’s too. For example, I will do weeks worth of research, reading reviews, pros/cons, lists, and sharing my thoughts with others before purchasing, say a camera. It’s a camera for cripes sake! This stems from the whole I need to control everything to prevent bad stuff from happening. I am trying to let go, face my fears head on, and just go with the flow. When I do this, man can I just say I feel significantly less stressed about the whole situation, and I still survived :) Sometimes the analysis gets in the way of living, enjoying and just being.

    • Katie says:

      Yes! I hadn’t thought about it in relation to my issues with control, but you’re so right that they are completely related.

  12. Katie, I LOVED this post. Thank you so much for sharing this!!

  13. I’ve been called out by others in the past for “over thinking” (The phrase “You think too much” infuriates me!) but it’s usually when I’m making an important decision that requires a lot of thought and deliberation (my decision regarding whether to circumcise my son comes to mind as an example.) Then, I just get really annoyed because some decisions warrant the time and energy to research and think and mull, because they are just that important.

    The tricky thing about the situations you’re describing is that when you are experiencing “Paralysis by Analysis,” it’s usually YOU that has to call yourself out on it, because it’s YOU that knows you’re doing it. I’m definitely guilty.

  14. Jill says:

    I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about! My husband makes fun of me because I have to search every available option and think carefully about the pros and cons!! And when it comes to health, I spend more time planning and thinking about what it takes to be healthy than actually DOING what it takes.

    And yes, I recognize this as a type of procrastination – avoiding the fear or pain of making the wrong/uncomfortable choice.

  15. I am such an over-thinker! Last year in school I read “Notes from the Underground” by Dostoevsky and the main character distinguished between two types of people: active people, who just act on a whim, and overly conscious people who think so much about their actions that they don’t end up doing anything at all. It was scary how much I could relate to that second category! I think sometimes it really holds me back from having certain experiences or doing what I *truly* want to do.

  16. The trouble I have with making decisions is I’ve been constantly taught I make the wrong ones. So I’ve been stuck over analyzing situations because I’m trying to make the “right” one. Its exhausting and often things aren’t finished because I will make up my mind, change my mind, change my mind again, and generally wear myself out trying to figure out the decision the people around me (regardless if this is the case or not) want me to make.

  17. Katie, again, an awesome thought-provoking post! I can really relate to your struggles with paralysis by analysis. Sometimes, I feel like we’re the same person. :) I tend to over-think many things and that inevitably leads to inaction. Sometimes, I really feel paralyzed about making a decision. Like Ashley said, it’s definitely about finding balance. I’d love to hear your advice on how you’ve tried to improve this within yourself. Do you ask yourself certain questions? Say “alright, already and make a decision.” :)

    • Katie says:

      This is why we need to meet in person – I agree that we seem to have a ton in common! :)

      My husband has actually been a huge help. He’s a lot more spontaneous, but not in an overly-impulsive way. So I’ve learned a lot just by watching how he makes decisions and trying to emulate it to a certain extent. Also, just catching myself in “over-thinking” mode and asking myself what’s really going on (“is all this analysis driven by fear?”) has been a huge step.

      • I totally agree! :) It’s funny because my boyfriend is also fairly spontaneous but not impulsive, and I try to learn from him, too. That’s a great point that recognizing that you’re over-analyzing is definitely important.

        Thanks for answering my question!!

  18. Sarah says:

    Ah, I am exactly the same way. Tests (especially multiple choice) were horrible for me because I’d spend the entire test constantly questioning whether I selected the right answer or not. I started crying one day in high school and my teacher pulled me aside and told me that I should stop proofing my test and trust my intuition. I think I’m one of a few students who got better grades for not proofing my multiple choice exams.

    And if it makes you feel better, I was Susie in middle school and no one really stood up for me. But it forced me stand up for myself (and though I’m not over self confident now), I learned that I can take care of myself which was a great lesson for struggling middle schooler.

    • Katie says:

      I’m so sorry you were Susie, because I obviously know how incredibly cruel kids can be. :( But it’s awesome that you can now look back and see the lessons you learned from the experience!

      I was the exact same way with multiple choice tests! Great example!

  19. I overthink EVERYTHING!!!! I am going to start acting more on instinct because that is usually what I come back to anyways.

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