Overcoming overthinking and analysis paralysis

In times of change, difficulties are bound to arise. Psychologically and emotionally there are three main reasons why we can then sometimes find it difficult to decide how move forward. The first of these is called overthinking.

Overthinking paralyses us with too much analysis: endlessly flipping back and forth between the alternatives, wondering what to do, and which is best, but never actually doing any of them.

The classic example of this comes from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Early on, it is clear that Hamlet’s uncle has killed his father and married his mother. But, instead of taking action, Hamlet overthinks what to do: “Is it nobler,” he wonders, “to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?” If he did take action would he succeed? Or might he fail and his death become an endless time, “to sleep, perchance to dream”?

As he dithers over whether “to be or not to be,” events move on around him until suddenly, oops!: “I am dead, Horatio.”

A wasted opportunity.

We all recognise this, which is why we love the play. But the living death that Hamlet achieves by not taking action is worse than the actual death he eventually suffers anyway. By choosing to dither, he accomplishes nothing and the play is a tragedy in the truest sense.

In times of change, all ways forward will be difficult and unpredictable. This means our priority becomes not to predict what is going to happen (which is impossible anyway) but to find out what is most important to us, most inspiring and emotionally engaging to us, and then to do our best to make that happen. Because when all ways forward will be difficult, we need to find the inspiration that will take us through: and inspire our colleagues, and customers, and investors too.

In times of change, our priority becomes less “To be or not to be” and more about whether we attempt “to become or not to become.” To get clear on what we most want to become, and then choose our best way forward to achieve that.

If Hamlet had known this then we would have lost a famous play but Hamlet would have gained a more life-filled ending.

Have you ever found yourself stuck because of overthinking or too much analysis? What was it that enabled you to move forward? Was it finding what most inspired you?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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