walking on custard

Do You Plan, Ruminate, Worry, Poke, Prod, and Fumble? How to Stop Overanalysing Your Life

31 Mar 2017

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

I’ve been planning to write this post for approximately seven years.

Every possible paragraph has been carefully researched. Each of my thoughts has been studied intensely by a number of focus groups so that they are perfectly formed.

(In fact, the focus groups were themselves chosen by focus groups, although it took me several months of careful focus-grouping to realise that that was the correct strategy.)

As such, I am confident that this post is the very best it could possibly be, except-


Maybe there’s an angle that I haven’t yet even considered. I need more thinking time. I’ll get back to you soon…

Trapped in Over-Analysis

I hope you don’t experience such extreme over-analysis as above, but you might still recognise this common trap.

In place of action, addiction to over-analysis leads us to endlessly plan, ruminate, worry, poke, prod, and fumble. (Note to self: are these the best possible words to use? Be sure to research this thoroughly!)

Here are some common symptoms of over-analysis, along with some ideas as to how each could be alleviated:

1) Needing to Have All the Answers in Advance

It’s easy to believe that you couldn’t possibly begin until every last question has been investigated, and every final detail has been decided. An eye for detail can be a strength, but when misused, it only provides the perfect excuse for inaction.

Escape this trap by: Only planning the most crucial details in advance. Allow some details to be filled in on the fly: trust your future self to handle it!

2) Asking for Endless Second Opinions

Okay, so your careful research has indicated that twenty people like the sound of your project. That’s great! But… what if the twenty-first person doesn’t like it? Better keep asking… just in case someone, somewhere, doesn’t like it.

Asking others for their opinions is useful and important, but there has to be a stopping point.

Escape this trap by: Having confidence in yourself and your ideas. Recognise that not everybody needs to like what you do; as long as somebody appreciates your work, that may be enough.

3) Perfectionism

“Every little detail must be perfect before we start. What colour will the border be on the logo? Should it be two pixels wide? Or three?! WE CANNOT POSSIBLY LAUNCH UNTIL WE KNOW THIS.”

Escape this trap by: Reminding yourself that it’s better to have a product out there with an imperfect logo (or to accept a job offer that’s slightly imperfect, or whatever) and then change it later if necessary.

It’s usually okay to make necessary course corrections later, and it’s better to have something than nothing.

4) Being Unable to Tolerate Uncertainty

Sometimes I get stuck because I’m seeking something I can’t possibly have: a cast-iron guarantee of success in advance.

Escape this trap by: Reminding yourself that crystal balls don’t exist, and that a little failure usually isn’t the end of the world.

(And if failure would be the end of the world, perhaps that’s a sign that you’re biting off more than you can chew. Is it possible to scale down to a level where failure doesn’t mean certain doom?!)

5) Overuse of Lists, Systems, Tools

Systems are great, but we’ve all heard of the student who spends all their time making a revision timetable and never doing any actual revision.

Escape this trap by: Reviewing your use of time. A good rule of thumb could be that no more than 10% of your time should be spent making systems; 90% should be spent using those systems.

(Of course, pick a percentage that works for you. A good rule of thumb is never to blindly copy anyone else’s rules of thumb.)

The Main Thing: Act!

All of these ideas push us towards action and away from rumination. Planning is wonderful, but when it becomes endless and unproductive, we need to escape the over-analysis trap and get started.

Once you’ve determined that you’re doing analysis unnecessarily, take your first step of real action, and trust that the preparation you’ve done will make the second, third, and following steps smooth enough for you to handle.

This article was originally written for Puttylike

Neil Hughes

Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety, and The Shop Before Life, a tale about a magical shop which sells human personality traits.

Along with writing more books, he spends his time on standup comedy, speaking about mental health, computer programming, public speaking and everything from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question "so, what do you do?" and is worried that the honest answer is probably "procrastinate."

He would like it if you said hello.

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