March 29, 2022
In itself, the fear of failure isn’t a bad thing. Most people are familiar with the feeling, but we all have different ways of coping with it. Some manage to use their fear as a catalyst for thinking up successful solutions and taking steps towards their goals. Others are caught up in an incessant stream of thoughts that end up slowing down their ability to make sound decisions.
Regardless of which of the two groups you belong to, the process of overanalyzing is one of the common by-products of fear that we all struggle with.
Why do we overanalyze?
The reason we overanalyze decisions is because we’re so intent on making the right one that we lose the most important thing: our clear mind. The result of overanalyzing is ruminations: an overly analytical thought process that slows down the mental processes that take place in the brain. These processes are vital for our ability to make good decisions.
Two examples: the taxi driver and elite sportspeople
Take the job of a taxi driver. In order to ensure that the only movements carried out are safe and efficient, the brain of a taxi driver copes with the complicated mental processes of coordinating the mind and the body.
When the taxi driver has been doing their job for some time, they become so experienced that they’re able to make the majority of decisions without having to go through the thought processes that involve arguing for and against certain decisions. If they think back to their first driving lessons, they’ll remember that their decision-making processes weren’t as subconscious and instinctive as they are after years of experience.
If you, or the hypothetical taxi driver, had to take another driver’s test, your awareness of the need to deliver a flawless performance would presumably affect your ability to drive in the automated way you usually would. You would likely start thinking about things you wouldn’t usually think about, like whether or not your hands were placed correctly or you were looking in the rearview mirror often enough.
In this case, the problem arises as soon as you start thinking through the different components of your decisions; it confuses your brain. Whereas you would normally be able to drive effectively and smoothly thanks to your automated decision-making process, your sudden response to overanalyze your technique would result in your driving becoming slower and less coordinated. The pressure you would feel during the test would likely impair your ability to perform to the best of your ability.
Within the field of elite sports, all sportspeople are familiar with this set of problems. I remember the feeling of overanalyzing my decision-making process when I was the Danish Badminton Champion. Where should I aim the shuttlecock? Should I play the way I normally would? The questions were endless and they threw off my rhythm and ability to make good decisions under pressure. If I became too conscious of the different parts of the decision-making process, the constructive process that I had built up in both brain and body would disappear in a matter of seconds.
Trust your instincts when you’re under pressure
This kind of overanalyzing usually takes place in pressured situations. Personally, I’ve never found it to be a problem in my working life. But as an elite sportsman, the pressure had the ability to make me doubt my own instincts and, by extension, make the wrong decisions.
When faced with a pressured decision, go through the following thought process:
- Consider the arguments for and against each possible decision. Take the time you need, but put aside less time than you did last time you were faced with a similar choice. By putting aside less time, you train your ability to make decisions under pressure. This is the only way to unlearn the tendency to overanalyze decisions.
- Once you’ve used up the time you’ve set aside: MAKE a decision! Your brain might not stop discussing the arguments for and against the possible decisions, but at this point, you’re more likely to be following your instincts, gut feeling, and values. These three parameters are imperative to any good decision-making process.
- Congratulations! You’ve now made a decision under pressure. It might not have been easy and it’s likely that your brain won’t let you off the hook completely. You’ll most likely be faced with a stream of thoughts, worries, and considerations as to whether or not you’ve made the right decision.
All these thoughts and considerations are allowed to be there. Trying to fight them or force them away will only create more of them. Unfortunately, that’s the way our primitive brains function.
The best thing you can do is to let yourself relax. Let the thoughts make their way through your mind the same way clouds make their way across the sky. Move on to the next point on the agenda, regardless of whether this is related to your private or professional life. Watch TV, do the laundry, go for a walk: anything to get your body moving.
A good mentor once told me that: “life is in your right big toe – not in your head.” I remind myself of this every time my thoughts start trying to convince me that they matter more than reality; that they matter more than the present.
Your instinct is an expression of your human experience, both professionally and privately. Every day, you make decisions without overanalyzing them, but we all have certain patterns and areas where we risk falling into the trap of overanalyzing our decisions.
By following the three-step process outlined above, you can train your ability to overcome these habits. If your brain struggles against this training, remind yourself and your brain that the two of you make worse decisions when you overanalyze the process. Your brain will try to convince you that of the opposite. The best you can do is keep practicing.
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