Overcoming overthinking and analysis paralysis

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

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

The classic example of this comes from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. It is clear, early on, that Hamlet’s uncle has killed his father and married his mother. But instead of taking rapid action to avenge the king, Hamlet overthinks: “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 fail? Would death become an endless time, “to sleep, perchance to dream”?

While 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 overthink and dither, Hamlet accomplishes nothing and the play is a tragedy in the truest sense.

In times of change, when all ways forward will be uncertain and difficult, our priority is not to predict exactly what is going to happen or what interpretation of events is right or true — which is now impossible anyway.

Our priority is to find what is most important to us, most inspiring and emotionally engaging to us, and then do our best to make that happen, in an imperfect, unpredictable, changing world.

In times of change, our priority is less about choosing “To be or not to be” and more about choosing what we most want “to become or not to become.”

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

Have you ever found yourself uncertain about how to move forward because of overthinking or too much analysis? How did you get unstuck? Did you choose the way forward that most inspired you? What lesson do you learn from that now? Which way forward inspires you most today?


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

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