What Is Analysis Paralysis?

African american young woman dealing with financial problems and bills at home, sitting at the kitchen table

Valentinrussanov / Getty Images

What Is Analysis Paralysis?

From the time you wake up in the morning, you are bombarded with information and faced with making many decisions, in fact, people make approximately 35,000 decisions per day! Some decisions can be as simple as which shirt to wear to work, while other decisions may be more complex like whether to move forward with a new career opportunity.

Although it is a good idea to be thoughtful in your decision making, there are times when you may move beyond thoughtful to a place of confusion and overwhelm. A state like this is sometimes referred to as analysis paralysis.

How Does Analysis Paralysis Happen?

Analysis paralysis is a state that you can find yourself in when feeling extraordinarily confused and overwhelmed around a certain situation or decision.

It's Harder to Make Decisions When You're Overwhelmed

Usually, in an effort to make a thoughtful decision, people might consider varied viewpoints, pros and cons, detailed pieces of information, potential outcomes, and even consider others' opinions, all of which can create a sense of confusion.

As we become more confused, we can experience finding ourselves caught in a whirlwind of thoughts that might leave us feeling as if making a clear, confident decision is impossible. Analysis paralysis stops us from moving forward and keeps us swirling in this whirlwind of thoughts.

What Kinds of Decisions Lead to Analysis Paralysis?

Some decisions we make are simple and are likely to not leave us confused and overwhelmed. However, there are certain types of decisions that may be more likely to lead toward analysis paralysis, including decisions around:

Because decisions in these areas can greatly influence our well-being, our future, and our loved ones, it is understandable that these topics, in particular, can be more likely to lead to analysis paralysis.

The risk of making the wrong choice in any of these areas of life can weigh heavily on our minds and lead to over-thinking and asking too many people for their opinion.

So, in our attempt to find clarity in decision-making through information gathering and reflection, we actually end up consumed and more confused. Making a clear, confident decision can start to feel impossible.

What Does Analysis Paralysis Feel Like?

Most anyone can relate to feeling confused and would likely agree that it is not pleasant. Our stress might increase, our thoughts race and we can become frustrated.

In a state of analysis paralysis, we might feel these things to a level that leaves us fatigued and significantly overwhelmed. You may experience stress-related symptoms such as:

Which Traits Contribute to Analysis Paralysis?

Although anyone can experience a state of analysis paralysis, there are certain traits that can influence someone finding themselves in a state like this more easily.

Rigid Thinking

People who often think in dichotomous terms such as strictly good or bad, all or nothing, correct or incorrect can find themselves confused when a decision doesn't clearly fit one category or the other.

Some decisions may be obvious and easy to make, while others require more emotional or cognitive flexibility. When we view the world more rigidly, big decisions can cause overwhelm and prompt people to want to move away from making a choice.

Perfectionism

Perfectionists are often very careful people, which in and of itself is not bad, but perfectionism can lead to trouble when faced with decisions about love, relationships, future goals, career, or family.

There are many unknowns and potential outcomes in these types of decisions that can impact us and those we care about.

Despite our best efforts to avoid distress or avoid distressing others, we can't always predict an outcome and decision-making can feel risky.

People-Pleasing

People-pleasing involves a desire to make people happy at any cost, at times even at the cost of our own happiness.

When we are expected to make a decision that might impact others, especially those we love or care about, the weight of our choice can feel particularly heavy.

It is easy to see how examining all of the potential outcomes or asking for people's opinions or perspectives might feel like the right thing to do, yet leave us in a state of overwhelm.

Lack of Confidence

There are many reasons someone may experience a lack of confidence in decision-making. For some, it is simply that they have not had much practice, for others it may be that they experienced the pain of making a poor choice.

When a person's view of self includes the inability to make good choices, they may understandably seek the advice of others or spend an extraordinary amount of time in thought weighing out the pros and cons of a decision.

Empathy

When we feel empathy, we are experiencing a shared emotion with another. Although this can be a wonderfully warm and caring trait, it can cause trouble when we are in the process of decision-making.

In our analysis of information, pros and cons, or potential outcomes, we may experience emotions that we anticipate others feeling as a result of our decision making. Whether accurate or not this can also lead to overwhelm and confusion, leaving us to not want to make a decision at all.

How to Stop Analysis Paralysis

If you find yourself in a state of analysis paralysis, it is important to understand that there are steps you can take to slow that process down or stop it altogether. The ruminating thoughts, confusion and worry might make it feel nearly impossible but we can have a sense of agency in these moments.

Recognize What Is Happening

One step to getting out of this state is to first realize you are in it. Scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice any muscle tension, shallow breathing, nausea, or other signals of stress that your body might be sending.

Allow yourself to become an observer of your thoughts and be honest if it feels like you are ruminating on the same thoughts over and over.

Give Yourself Permission to be Flexible

Rigid thinking, people-pleasing, and fear can lead to our inability to make a clear decision. Remind yourself that it is OK to be flexible and imperfect.

Oftentimes, our fear of a poor outcome can feel heavy and permanent and it is often not the case.

Remind Yourself That You Are Capable

When we are fearful of a potential outcome it is usually because we are afraid we won't be able to recover, that we won't be able to navigate the path well if things become painful.

What feels dangerous to us is often simply uncomfortable. Remind yourself of times when you have handled moments of challenge, stress and discomfort and bring that into your view of self as you navigate the decision ahead of you.

Stop Asking for Others' Opinions

Much of what can lead to analysis paralysis is reaching for information, perspective, and the opinion of others.

Make an intentional choice to stop asking people what they think or what they might do. It is likely that you have the information you need, along with life experience and insight, to know what the next best choice would be.

Limit Forecasting and Stay Present

Analysis paralysis often involves looking out into the future to anticipate the outcomes of our choices.

In doing this, we are trying to avoid or minimize experiencing pain but the reality is we often can't predict outcomes. Allow yourself to be present and take the next best step.

Making smaller, more immediate choices at the moment can allow us to pivot and adjust as necessary without the pressure to have all of the answers.

A Word From Verywell

Experiencing analysis paralysis can feel uncomfortable and overwhelming. In our attempts to be careful decision-makers, we can find ourselves in the whirlwind of ruminating thoughts and constant fears of risk in the choice we are making. Acknowledge what is happening and make an effort to slow that whirlwind down, allowing yourself to simply take the next best step.

If you're having a hard time making decisions in any area of your life, a mental health professional can help equip you with the tools needed to help make decision-making easier for you.

Was this page helpful?
3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pignatiello GA, Martin RJ, Hickman RL Jr. Decision fatigue: A conceptual analysisJ Health Psychol. 2020;25(1):123-135. doi:10.1177/1359105318763510

  2. American Psychological Association. Stress effects on the body.

  3. Gibson J. Mindfulness, Interoception, and the Body: A Contemporary PerspectiveFront Psychol. 2019;10:2012. Published 2019 Sep 13. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02012