#153: Overcoming Analysis Paralysis and Over-Thinking with Shelley Row

I’ve been teaching and coaching writers on launching and growing their businesses for over 10 years. And one of the biggest challenges I see them struggle with is analysis paralysis.

Over-thinking. Mulling things over for weeks and months sometimes, because they’re afraid to make the wrong decision.

And not just big decisions. Even smaller decisions often cause stress and anxiety, making matters worse.

This happens at all experience levels. And it’s a big problem. And ignoring it won’t make it go away.

In this episode you’ll hear from Shelley Row. Shelley is a speaker and consultant who works with forward-thinking managers and leaders who must make fast, insightful decisions in the face of uncertainty and rapid change.

She’s a recovering over-thinker herself. And her work is based on neuroscience research and 77 interviews with executives, which revealed that the secret to effective decision-making involves a combination of information and intuition.

Shelley will share some very practical advice for dealing with analysis paralysis when it comes to making both big and small decisions.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Today, you work with organizations and executives on “insightful leadership.” How did you get there?

For many years, Shelley struggled with overthinking. She was a transportation engineer and was very logical, rational and organized. But the higher she climbed in her career, the more difficult it became to make decisions.

She would overthink decisions and get stuck in analysis paralysis. It became a career limiting problem.

She met with a therapist because her relationships with men who “checked all the boxes” weren’t working out. She came to realize that her feelings conveyed useful information that she’d been ignoring. She was much more skilled at recognizing her thoughts than her feelings.

Now, she’s been able to move past overthinking by combining information and intuition to make decisions.

Neuroscience validates her personal experience. We default to the modality we’re most comfortable with (logic or intuition) because it requires less energy in our brains.

But we need to integrate the two.

Why do self-employed professionals often struggle with decision making?

Our brains are designed to do what we’re most comfortable with. So if you’re going to call prospects, you’re going to call the ones you’re most comfortable with. And those will probably be people who’re the most like you.

Overthinking arises when the little voice in your head contradicts what feels most comfortable to you.

Overthinking happens when what you want to do is contradicted by what the little voice in your head says you should do.

For example, say you’re trying to decide whether to call or email a prospect. You feel more comfortable emailing, so you decide to do that. But the little voice in your head says that you should call the prospect, because it’s more effective.

So now you’ve set up an internal debate. And this internal debate can keep you stuck.

Shelley has a three step process for breaking that cycle:

Step 1: Recognize when you’re overthinking

The first step in stopping overthinking is to recognize when you’re doing it.

Look for self-talk such as:

  • “I’m making this harder than it needs to be.”
  • “This is taking way too long.”
  • “I’ve been over this again and again.”

When you hear yourself talking this way, it’s a clear indication that you’re overthinking. You’re stuck in analysis paralysis.

Step 2: Name the nagging feeling

Identify the feeling and name it.

Naming a feeling moves it from your subconscious to your conscious—where you can understand it cognitively.

Formulate a few questions that will help you uncover the nagging feeling, such as:

  • “What’s bugging me about this?”
  • “Why am I making this so hard?”
  • “What’s not sitting right?”

Quiz your brain to identify what you’re feeling.

Step 3: Unravel it

Next, you have to resolve the nagging feeling. You don’t want to make a decision out of fear. You want to make a decision because it’s the right decision.

Sometimes, simply acknowledging the feeling can help dissipate it. Recognize that your brain is in flight or fight response, which isn’t productive.

In addition, you may need to give yourself some additional support.

For example, if you’re afraid of making a prospecting phone call, how can you reduce that fear? Maybe you can write a script for the call or make some bullet points.

You’ll still have to force yourself to make the call. But now that you understand what’s going on, you can take steps to mitigate it.

Do these things get easier with practice?

Your brain has the ability to learn and change. You’re not permanently hardwired for anything. You can use intentional practice to create new skills that mitigate some of this behavior.

Overthinking is often tied to “stuck stories.” These are stories we tell ourselves over and over that influence our decisions.

Once we unravel these stories, we can recognize them and realize they’re not relevant. This makes it easier to move through overthinking.

Are there some personality types that are more prone to overthinking?

People who struggle with overthinking the most are those who’re taught to value logic and rational thinking over everything else.

Engineers, lawyers, and accountants are especially prone to it. They’ve learned to dismiss feelings. They have to re-learn to pay attention to what their gut is telling them.

They have to combine data and analysis with intuition to make tough decisions.

What other strategies can we use to keep overthinking at bay?

Shelley uses “making soup” as a metaphor for understanding what goes into good decision making.

When we make soup, we have to gather the ingredients. When we make decisions, we also have to gather ingredients.

You have to gather the data in a reasonable time frame—that’s one ingredient. You also need to talk to people, especially those who hold a different view. That’s another ingredient.

Next, you have to check in with yourself. Ask yourself, “What’s bothering me about this decision? What’s making me uncomfortable?”

So now you have three ingredients:

  1. Facts and figures
  2. Information from others
  3. Information about our own feelings about the decision.

Put these ingredients into the “soup” and let it simmer.

Some soups don’t have to simmer long. But others need more time to allow the flavors to meld.

When decisions are high risk, you might need to step away for a moment. Go for a walk. Sleep on it.

This “simmering” allows your brain to calm down. That’s when all the ingredients meld together and the brain comes to its wisest and most creative decision. And that’s when the soup is ready.

Do we all tend to make decisions the same way?

Each of us has our own natural decision-making tendencies. Some people are natural deciders and tend to make decisions quickly.

Others are natural discussers and want to talk about things (with themselves or others) at length before deciding.

Know your natural tendency and then try to make yourself a little uncomfortable. If you’re a decider, slow things down a bit. If you’re an over-thinker, make yourself decide a little bit quicker.

How has today’s unlimited access to information has impacted our ability to make decisions?

You could spend endless amounts of time collecting data, so you need to set reasonable timeframes. You still have to make your deadlines!

Also, curate the information you collect carefully. We have a natural tendency to collect information that aligns with our frame of reference. We have to be open to other points of view, which is why talking to other people is important.

Where can listeners can learn more about you?

Website: shelleyrow.com

Shelley’s book is available on Amazon: Think Less, Live More: Lessons From a Recovering Over-Thinker.

Twitter: @ShelleyRow

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ShelleysInsights


By the way … whenever you’re ready, here are 4 ways I can help you grow your freelance business:

1. Grab a free copy of my training class for writers who are new to freelancing.

It’s called “The 3 Magic Levers: How to Get Your Writing Business Off the Ground and Land Your First Paying Client.” Click Here

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You’ll get a personalized action plan based on where you are today in your business. Plus all the tools, scripts, checklists, cheat sheets and templates you’ll need to escape feast-or-famine … grow your income … and land clients who love and respect you. — Click Here

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