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“The maxim ‘Nothing avails but perfection’ may be spelled shorter: ‘Paralysis.'”
Have you ever come across a situation where you over-analyzed a problem, and later saw that all your energy of the forward movement, all the energy of taking action, had dissipated? Well, welcome to the world of analysis-paralysis.
What is analysis-paralysis
There are, generally speaking, two kinds of problems. Let us call one type ‘fixed’ and the other type ‘fluid’. Deep analysis does produce useful results in the case of ‘fixed’ problems, where most of the underlying factors remain the same over time. However, this is not what happens when we over-analyze a situation or problem, which is ‘fluid’, in which many underlying factors change over time.
In our search for a solution to such ‘fluid’ situations, we forget that the ground on which our problem is standing is changing all the time. So, no emergent ‘best’ solution remains that way for any duration of time, and we, and our instincts, fall into confusion, feeling dissatisfied with every solution, and eventually, we find ourselves unable to act.
The problem of over-thinking
It is usually the intelligent, the competent, and the observant who are trapped by over-thinking. Analysis is an inherent part of their nature and when faced with complex problems of the ‘fluid’ variety their natural reaction is to start thinking about the problem. Looking for possibilities and weighing them for their solution potentials. They can see many more possibilities than the average person, and they begin to construct a decision tree in their minds, composed of possibilities and their solution potentials.
What they don’t realize is that they are dealing with a dynamic and fluid situation, that is altering with time. And the only way out, in such situations, is to take quick action, based on a snapshot of the problem at any one moment in time.
There is no ‘one solution’ to the problem since the problem itself is not ‘one’. It is, in fact, a series of similar problems linked together by transitions. The solution will only come about in a series of countering actions, each meant to deal with a particular snapshot of the problem.
“The most effective way to do it is to do it.”
How to avoid over-thinking
#1. As a first step, at the very start of our search for a solution, we should ask ourselves this question:
- Is this a problem that is based on factors that will remain the same over time, or
- Is it a problem where the underlying factors will change with time.
#2. If it is of the first type, we can proceed with an analytical approach. However, if it is the second type of problem, we should immediately give up all hope of finding a solution through analysis.
#3. Next, we have to understand that the only effective method of solving such problems is iterative actions. With only a brief analysis, we have to swiftly move into action mode. The steps for solving the problem are:
- Take a snapshot of the problem,
- Analyse-it briefly,
- Perform the actions necessary to solve this particular snapshot,
- Finally, analyse the feedback, and iterate through the steps above again.
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
~Martin Luther King Jr.
You will constantly be shown more of your route as you progress down the road. You have to have faith that things will work out when you get there. You may not be able to see the whole staircase, but you can take the first step and begin climbing it.
Action-oriented problem solving
Solving problems, using the techniques given above, enables you to think on your feet and not get bogged down by analysis-paralysis.
The UPSC Civil Services exam is designed to thoroughly test your ability to handle a variety of problems.
The first stage of the exam, the prelims, tests your analytical thinking and problem-solving prowess. Overthinking any options out of the four might make choosing the right answer all the more complex. For instance, if we dive deep into the options, we might find that there are actually no false statements per se. There are statements that don’t fit in the particular context of the stated question. That makes over-analyses detrimental as it then opens channels for connecting unnecessary dots.
The second stage, the mains, requires quick charting out and representation skills. Any deviation from time limit can cost you the one mark that is ever so important. Just imagine sitting in the examination hall and zoning out amidst that pressure. Nobody would want that right? Yet, over-analyzers are prone to get stuck in the downward spiral of inactivity, unknowingly so, for a long period, in the quest for perfection.
The third stage of the exam, the interview, is particularly geared for testing your ability to solve fluid problems.
One of the questions asked in a Civil Services interview was: What happened when the wheel was invented? Just imagine the kind of answers that are possible, if you are prone to over-thinking. The range and depth of possible answers is endless. But, the candidate was not given to analysis-paralysis and the rejoinder to this snapshot of a problem was: It caused a revolution.
The candidate got through.
Hence, we can all decide if we want to sit and over analyse everything that UPSC decides to throw our way. Or we can actually shift our focus to a more practical approach of calling a spade, a spade, and believing so. The former approach would make us very knowledgeable and an interesting person to talk to, in time. The latter would turn us into bureaucrats and the future torchbearers of this dynamic country. It’s your choice to make.
If you’re the one catching yourself over-thinking, it’s time to ask yourself-
Are you too bothered by analysis-paralysis? What strategies do you use that help you? we’d like to hear from you in the comments. Maybe we could help…
If you would like to read my inspirational book The Last Alchemist, here is the Amazon link The Last Alchemist by Aditya Joshi.
~Vikram Aditya Joshi
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