Analysis Paralysis

If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s analyzing everything to death. This can be a useful skill for solving problems, being a student, doing research, figuring out new ways to do things, managing finances, etc. But it can also be a hindrance if things really don’t require that much analysis. Luckily I don’t tend to overthink social situations (anymore), but I know many people who may spend a long time ruminating over the implied meaning of an “ok” text message, or repeatedly try to make sense of some situation with insufficient information. Unfortunately, I do tend to get caught up in overanalyzing every time I need/want to buy something.

I distinctly remember the first time I bought a DSLR camera (in like 2014 or something), I spent more than a month researching and comparing cameras, read hundreds of online reviews and forum discussions, and visited camera/electronics stores several times before making my decision. Why did I do that? It’s funny to think back on because I was debating mostly between 2-3 different cameras, and they were all more-or-less the same, but different brands. I think if the internet was not around, I would have probably just gone into the store, tried out the cameras, and walked out with one the same day (probably based on which one looks the best and feels more comfortable in my hands). Because of the extreme amount of information available online, it’s easy to get caught in analysis paralysis (inability to make a decision due to thinking too much). I spent that long trying to decide between cameras because none of the options were necessarily better, but there were tons of reviews and comparisons available online and I got distracted trying to figure out which one was the clear winner. If one was clearly better than the other, it would have been a simple decision. If any of you are curious, the camera I ended up choosing was a Nikon D3300.

In many (or most?) cases, having fewer and simpler choices makes it easier to make decisions. If you go to the store wanting to buy some cereal, and there are two choices, you just grab whatever looks better and go. If you encounter an entire aisle of cereal, the choice becomes not-so-simple, unless you’re the type to simply pick something at random or go with the first thing that looks good, in which case, you’re already winning at life and I’m jealous. After spending/wasting countless hours researching camera stuff basically every time I decided to buy a new camera or lens, I can tell you – all the main camera brands are fine, and you generally get what you pay for. I’m sure this also applies in many other contexts, but obviously not all.

Analysis paralysis can occur when you’re actually taking photos as well. For example, when I’m wandering the streets and I see something interesting, I may think: Is this worth photographing? Will this look good as a photo? Is this something others will like? Am I stupid for thinking this random crack in a wall is interesting? As a result, maybe I decide not to take the photo, or the subject moves and it’s too late, or I miss some other interesting moment during the time I was sitting there thinking about whether or not to take a photo. These types of thoughts may have been more relevant when film was the only option, but I can fit 6000 JPEG photos on my 64gb memory card, and can reuse that same memory card hundreds or thousands of times. Maybe some people are purists and think that taking some stupid/bad photos makes you a bad photographer, but I think Wayne Gretzky said it best: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Let’s shoot first and ask questions later.

One idea I really like and think is applicable to these situations is the Daoist concept of Wu-wei (無為), or inaction / effortless action. I won’t get too deep into this, but basically it’s about embracing spontaneity and doing what is natural for you. When we think too much about things and try to plan everything out, we are not acting in accordance with how things really are, but rather how we imagine them. When a situation actually emerges, we usually will already know what to do without having planned, and if we don’t know what to do, then maybe we don’t need to do anything. This also somehow ties into some of the teachings of the Stoic philosophers (namely Seneca and Epictetus), who teach that we only have control of our minds, not external events, and that it is basically a waste of time to think about things that are outside of our control. If you can do something, then do something, if you can’t do anything, then there’s not even a reason to think about it.

What does this mean? I don’t know – maybe just don’t think so much (I say after writing several paragraphs on this topic). In other words: do as I say, not as I do!

4 replies to “Analysis Paralysis

  1. I think the options that we have available to us apply even to relationships. For many, the idea that they can easily swipe and meet a “more attractive” or “better” person can hinder them from choosing a person to have a serious relationship with. This is obviously not the case for everyone, but having too many options can make it complicated and make it where you don’t appreciate what you have as much.

    As for taking photos, I think having too much information about photography can cause a similar problem. For me, I don’t really care if I take a bad photo, and I don’t have all the information about what exactly makes a good photo; I just take the photos because I don’t really know any better. Being a beginner gives me the bliss that comes with ignorance.

    1. I agree with you. One could also argue that being constantly shown idealized people in entertainment, advertisements, internet, etc. could contribute to feelings of dissatisfaction as well. It ties back to the first post I made about how sometimes convenience can cause more problems than it solves.

      One benefit of using the ARS Beta site I mentioned in another post is that it keeps my ego in check by receiving criticism, and also makes me realize that some people just have completely different ideas about what is right or wrong, essentially making nothing really right or wrong. Enjoy that blissful ignorance, it is probably closer to ‘truth’ than what most of us have attained through years of study and practice.

      Not that I’m religious, but I particularly like this quote from the gospel of Thomas:

      Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples, “These infants being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom.”
      They said to him, “Shall we then, as children, enter the kingdom?”
      Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter the kingdom.”

  2. Cute – sometimes one does have to plan…like to get a hotel or rv spot on a special date.

    As we have found out many times, the rooms are all booked. Or as with flights, there are not available seats or one will pay a pretty penny if the flights are last minute.

    I like your writing. Yes I sometimes over think things – then sometimes I don’t do them because it is too much planning.


  3. I think too many options is a huge problem, I’ve seen some people get overwhelmed just by going into the grocery store and deciding what to buy, aka analysis paralysis. Over the years I started simplifying the process by deciding on the exact type of food, brand and everything to buy so I don’t get overwhelmed by the options. If I go in to buy salad dressing I have the exact salad dressing I always buy and I don’t pick anything else or even look at anything else. Same with my mac and cheese (yes, I LOVE mac and cheese). Since then I’ve started doing this simplifying process in a lot of other places, like my clothes for work. I have 4 shirts for the 4 days I work in the office and those are my work shirts and I don’t wear anything other than those ones. It cuts out the paralysis you get from having to choose from so many options

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