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Done Is Better Than Perfect: Avoiding Analysis Paralysis

Journey to the ONE PERCENT

According to the United States Census Bureau, “only 1.2% of the U.S. population has attained a Ph.D.”

Most of this article’s content was incubated and written in my 2017 blog while beginning the final year of my first Master’s Degree (focusing on Exercise Science, Sport, and Performance Psychology). It seems uncanny that was nearly SIX years ago. Since that time, we’ve experienced a global pandemic, personal and professional shifts, and immense growth. In 2017, while beginning my master’s thesis, I had no idea that I’d be in a parallel universe six years later, entering the final year of my rigorous Ph.D. in Mind-Body Medicine program. One of my dear sister-friends and classmates stated recently, “nothing prepares you for how mentally or physically draining pursuing a Ph.D. is.”

As I journey on this final phase of pursuing a well-earned terminal degree, my mind, body, and spirit felt moved to revisit and share principles that are helping me forge ahead. In this season, I am honored to co-facilitate an introductory course for new students under the tutelage of my mentors (thank YOU, Drs. Belton, Chance, Curtis, Anderson-Engler, Fortune, Ishihara, Ladd, Long, McGill, Moss, Rorie, Sims, Smyth, Vega, Willmarth, and Worthington). My goal is to pay it forward as I stand on the shoulders of giants.

Reflections from 2017 that still apply today…

While staring at a blank page for one of my graduate school assignments, I wondered why I was having trouble communicating the data and research I’d compiled for countless hours. I continued to sit. I continued to stare. I continued to ponder and think. Then I started analyzing all of the reasons why my research was subpar. I started thinking about all of the reasons why I should be cleaning the house, grocery shopping, or posting on social media for my business. My thoughts consisted of everything under the sun except finishing my research assignment. My thoughts wandered to some pros and cons of my chosen research topic. As I continued to mull over various things, time marched on. 

Unlike typical procrastination (which is usually subconscious avoidance), I have “analysis paralysis.”  According to Wikipedia, “analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.”  As a chronic “over-thinker,” I immediately began analyzing why I was experiencing analysis paralysis.  Of course, this was counterproductive to working on my research assignment, but I couldn’t allow a self-discovery opportunity to pass without overthinking it. The irony.

As I reflected (well over-analyzed), I recalled something that my sister said during one of our conversations last year.  She called me to discuss a project that we’d been working on together. After thirty minutes of me going on and on about why we couldn’t do this or that, she said to me, “Sister, done is better than perfect.” I had worked myself into a tizzy because of overthinking and the desire to perfect every aspect of our project. As a result, we were accomplishing very little, and she was a bit frustrated about this inefficient use of time. Apparently, I wasn’t cognizant that I was doing this (lovely how a sister can help bring things that we inadvertently do to our attention). I decided to think about analysis paralysis and my desire for perfection a bit more. After this period of self-reflection, I came up with a few tips that helped me avoid getting stumped by over-analyzing:

  • Setting clear goals and deadlines will reduce the amount of time spent overthinking.
    • Stopping projects and coming back to them can leave room for overthinking. It is helpful to start a project with an end goal in mind.
  • Focusing on the present.
    • Giving your undivided attention to a project will ensure that you are focused. Try not to think about past projects or future projects. This can lead to over-analyzing potential outcomes, thereby hindering productivity. 
  • Avoid comparing yourself and your work to others.
    • Comparison can fuel the need for perfection. Comparing ourselves and our work to others can make us feel that we are inadequate. This could lead to a downward spiral of overthinking how we can improve. That will get an over-thinker nowhere fast.  
  • Making a decision to complete a project with excellence is different than aiming for perfection.
    • There is no such thing as perfection. Let the ideal of perfection go, and keep moving toward completion by doing your best. 

For we over-analyzers, these simple actions are more difficult than one may think. Sometimes, relinquishing control of outcomes, projects, situations, and tasks can free up mental space and energy to achieve our goals. Try to live more in the moment. Be fully present. Judge yourself and others less. Let go, and move on. The rewards of accomplishing rather than overthinking will set you free.

As an integrative sport and performing arts psychology consultant who works with artists and athletes at the highest levels, I have witnessed that the last leg of a race will test all of the years of training leading up to the final moments. Although my journey described here is in academia and research, no matter what your journey entails, I encourage you to have faith that the FINISH LINE and CURTAIN CALL are in sight!

“You have to experience the struggle to experience the beauty.” ~Brandan Odums

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