A personality test tells me that I like to leave all of my options open until the very last second so that I can make the most informed decisions. The idea of making a decision before all of the options have had a chance to play out or the newer ones have had a chance to emerge is maddening. So much so that I often get locked up in the paralysis of analysis and depression.
When locked up in the paralysis of analysis it is hard to make a decision…and so we choose not to make a decision…which really is a decision…which we don’t want to make…so we make one in order to not make one. The paralysis of analysis.
Many see the paralysis of analysis as procrastination which is understandable because the two concepts are similar in outward appearance. The problem is that procrastination has kind of a negative tinge to it that causes one to think that the person doing it is somewhat deficient or in error. All that is needed is often metaphorically referenced as the need for “a swift kick in the rear” or “a thump on the head.”
This way of viewing the inordinate amount of time required to take action is not as attractive as is the thoughtful, intentional, methodical, systematic efforts of one who is engaged in the paralysis of analysis. For one thing, this is not an idle analysis; rather, it is the active pursuit of the best possible choice by weighing every option and considering every possible eventuality. The fact that the one engaged in this pursuit waits until the very last minute belies a deliberate, intentional, highly planned decision not to decide until it becomes imperative and critically important. Deadlines are very important to those who wrestle with the paralysis of analysis.
There is a sense in which, however, the paralysis of analysis can begin to resemble a type of depression in which the analysis becomes overwhelming. This is especially true when the classic double-bind raises its head; i.e., there is no right answer, all options involve hardship and pain. It is at that point that waiting around for another option begins to make sense. An option with less pain and hardship is certainly more desirable. While the hope for a painless solution is all but gone, some middle-ground between the extremes where it is sort-of painful and sort-of hard becomes increasingly attractive but, at the same time, increasingly illusive. In other words, your options really stink.
It is at this point that the paralysis of analysis transforms into any number of metaphorical descriptions such a deep, dark pit that swallows you or a swirling whirlpool that sucks you under, bobbing for air. Unable to decide what to do leads the person caught in this spin cycle to make a decision to do nothing.
That is when things become even more intriguing and overwhelming. Rarely do the choices we make occur in isolation to other dilemmas that have their own consequences that ripple across the surface of our tranquility of indecision. In other words, deciding not to decide can lead to more decisions that have to be made which require more planning and, unfortunately, more decision making. This is when another metaphor comes in handy, most commonly referred to as ‘snowballing’ which describes the small snowball released at the peak of the mountain that, as it descends, grows in magnitude and velocity until it can’t be stopped.
Sometimes life can become that snowball.
The result is a disorientation that distorts the sense of emotional equilibrium, seems unalterable in the corse that is taken and unstoppable because of the mass and weight of the consequences. In the process a sense of helplessness to change course becomes coupled with a sense of hopelessness that the end result can be anything but bad. Out of desperation you try anything and everything until you exhaust your creative options, finally concluding that the only solution is to give up in the valley of paralysis of analysis; the ultimate decision to not decide. In other words: depression.
This is when a marriage and family therapist can be particularly helpful as he or she helps a person discern the best course to salvage those matters within their, what Steven Covey calls “Circle of Concern,” distinguishing between those choices that are open to one’s influence and those that are not. To read more on the challenge of depression check out the article at the AAMFT website entitled Depression.
Stephen Pylkas, LMFT 734-658-7649