What is overthinking?
To me, overthinking means taking too long to make a decision.
Weighing the pros and cons of an option to the point where you feel overwhelmed and unable to make up your mind.
It is going over the limit of sensible evaluation, to the point of diminishing returns. The further you go assessing and imagining all the possible scenarios, the more confused you become. It’s like bringing the “paradox of choice” onto you, by giving your brain too many options (taking the form of doubts) to choose from.
Why is overthinking counter-productive?
Overthinking is counter-productive because it delays action and increases insecurity. And it’s only through action that you can gather real data, real feedback and achieve results. Obviously I’m not referring to potentially dangerous situations here, where extreme caution is necessary, rather than mindless and reckless behavior.
But, in many circumstances where there is no risk of permanent “damage”, you’ll be better off just doing a quick pro’s and con’s assessment and then move on with a decision.
Not only will you save time this way, but also, and more importantly, you’ll mental energy that you can apply to more important areas of your life (creativity, problem-solving among others), areas with a “higher ROI” for your well-being.
Tim Ferriss on decision-making.
Tim Ferriss wrote and talked about this at length. Here are some useful links:
- Fear setting (post + video)
- How to Make Better Decisions — Decision-Making Mental Models — Using Intuition (video)
- When to Trust Your Intuition: Frameworks and Tools (video)
Here are some take-aways from the above resources:
- Make reversible or fixable decisions as quickly as possible.
- Risk-benefits analysis. Write down the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario for different options. If the downside is capped (there is limit to your “loss”) and the upside is positive and asymmetrical (i.e. can be much higher than the downside), then you’ll know your maximum potential loss and decide whether you’re fine with it.
- Whole-body “yes”. Alternatively “No signals”. Look for either a signal from your body telling you “yes, go ahead”, or any signal (“contraction”) from your body telling you “no, this feels off”. “When in doubt, there is no doubt” which means that it’s either “hell yes!” (Derek Sivers) or “no”.
- Follow your “intuition” (gut feeling). It is most helpful when is pointing in a different direction from your analysis (the “math” says one thing, your intuition says the opposite). In the situation where you believe you should do something (analysis says “yes”), your intuition says “no”, but you really want to do it. Better err on the side of your intuition and not do it. In the opposite situation (analysis says “no”, your intuition says “yes”) you might want to follow your intuition only if you can cap your losses. Just be careful to not make decisions without any due diligence, justifying it with your “intuition telling you so”, as a catch-all phrase to just do whatever you want or to avoid doing what you are afraid to do or don’t have the skills to do.
The 3 exercises (“fear-setting”, like goal-setting) from the Ted talk that Tim gave. They were inspired by Seneca The Younger and what he called premeditatio malorum, “visualizing the worst case scenarios” that you fear from taking action and that prevent you from taking action.
- WHAT IF I…? (is the thing that you fear doing) – DEFINE: the worst things that you imagine happening if you take that step – PREVENT: list what you could do to prevent those things from happening or at least decrease their likelihood – REPAIR: if the worst case scenario happened, what could you do to repair the damage even a little bit, or who could you ask for help?
- What might be the BENEFITS of an attempt or partial success?
- The COST OF INACTION (emotionally, physically, financially, etc.) in 6 MONTHS – 1 YEAR – 3 YEARS from now. Be detailed.