How to really break the loop of over-analysis

Over-analysis is the favorite weapon of intelligent people – to shoot themselves in the foot! To prevent themselves from following their own dreams. Are you one of them? 

The favorite words when your dream hits the dust is “It is not realistic!” or “But it is not practical!!”. Though these sound like sincere truths, these are lies we hide behind to avoid our fears. 

The usual modus operandi is also a series of lies:

  1. Come up with a great idea (Lie#1: “I know what I want”)
  2. Fantasize about success (Lie #2: “I just need motivation”)
  3. Perform deep analysis to come up with 101 ways that you can fail.
  4. Cite other responsibilities like family, children, financial security; say that you cannot afford to be impractical, idealistic or unrealistic
  5. Give up

We accept that we over-analyze and yet we do not give it up. 

We justify our inaction by saying “I know I should not over-analyze.  But taking blind risks is also bad, right?” The other phrase for this is “One has to be practical!”

‘Be practical’ is the favorite weapon of the so-called realists, the pragmatists, the people who are afraid to go out of their comfort zone, the parents who want to shield their children from treading the unfamiliar path, the wantrepreneurs. It is the graveyard where great ideas come to die.

A million dreams have been abandoned under the pretext of ‘being unrealistic’. A million dreams have been fulfilled because the person was not intelligent enough to know how unrealistic it was.

“The fool did not know it was impossible. So he did it”

– Anonymous

Is it really about risk-analysis though? Is it really about being practical? Is it about avoiding blind risks? Let us do a thought experiment to find out.

Imagine you and your friend are sitting in a park waiting for your third friend to arrive. You both are bored. Your friend suggests playing a game of heads and tails. Whoever wins pays the other Rs. 2.

Would you accept?

Yes maybe?

You see what you did there? You took a blind risk! Totally based on luck!

Maybe your response is “Come on! It’s just a game!”

Fine. Now imagine your friend raises the stakes from Rs. 2 to Rs. 20,000 – would you play? Maybe not? Why? It is still a game, right? In fact, the game just got a lot more thrilling!

So why do you refuse?

The reason is the risk of failure got too high. You are too afraid of failure now to enjoy playing the game.

Over-analysis is our futile attempt to predict our chances of success. And the need to predict the chances of success stems from our fear of failure.

Over-analysis is when we get so busy calculating our odds of success, that we forget to play the game.

If you had to try out a new flavor of ice cream – maybe you wouldn’t analyze much. But if you have to think about which college to choose – maybe you analyze too much. Because the stakes are high!

“I just over-analyze” really means “I am too afraid of failure. The risk is too high”

But again, risk is a matter of perception. So, when you say, “The risk is too high” what you really mean is:

“I perceive the risk of failure to be high, and I choose not to take that risk.”

Note that there are 2 operative words here: Perceive and choose.

It is very possible that what you perceive as high risk might be seen as low risk by another person.

An Indian middle class family might think that being an engineer and getting a job in the IT field is low risk; whereas trying your luck in the film industry is not.

But for a family who has most of its members working in the film industry in various capacities, pursuing a hard core ‘academic’ discipline like engineering, might be much more risky than picking up skills early by learning “on the job” in the film industry and applying them to carve out your own niche.

So, perception is usually a function of familiarity. More the familiarity, lesser the perceivedrisk. And more the readiness to face it.

But regardless of our perception, real risk does exist and is inherent in all decisions. Outcomes are influenced by a million variables only some of which are in our control. Managing risk and preparing for failure is an integral part of trying to succeed.

But often, our perception of risk might be too big, and our perception of our ability to manage it might be too small. Hence, we do not even try. Regardless of how true our justification is, it is a choice we make: We choose to not try.

Wouldn’t it be good if we could make sure that we did not exaggerate the risk, and give up prematurely?

The question to find out if we are exaggerating the risk is:

Is the risk really too high, or am I just too afraid to get out of my comfort zone?

If it is the latter, our analytical brains will find a dozen ways we could fail, and refuse to see the ways we could succeed as well. Thus, making our choice to ‘not try’ seem like a natural conclusion.

Another reason why we avoid risk is purely due to habit, without even examining how big or small it is. Nothing less than 100% certainty of success will do. The aim is to try and learn to break this pattern of looking for 100% guarantees. Otherwise we would not be giving ourselves a fair chance at success! How do you do that?

Imagine that you always wanted to open your own business, but the following thought makes you not even try.

“It is just a pipe dream. I have so many responsibilities and the investment is too high. My parents are right in saying it is too impractical. After all they care for me! It is not worth the risk!”

Yes, there is always a risk. The first step to manage risk is to quantify it. So, ask the following question:

I know there is a risk of failure, but how much exactly? How much will I lose in the worst case scenario?

Will I lose my house? My entire savings? $1000? $200?

Often the actual number is significant, but smaller than the perceived fear. Let us say it is a risk of $10,000. This represents the total investment. You have put a number to it. It is still big, but finite. So, the next question is:

Can I think of ideas to minimize the investment, if not avoid it? Or to deal with it in a better way?

What if I try a pilot in the neighborhood only? What if I create a website to gauge initial response? What if I start with only those products that are sure to sell?

By doing all or some of these things, can you bring down the needed $10,000 investment to say $2000? So, in the absolute worst case scenario, if you lose everything – you lose $2000.

I know what I stand to lose. But do I also know what I will gain, despite losing?

Our impulse to protect ourselves makes us focus only on failure. It causes negative thinking. And negative thinking limits our sight only to the thorns. We miss the rose. Positive thinking limits our sight only to the rose, and the thorns become an ‘unexpected unfair shock’. The aim of the questions above is to see the entire rose for what it is.

Yes, you might lose the entire $2000. But you will also gain immense satisfaction of having tried out your dream, of having no regrets, knowing that you lost – but put up a great fight, of learning things that can be applied in other areas of life. Isn’t that worth something?

You are now ready to move on to the next question:

How much is my satisfaction of ‘giving it a shot’ worth?

Isn’t your dream of “opening up your own business” worth risking $2000? Even if you lose it entirely? Put some figure to it. Maybe the experience and happiness is worth $1000 – the price of that new laptop or TV you are ready to buy in a heartbeat because it makes you really happy? Can experimenting with your dream be worth $1000, if not more?

So, the total risk now is down from $10,000 to $1000.

The risk might not be worth a complete failure. Is it worth a partial success?

Until now, you were assuming the worst-case scenario. You cannot actually lose the entire $1000. You haven’t even started to plan for successand to manage the risk! So finally, you ask the question all business owners ask:

Can I think of ways to ensure partial success, if not full success?

Even if your planning is 30% effective, you stand to make $300 and lose $700.

Is giving your dream a shot worth losing $700?

This looks much more practical than $10,000, yes?

It is important to note that at the beginning you did not even consider thinking about your dream. You assumed it was too unrealistic. But now you are talking about a concrete figure of $700, down from $10,000. And that too assuming you make a loss. Which is not really necessary!

The other good news is all this thinking does not demand real money – only your readiness to face reality and start putting a number to it. Is it too much to ask for?

The aim of the self-awareness questions above is to help move your focus from saving what you have, to creating what you want.

But sometimes, risk aversion is ingrained so deep into our psyche that nothing seems worth taking a risk. The answer to all the questions above is a big ‘No!!!’ We are addicted to certainty.

In that case, you first need to change the way you look at risk in general, before you start quantifying your dreams. You need to break the pattern of seeking certainty. You need to taste the fun of taking risk, in order to take it.

So, the first question to ask is:

How much risk can I comfortably take – even if I lose that investment completely?

(Maybe 1% of your savings? Maybe 2 hours every week?) Let us say $200.

What all can I experiment within that investment?

Maybe learn a new skill, join a new class, create a website, subscribe to a magazine. You basically take a risk on something that you always wanted to try, but weren’t sure if it would work, or where it would lead to.

Even $200 is too high? $100 maybe? Yes?

OK $100. Maybe take just 3-4 guitar classes and see how it goes. Maybe buy that electronic kit and see if you liked it as much as you thought. Maybe buy that dress that everybody said you would look great in, but you were afraid to try.

The important point is since you have chosen an amount that you are OK to lose entirely, it takes the pressure off. Then you simply give it your best shot without expecting anything in return. You have got nothing to lose. Whatever joy you do get becomes a ‘bonus’ because you started off expecting nothing.

This position of having nothing to lose inspires you to put your best foot forward. And when you put your best foot forward, your chances of success go up. For the first time in life, you feel what it is like to really give something your best. To devote yourself to something. Without fear. The absence of fear multiplies your joy – and you get to experience such joy for the first time.

You do face hurdles, hiccups but you deal with them as best as you can – because you are already prepared for the worst-case scenario. Anything after that is a best-case scenario.

As you deal with hurdles, you realize first hand that you can build a path as you go. Even if a clear path was not visible to start with. You realize that risk is something to be managed, not something to be avoided at all costs. You slowly get used to living with uncertainty, with stepping outside your comfort zone.

The objective is to start doing things without the certainty of return. To learn to invest, rather than save. To lose what you have in the hope of making more.

And as you can see, as you get more and more comfortable with preparing to fail, your chances of success go up!

Once you are able to break the patterns of risk aversion and start believing that facing risk is an adventure rather than a trauma, you can go back to the self-awareness questions about your actual dream. 


This is a chapter from my book “Stop Lying Start Moving” where I cover many more lies. Lies like the ones below. Check out the book if you are curious!

  • “I know what I want!”
  • “I just need motivation!”
  • “But I am trying!”
  • “I just haven’t found my passion yet”
  • “I really want to, but my _____ won’t let me!”
  • “I have to be the best!”
  • “I am a failure!”
  • “If I work hard, I will be successful”
  • “I just do not have the time!”
  • “I accept myself as I am”
  • “I am sorry”
  • “I need to understand the cause of my problem”
  • “I need to hold on”
  • “But I am an introvert.”

1 Comment

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