7 Ways to Conquer Analysis Paralysis
If I had a nickel for every time I didn’t do something because there were too many choices, I’d probably be rich. It can be overwhelming to make decisions in the world of social media and Amazon and Google and on-demand everything. Too many times we compare ourselves to someone else we don’t even know, and we end up in that vicious cycle of “what if I do this and it’s not as good as theirs” or we give up entirely. We forget that making is more than just having something to post on Instagram. Making makes us better humans. Making feeds our souls, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve realized more than once that your soul might starving.
It’s time to get it together and actually do something for ourselves instead of getting stuck constantly scrolling through everyone else’s feeds. Here are some ways we can mitigate the overwhelm and give ourselves some guardrails for making decisions. This post comes more from the aspect of decisions relative to creativity and making, but these tips can be applied to life in general, as well.
One: Write It All Down
There’s nothing like a good brain dump. Get a notepad and a pen, set a timer for 10 minutes and write down everything you have on your mind right now. Yes, longhand. No keyboard. (There’s a reason for this, so keep reading.) Make a list or write paragraphs…it doesn’t matter. Do not stop writing, no matter what. Even if you list colors or numbers or groceries you need to keep your hand moving, do not lift that writing instrument until the timer goes off. Do this as many times as you feel the need. Every day, once a week, or just once for now. It will help.
Too much on our minds creates chaos. By tangibly notating what’s in there, we’re offloading that burden to the page. If you’d like to transcribe your scribbles to an electronic file afterward, feel free to do so. However, engaging in the act of writing with your hand forces your brain to make connections between your body and your thoughts, which subsequently increases the chances of processing and storing that information in your memory. I often joke that if you write it down, you don’t have to remember it. The truth is that writing it down helps you remember it.
Two: Do a Pro/Con Comparison
If you’re dithering about something, possibly something you wrote about, do a pro/con comparison. Make two columns (this one can be a spreadsheet, if you want), one for things that are good about that thing and one for things that are not so good about that thing. List as many aspects as you can think of for what you’re trying to decide, and then make a decision based on the results.
For example, let’s say you have a beautiful piece of fabric in your stash that’s begging to become something. You’ve narrowed pattern choices down to two you like, maybe a dress versus a duster jacket. List the pros and cons of each, being honest with yourself about what you need, as well as when, where, why, and for how long or how many times you might wear either piece. Think about whether there are any drawbacks or plusses to having that garment out of that fabric. Perhaps it’s silk, so a duster might not be the best choice if you want to use it as outerwear. Or maybe it’s good quality stretch twill and you really need a simple shirt dress you can wash and dry.
If you end up with a long list of pros for the one or the other, make the one with more pros. If the pros are about equal for both pieces, maybe consider how much yardage you have and whether you might be able to make both garments using patterns for similar pieces that require less yardage. If the cons are longer than the pros for both garments, perhaps it’s time to look at other patterns. Regardless of what you discover in this process, it’s a great way to see in words whether one choice is significantly better than the other based on your wants and needs.
Three: Assign Constraints
Nothing forces creativity better than constraints. When there are too many choices, we get buried under the details. If we’re forced to MacGyver something with what we have on hand, we can be really creative!
Here’s an interesting article that says if our choices are limited, we have to think harder about what we can do with what’s available. The article states that it forces us to “explore less familiar paths, to diverge in previously unknown directions.” (Big Think: Why Imposing Restrictions Can Actually Boost Creativity)
What does this mean for us? It could mean limiting yourself to only a palette of purple hues if you’re painting or doing graphic design. It could mean only allowing yourself to use screws for a piece of sculptural art. It could mean pulling two skeins of yarn or two pieces of fabric randomly from your stash and figuring out what to make with them.
For a fun constraints exercise, try this: find something that’s been hanging around in your stash that you’re willing to experiment with. Then cut a sheet of paper into a couple of dozen small pieces and write some kind of constraint onto each piece. Make it specific to your craft or art. For instance, if you quilt, it might be “only use triangle-shaped pieces.” If you’re a woodworker, maybe you write, “must hand sand.” Think of things you might not want someone else to force to you do/not do, use/not use, and write them down. Then toss the pieces into a bag or jar and choose a couple of them. Figure out how to apply those constraints to make something with your experimental material. The ideas you come up with might surprise you!
Four: Work with a Buddy
It always helps to have a friendly accountability partner, but what can be even better is getting someone else’s perspective. We don’t always see ourselves the way other people see us, so sometimes it can be helpful to ask for input. My sister and I do this frequently…one of us will send the other pattern ideas, along with a snapshot of the yarn or materials we want to use, and then we ask for opinions. We’re close, so we can be brutally honest and grill each other with hard questions about things like whether we really want to have and wear/use that thing or whether it’s more about the novelty of using that technique or process.
These reality checks have frequently prevented me from potential pitfalls, like wanting to make a fussy designer blouse I know full well I’ll never wear because I’m intrigued by the construction technique or spending the time and effort to knit a 100% wool pullover sweater. I live in Texas! It’s only cold enough here for that kind of sweater about one week out of the entire year. She helps me reason through (and sometimes defend) my choices. Her input is invaluable.
If you don’t currently have someone to bounce ideas off, think about people who know you well, even if you might not consider them “crafty.” Ask them for ideas and opinions. Or ask me! (We don’t know each other yet, but there’s no time like the present to make new friends.) Folks can often surprise you with their own creative wiles, and like I said, they may see you very differently from how you see yourself. One of my favorite things about acting is seeing what the wardrobe and production teams want me to wear. The outfits are usually nothing I would have chosen for myself, but they always look surprisingly good.
Five: Find Your Colors or Theme
Sometimes the easiest way to narrow down choices is to limit them to a specific color or range of colors. (This goes back to constraints, of course.) We all seem to have a default color or color combination, so why not start there? If you’re staring at a closet full of fabric, pull out only the ones that are whatever color you named in your mind. Lay them out together and let them speak to you.
Likewise, you can give yourself a theme if you prefer not to be limited to a color. How about “things that look industrial” or “picnic lunch” or “exotic places” or “school days?” You can use the same constraints exercise if you’d like—make slips of paper with different themes and randomly pick one. Maybe when you draw “picnic lunch” out of the jar, that checkered fabric you’ve had sitting around will want to become an insulated wine tote!
Six: Make Small Decisions
We don’t have to make all the decisions all at once, but we do need to make some kind of decision. Deciding not to decide is a decision, but it’s better when we can be more specific than that. I have entirely too many sewing patterns. Seriously, I think there are probably 500 or more between paper patterns and digital patterns in my collection. You can well imagine how hard it is to choose just one. I want ALL the things! But my small decision starting out might be to make a jacket. Any kind of jacket. I don’t have to decide which pattern yet. That will come later.
Once I’ve decided I want to make a jacket, then I would probably look through my stash and decide to pull out three or four fabric choices. Again, that’s a small decision—I’m not choosing THE jacket fabric, I’m just making less vital decisions about three or four fabrics.
If we can keep our decisions feeling on the small and less significant side, it will be easier to eventually come around to “this pattern with this fabric,” because we’ve incrementally narrowed down the choices. And if this all seems too overwhelming already, maybe just sit down and look through your patterns or toss your stash for ideas. That’s a small decision. Bravo!
Seven: Reward Yourself
Why do anything if there’s no reward? We should always reward ourselves for making a step, even if it’s a baby one, toward momentum. One of the best rewards is seeing our own progress on a project, but when we’re stuck in that rut of analysis paralysis, sometimes that’s not going to happen immediately, and we need some other kind of proverbial carrot.
Think about how you might reward yourself for taking a step forward. Would it be afternoon coffee with a friend? Would it be half an hour with a good book? Would it be asking a partner to clean up after dinner? Would it be a long walk with your phone on silent? Again, be creative. What makes you feel good? What makes you feel indulged? Rewards don’t have to cost anything, but physically and mentally, they’re extremely important for our self-motivation and habit-building. Work with no reward…what’s the point?
Perhaps I should have started this post with rewarding ourselves because it’s often hard to remember to do—I struggle with self-care—but it’s what will help us all continue taking those small steps.
Many steps make for great distance, as they say. Wouldn’t it be better knowing something nice awaits when we get there?
And a bonus: Check out and try one of my other posts, 5 Ways to Set Yourself Up for Successful Maker Time!