Analysis Paralysis

Overthinking is one of my biggest enemies. Considering pros and cons, laying out plans for worst case scenario… They are so natural and instinctive to me, such that I cannot stop doing it.

I realize this has become a problem when I was watching Netflix one day. After a long day of work, I decided to take a break and turned on my TV. I spent a full hour watching Netflix’s catalog. A full hour. Every time I made up the mind to watch a show, there’s an inner voice questioning my decision — are you using your time the right way? Should you be watching X rather than Y? That’s when there’s “ding” sound in the background, alerting me that something is wrong — why the f*** am I trying to (over)optimize my time, even if it’s leisure, spare time?

The result of that is I ended up spending time deciding what to watch, rather than watching it. To a point that I lost patience and got tired. Then I went to bed. My relaxation time turned to be another unrelaxed mental battle. The need of prioritization is so rooted to me that it turns from a productivity hack to a burden — not to mention that my analysis that leads to no action adds on to the anxiety of being unproductive.

Reflecting on this, part of the reason why I fell into analysis paralysis in this scenario is the unacceptance to relaxation. Relaxation means wasting time. Although I am, and will waste my time doing nothing anyways, the conscious, planned behavior of doing that will be rejected by my mental model, tagging as a wrong thing to do. I seek justification to any conscious decision I make, and there’s no good one for “spending next hour in watching Netflix”.

I am trying a few ways to cope with it:

  1. Decide ahead of time what I will be doing. Move the analysis time before well before “execution”. I started a List on my Things 3 app called What to Watch. Whenever I see something interesting or get a recommendation online or from a friend, I add it to the list. This list is “prioritized” and I will only edit it when I add a new item to it. Then when I am taking a break next time, all I am doing is pulling up the first show on the list, without thinking why I am watching it or whether there’s an alternative. This has allowed me to skip the “analysis” step and go straight to execution.
  2. Attach an “output” to it. The reason why I feel watching TV shows is unjustified and pure waste of time is because I gain nothing tangible to it. I am changing it by requiring myself to output something after watching, be it a IMDB rating, a post on Zhihu or WeChat, a few new things I’ve never heard of and should search on and record it in my “External Brain”. Big or small, this tricks my brain to think that I am doing it for a purpose, and I will be more okay with “wasting the time” as if I am not wasting it. (That being said, it does have the drawback of task-ifying something that is supposed to be chill and relaxing. I find myself more focused than I need to be sometimes)
  3. Just… don’t (consciously) do anything. Sometimes I ended up turning off the TV and going back to bed earlier. I may be browsing some random stuff on my phone. Or read a chapter of The Sympathizer. Or listen to Arlo Park’s album with my HomePods. I don’t overanalyze in those cases because I don’t consciously tell myself “hey let’s spend the next 30 minutes doing this”. It just happened. And I am cool with it, feeling relaxed and fine.

I write whatever I like.