Many life decisions require a time of waiting and serious thought. But some of us get stuck giving too much thought to things that don’t really matter. I can’t tell you how many times I have hovered between punching in 45 or 50 seconds on the microwave before finally entering 47.
Anne wrote Don’t Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life to help fellow overthinkers combat “analysis paralysis” and “decision fatigue.”
Overthinking also carries a significant opportunity cost. Mental energy is not a limitless resource. We only have so much to spend each day, and how we choose to spend it matters (p. 15).
I could identify with Anne Bogel’s opening illustration. She had to make a road trip, but a severe storm was predicted to come across her route. Her two main options were to leave at the appointed time and hope she was okay driving through the storm, or leave several hours earlier and miss some family activities as well as the storm. Instead of coming to a decision, she kept refreshing the weather page on her computer.
One of the biggest takeaways from the book that helped me was the realization that sometimes there is no one right perfect answer. Anne realized that in her travel decision mentioned above: she wasn’t going to be entirely happy with either option. That took some of the pressure off, and she used other factors to arrive at a decision.
I went through this a few years ago when I needed a new bedspread. I found two that I liked—unusual for me, because my favorite colors haven’t been trendy in home decorating for a number of years. I loved the fabric pattern in both. One was a little busy: a faux quilt with fabric squares in no particular order. The other was a little too plain: mostly white with a design made out of a floral fabric strip. I spent weeks (maybe months?) dropping in the two different stores to look at my choices and coming away empty-handed. I finally bought the patchwork one, put it on my bed—and immediately wished I had bought the other one. Then I realized I would have had the same reaction with whichever one I bought because neither was 100% perfect. (I did come to enjoy the bedspread I bought. But I think realizing that neither choice was perfect freed me to like the one I got instead of pining away for the other. “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good,” p. 43)
Some of the other strategies Anne discusses are starting small, approaching change with the belief that it’s possible, examining the causes of analysis paralysis, letting go of perfectionism, letting values inform decisions, creating routines to eliminate everyday decisions, not beating yourself up over mistakes, but learning from them and moving on, building in margins for the unexpected, adopting a “try and see” approach rather than a pass/fail one, and so much more.
The last resonated with me. Anne described a yearly trip her family took in which they squeezed all the driving into one day to get it over with and have more time at their destination. For years they discussed the pros and cons of breaking the trip into two days. Finally one year they decided to just try it and see how it worked out. It was an experiment: it wouldn’t ruin their vacation. If they didn’t like it, they could go back to their one-day drive next time. That takes the pressure off.
Another tip that stood out to me: “complete the cycle,” or, basically, finish what you start. Putting things where they belong, filing the paperwork while you have it in your hand, etc. “When we promptly complete our cycles, we get to bypass all kinds of avoidable last-minute emergencies” (p. 69).
Here are a few of the many quotes I highlighted:
When seeking a solution, highly intelligent people may see whole landscapes of possibilities that others don’t see—which may inadvertently lead them to make simple decisions needlessly complex. These positive traits have an unintended consequence: they make us prone to analysis paralysis because they prod us to search for additional options, whether or not we need them. Those extra options don’t lead to better decisions; they just overwhelm us. And when we’re overwhelmed, we can’t decide anything (p. 38).
When we put off doing something we don’t want to do, we keep the unpleasant thing right in front of us for much longer than we need to. As long as we’re contemplating the issue, we’re dwelling on the negative. If we’re dreading something, we can serve ourselves well by dealing with it sooner rather than later. If we’re overthinking something we can actually do something about, the best thing we can do is speed up to move on. Take action as quickly as possible (p. 88).
It’s a mistake to give all your thoughts equal weight. Some thoughts don’t deserve to be taken seriously, so don’t dignify them with a response (p. 105).
The book is divided into three parts with questions at the end of each chapter. Linda led a discussion of each part which really enhanced our reading. (Part 1 is here, 2 is here, 3 is here.) Thank you, Linda!
I appreciated that Anne’s tips were both practical and flexible. I think this book is a good resource for anyone prone to overthink.
(I’m counting this book for the Self-Help category of the Nonfiction Reading Challenge.)