When your friends tell you to "stop thinking so much"

Go with your gut if it’s the only move. But if you have time, can get the right information, and can compare positive tradeoffs, you should.

“Stop thinking so much and listen to your heart.” I heard this said in a Netflix show last night, but it’s advice we hear in real life often. Thinking “too much” is often considered a problem, and it’s seen as especially problematic when that thinking is coupled with indecision. Why go back and forth between options over and over? You’re getting nowhere! Just follow your gut!

Just because we can’t settle on a choice doesn’t mean we’re thinking too much. Oftentimes, we get stuck because we’re thinking about the wrong things, and more thinking – not less – could increase our chances of getting to the best outcome.

If you’re grappling with a decision that you can’t stop thinking about, one rich with analysis paralysis, consider doing the following before following your heart:

  • Gather more information. Sometimes we’re stuck in a decision because we think we have all the information we need when we really don’t. This happens a lot because assuming we know enough is a well-researched naturally human bias (behavioral economists call this bias “WYSIATI” for “What You See Is All There Is To See”). Instead of focusing on what you already know, pretend for a moment that you know nothing, then ask yourself what you need to know that you don’t. Sometimes the right information is all you need to get unstuck and make a solid rational decision.

  • Get clear on your endgame. Sometimes decisions feel tough because we don’t know what kind of outcome we’re shooting for. If you don’t know what you want out of a job, a partner, a house, or out of life in general, then you can’t make the choices that get you as close to that ideal outcome as possible. So, set your options aside for a moment as if they don’t matter, and ask yourself, “What outcome am I striving for?” Sometimes that can be enough to get you to the best decision.

  • Compare the positive trade-offs. Analysis paralysis is often a symptom of evaluating just the cons and not the pros. It’s not fun thinking about worst-case scenarios, and if that’s all you’re looking at, then you’re really just setting yourself up to choose between doom and doom. Try looking at the positives of your options too. Think the benefits of each option and not just the drawbacks. This will fill you with less dread and make you more comfortable with using your head to get the best results.

When you’re stuck in analysis paralysis, you’re mired in uncertainty, and uncertainty sucks. The desire to end that uncertainty is intense, so we opt for following our hearts, because our hearts can sound pretty loud and clear. But loud and clear isn’t always right.

Go with your gut only if it’s the only move – if there isn’t enough time to think, for example, or if the right information is totally out of reach. But if you have the time, and you can get the information, and you can frame your decision so that it gets you closer to your desired endgame, then why risk not thinking? I mean… it’s worth a shot.