Five Keys to Escaping Analysis Paralysis

Many educators play it safe. They avoid change. Maybe they feel comforted by the class structures they’ve used year after year. Maybe they value control in their classrooms, so they become wary of trying new strategies — even if they know they can be beneficial to their students. Maybe they want to be liked by their peers, so they stay silent when they have great ideas or when they need to be critical. They don’t want to rock the boat.

Fear often drives our actions because we can’t predict the outcomes of a change we’d like to make. “Analysis paralysis” is known as the act of considering every potential problem we may encounter until we never take action at all. Thus, fear keeps us from taking the chances that help us evolve.

For a while, I have had a serious case of analysis paralysis. However, after being in the same position in the same schools for seven years, the comfort is becoming uncomfortable. I need to think about next steps, but I am paralyzed because I don’t know what I should do.

Enter: ASCD L2L 2017. Attending this year’s L2L (especially the networking and planning time) has really helped me move into action. I am so thankful for support and coaching from educators that I truly admire. After reflecting on my conversations and thinking there, I have identified five ways to break out of my own personal analysis paralysis.

1. Write about it.

Taking time to write out your thoughts can be clarifying. So often we think in fragments (especially if we are parents!), or we allow our thoughts to carry us away into daydreams or distractions. We play out worse-case scenarios over and over in the movie theaters of our minds. Or we try to remember great ideas, long lost to the ebb and flow of our monkey minds.

All of these thoughts floating in our mental landscapes don’t actually make a difference in our lives though. Invisible to the tangible world, we cannot make sense of them.

Writing down our thoughts and ideas helps us make sense of them. It frees up brainpower for us to reflect and refine plans. Writing also allows us to set intentions that we are more likely to act upon. Writing could be in a journal (I really like this one), Post-Its, a Google Doc, or in a public blog like this one. The goal is to get your thoughts out of your head, so you can do something with them!

2. Talk it out with someone.

We’ve established that leaving ideas in our heads keeps us from acting upon them. Another idea for making our ideas move into reality is talking to someone about them. Trusting someone to listen and give you feedback is scary, but it also helps you gain confidence to act.

Find someone that you trust, and share an idea that’s percolating. For example, at L2L, I had a great opportunity to share some of my personalized professional development ideas with Krista Leh and Jessica Bohn (both educators you should follow, by the way). I was a little nervous at first, but they were so encouraging. They asked good questions about what I was doing, and they made me want to pursue tackling the PD models I’m creating even more. That’s the motivation many of us need to put our plans in action.

3. Test an idea on as new audience.

Hear me out on this. I find that it can be easier to lead a training at conference sometimes than with teachers in my district. It’s not that I don’t love working with them (I do!), but it is true that the relationships can obscure the quality of your ideas. Those who like you will give you great feedback. Those who don’t like you so much can give mediocre feedback. A “cold” audience can sometimes give you the best feedback.  

Perhaps you want to try a new strategy in your classroom.  Could you switch classes with a colleagues and you both could attempt to try some new things with different students? I am always teaching other people’s students as an instructional coach, and I feel like those students give me “real” feedback because we don’t have longstanding relationships.

Maybe you have an interest in providing professional development but your district doesn’t focus on your passions. I encourage you to present your ideas at a conference or an Edcamp so you can see how other educators respond to them. 

4. Find a nudger.

Once you are clear on what you want to do, find a few people who will encourage you by “nudging.” After this weekend at ASCD L2L, Allie Rodman and I have been planning a calendar of how we can be more consistent in blogging. I am also very fortunate to have Kyle Hamstra asking me about when my post will be ready, while sharing his newest posts with me. Allie and Kyle are great accountability buddies for me as a blogger, and I’d say that they are at least 50% of the reason you are reading this post! Check out their blogs (The Learning Loop and Hamstra Highlights)!

5. Don’t think. Do.

If you are familiar with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), you may have heard this idea before. Sometimes the best way to shift how we think is to stop thinking and start acting. It is so easy to daydream about all the big goals we have — and then feel resentful that we have not acted upon them. The next time that happens, decide in that moment one ACTION you can take right then that will get you closer to that goal. Trust me. I know this isn’t easy. If you need to work at it, be comforted that I am working at it too. Perhaps we could encourage one another.

Let me know what you think of these five methods for escaping “analysis paralysis.” Which one would make the biggest difference for you? What others might you add?


2 thoughts on “Five Keys to Escaping Analysis Paralysis

  1. @KyleHamstra

    Great post, Kenny! Personally, I love writing and publishing my reflections because it’s something I WANT to do, and not something that I HAVE to do. I agree with you: organizing my thoughts helps me focus. It helps me to write exactly what I’m thinking, and then I go back and backspace and re-word, but even that can become a very restricting process. I love when others respond to my reflections!
    I’m proud to be one of your nudgers, and I sincerely expect the same in return.
    Your last point especially hits home. This is the most powerful method for me. “Don’t think—DO” can be a daily wrestling match. You have to let yourself just DO, without arresting perfection.
    Well-crafted reflection, Kenny, and I’m also looking forward to your next post. Sincerely, @KyleHamstra

  2. Diane Smith

    I enjoyed this post a lot and it’s something I definitely can relate to. I was recently fortunate to have a colleague who gave me a big nudge out of my comfort zone. It was something “I didn’t think I was ready for yet” and did not have the courage to do myself. But after the fact, I was incredibly thankful that she recognized I needed the push and just did it (without asking me or talking about it first). I think we get used to pushing and encouraging students to go beyond their comfort zone and we see potential in them that they don’t often see for themselves – but we often need some help in this area ourselves! I recently found a quote that I put on my wall: Move Forward Imperfectly. It’s a reminder to not get stuck in “analysis paralysis” and sometimes just do it – even if it’s “not ready” or “not perfect”. It’s so important to have “nudger-people” around us who can keep us accountable to that! Thanks for sharing your reflections!


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