It’s hard to write about bad things in your life, but I was recently diagnosed with a condition that has passed through at least three generations of my family, from my grandfather, to my dad, and now to me. It’s a paralyzing disease that attacks the brain and central nervous system and can ruin your entire life and even kill you if left untreated.
I’ve actually known there was something “wrong” for some time now, we all have, it’s symptoms were the topic of many family jokes in the past, much like poking fun at grandma for being forgetful when it’s Alzheimer’s causing it. We really didn’t know what it was, but an actual diagnosis of a problem can snap you back to reality from the dream world you try to put yourself in whenever there is a problem, instead of dealing with it.
This hereditary disease is called Analysis Paralysis, and it’s scary because I’ve watched it suck the life out of us all. It’s cost us our lives, money, family, opportunities, it will ruin you if you don’t get help soon enough. Analysis Paralysis, AP, as I’m going to call it now, is the condition where you over analyze everything to the point to where its too hard of a decision to make, so you end up not making one at all and do nothing.
My grandfather was a great man, I have more respect for him than he ever knew, but he was the first of our family with AP that I’m aware of. Just in financial dealings alone, I know of it costing him millions where he had opportunities, and the ability to seize them, but he sat on his hands in fear and uncertainty. He fortunately was lucky enough to prosper, in ‘spite of’ his decisions, instead of ‘because of’ his decisions, but in some ways it was AP that even killed him, it sure made his last few years on earth a living hell. As Forrest Gump said “that’s all I have to say about that.” Miss you Ganky.
My dad and I haven’t been as fortunate in the type of opportunity decisions, or luck, that my granddad had, but AP has had it’s grips on both our lives and I think it has had a more pronounced effect because of that. Take for instance the decision, need, want, whatever, to buy a widget, doesn’t matter if that widget is a $100 gadget or a car. Those afflicted with AP will decide they want the widget, then do research on it, this is where the internet has made it even worse because there is so much info out there from the manufacturers, retailers, users doing product reviews on blogs and video unboxings on YouTube, there isn’t anything you can’t learn about the widget. So you dive in to every minutia of the widget, how much it costs, weighs, how many buttons is has, options, what’s different between it and other models above and below it, other similar brands, where to buy it, there’s just so much you can learn about the widget in our digital information age, you can almost own it without every actually owning it.
What inevitably happens is the $100 widget is no longer good enough, because for just a few dollars more you can upgrade to one with more bells and whistles and weighs 12 grams less, plus it’s metal instead of plastic, so it’s “only” $50 more, then the whole process starts over again, until you find the one that’s titanium instead of steel, and it’s “only” $85 more. Then you find the carbon fiber one by another brand, so you not only have to study the upgraded features from the lower models, but what’s different about everything else, the new company, and where you can buy this model since it’s not carried by the original vendor, oh and it’s “only $115 more than the other. Then you think “Holy crap! This thing is $350!! I can’t spend that much on this widget!” So you start back over trying to pare down the things that you “really don’t need” in the higher tier widget, but you look at that $100 one you started off wanting, even though it’s in your price range and did what you wanted it to, and think “there’s no way I want that piece of crap, it’s made of plastic…” At this point my head is usually about to explode from all the information and attempts to decide which one of the widgets to get, so I close the computer and go run or do something to take my mind off it. Sometimes it’s later that day I look at widgets again, sometimes it’s months or years and now newer models have replaced all the ones you researched so it starts over yet again…
The tough part is when the widget isn’t something tangible, but still something real and actually necessary, like a job, getting fit/losing weight, getting married/divorced, buying a house, having a baby, etc, something that REALLY matters, where a “wrong” decision will stick with you for many years. AP can keep you oppressed in a job you’re only doing to get by until something else “comes along,” with a spouse you don’t love or doesn’t love you, stay 100 pounds overweight for so long that friends and doctors have given up on telling you you’ve got to do something because you waddled in joking about how much you ate on a cruise the week before. This is how AP kills you, because it sucks every bit of LIFE from you. You stay unhappy, you stay at that job or with that spouse, you waste hours and days thinking about it or researching different paths to take, your family suffers because you’re not happy and it becomes infectious so your family isn’t happy, you’re not able to take those vacations because you’re stressed and can’t afford them, and worse, they wouldn’t want to go with you if you did because no one wants to be around you.
I just finished reading an ebook, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, you may know him from Gates of Fire, Tides of War, and Last of the Amazons, or a popular movie made from his novel, Legend Of Bagger Vance, The, filmed in and around my hometown of Savannah, GA. In The War of Art he describes this opposing, ever present force called Resistance, that we must overcome in order to truly become who we are supposed to be and do what we are supposed to do, that we aren’t born blank canvases with the ability to “be all that we can be” at anything, but that we are destined to be good at something. We have to overcome Resistance in order to find out what it is we are destined to do. He uses the analogy that anyone with kids, especially multiples or even identical twins constituted of the same genetic material, raised in the same environment, having the same external forces acting on them, yet have completely different personalities, interests and outcomes in life. Our fear feeds this Resistance and keeps us at that comfy job we hate, or with that spouse that doesn’t love us back. It keeps us from writing that book, starting that company, or inventing that new widget for others to research and obsess over.
I have two analogies in my personal life where someone tried to teach me this. The first was a college professor 20+ years ago when I was a scholarship student in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, NROTC. In our Intro to Naval Science class, when discussing leadership, Lt Gill told us that as officers, we must “Make a decision! Right or wrong, make a decision and live with it. Indecision is just as bad as making the wrong one, so the only way to ever get it right is to do SOMETHING!” When men’s lives are on the line, no decision is just as bad as a wrong decision. Years later my dad and I decided to take up flying and get our private pilot’s license. We ended up at a small airport in Claxton, GA, Fruitcake Capitol of the World, with an older gentleman as an instructor. Being out in the country flying, we had the opportunity to do things we couldn’t have done near a bigger airport in Savannah, like chop the power and letting the plane fly INCREDIBLY close to the ground right after takeoff, when we hadn’t even been training for 10 hours. His instructions were to “fly the damn plane.” Sounds stupidly simple right? Fly the damn plane, isn’t that what we were here for? What he meant was, even though we had read and discussed all kinds of things on the ground like where to fly, how high to fly, what direction to fly, how to talk on the radio, navigation, weather, etc, but if you lose power on takeoff, so low to the ground and moving slow, your sole responsibility is to “fly the damn plane.” This is where the decision to overcome Resistance comes in because even if you’re turning, and really low, you have to make the decision to do something that seems so incredibly stupid to non-pilots, and <10 hour pilots, but you have to lower the nose towards the ground in order to gain whatever airspeed is indicated for that particular plane, each plane has it’s own, and “fly the damn plane.” Failure to lower the nose when you’ve lost power, will result in a stall and you’ll fall like Icarus to the ground wherever you are, uncontrolled and likely not where or how you want to be. Lower it too much and you’ll drop too fast and not have enough time or altitude to make it to a possible field or road nearby. So pushing the nose over to gain the right airspeed gave you the best glide ratio to go the farthest distance and give you the most time to scan and decide the best place to land, no matter how high you were. There is no time to check charts, talk to a tower, make turns to find the “best” place, grab binoculars and check the field to see how soft it is or if there are animals in it, you make the decision and live with it because indecision will get you in a crumpled heap in the tops of south Georgia pine trees.
When I was recently diagnosed with AP, it was a smack in the face, like hitting a brick wall. I only hope that it was hard enough to truly wake me up and realize that AP and fear of overcoming Resistance is going to ruin my life unless I do something about it and cure myself, much like Charlie Sheen “cured his drug addiction with his brain.” #Winning! Looking back, there have been so many places that Resistance kept me where I thought I was comfortable, warm and cozy but in an itchy wool blanket because it seemed better than freezing in the cold of taking a chance and finding and following a passion, or buying the right widget instead of wasting so many hours and days only to end up not getting it anyway. How much of your life do you give up on such absurd, useless tripe, much less important decisions. One of my mentors Amanda Tinney, recently wrote a short post about John Lasseter wearing Hawaiian shirts daily. Hawaiian shirts are almost his uniform, because it’s one less decision he has to make every day, and as chief creative officer at Pixar and Disney, he figures there are far more important things he needs to think about each day than what to where. There is almost a parody of this in a past episode of Big Bang Theory, Sheldon uses Dungeons and Dragons dice to make “trivial decisions with the throw of the dice” freeing up his mind to do more important things. It doesn’t always work out for him when the dice never decide to let him go to the bathroom among other things.
If you haven’t read my post on setting goals, go do so after you finish this, overcoming Resistance and goal setting go hand in hand with having the best life you can. Choose who and what you want to be, set a goal, make a plan, make a decision, fly the damn plane!
Do you have Analysis Paralysis or show symptoms of it? Better yet, did you have it and have you “cured it with your brain?” #Winning! I’d love to hear about it, and if there’s someone you know that is suffering from AP, please share this post with them, you may save their life.