Posted by: nieophyte | March 1, 2008

Analysis Paralysis

This week I read this great little article in the NYTimes about what I call “analysis paralysis” or, the inability to move to action in the face of numerous options. Here’s what they said.

Most people can’t make such a painful choice, not even the students at a bastion of rationality like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Dr. Ariely is a professor of behavioral economics. In a series of experiments, hundreds of students could not bear to let their options vanish, even though it was obviously a dumb strategy (and they weren’t even asked to burn anything).

The experiments involved a game that eliminated the excuses we usually have for refusing to let go. In the real world, we can always tell ourselves that it’s good to keep options open.

The article makes an interesting point. We often herald America as the land of opportunity, but for some, perhaps there is too much? Too many places to go, too many job offers to consider, too many social networking sites, churches, businesses, toothpaste brands, coffee flavors, kinds of beer (though I think many of our esteemed writers would argue there are never too many types of beer). What has all of this “opportunity” done to us?

It has made us a bunch of fearful, regretful, annoying, hand-wringing, hem-hawing, indecisive worry warts. I know, because I am just such a person.

Friends, we have walked together now for quite some time. (When did this blog start? I have no idea.) Very soon, I will be calling on you all for prayer as I start making some huge decisions about where to take my life next. But I can’t give you any details because I have no idea what I’m supposed to do, or where I’m supposed to go! The options are too many. Every decision I think I’ve made unravels as 20 other options surface, leaving me like a deer caught in the headlights. I have succumbed to analysis paralysis.

I wonder how I am supposed to approach this as a Christian. Raised Charismatic, I’ve been prone to doing the whole, open the Bible and read for a sign thing. Pray, point your finger and go wherever the words tell you to go. But that’s just not going to cut it anymore.

I covet your advice, friends. How have you gone about making big huge life decisions about jobs, ministry, relationships, moves, marriage? How has God directed your steps? I hope that through your testimonies, my faith will rise from hearing and pull me out of my paralysis and towards action that draws me nearer to the purpose God has for me.

love, nieophyte.



  1. Wish life was easier Nieophyte, but yeah. when we’ve gone past ‘survival’ and gone into ‘finding meaning and fulfillment’ our decisions get a little more complicated, unfortunately. but yeah, perhaps there’s something to closing doors. you know what you don’t want to be.

    will do my best to remember you in my prayers.

  2. dude this post speaks to everyone i know. thank you for writing it.

    when i look at my dad, i wonder how he overcame so many challenges to be who/where he is now. and i used to think that since i have more opportunities, it’s really pathetic that i can’t even decide on a career, let alone get a job. but really, having so many choices is a challenge in itself. if our path is chosen for us, it’s so much easier to just walk it even in adversity. when we choose our own path, we’re to blame for failure if it doesn’t work out in the end, not to mention all the opportunities we lost from not doing any of the other million things we could have done.

    so really i believe that we will be the better for it once we mature and set ourselves on something. and by we i mean i… unless it is we… whatever this decision is, i’d say follow your heart and then don’t think about it anymore.

  3. I’ve advised people to, at some point, stop building the resume and start having a career. Of course, I have yet to take my own advice.

    There is an element of knowing that with each decision we’re making, we suffer the opportunity cost of many other decisions not made. Each human life is, in the end, a single story.

    But because we never know what the future holds, I’ve found that overthinking the consequences of our decisions is… overrated. And under-informed.

    Sadly, one of the most important decisions I made (to spend my first law school summer in India instead of working for a judge or an American legal job) was made with painful fence-riding, much prayer but little trust. When I did decide yes, all I can say is that I instantly knew it was the right decision, almost to an “of course, DUH” extent when previously I was so torn.

    The best advice I ever heard, one given to me by my first small group leader ever, was this: it’s not actually about what we end up deciding, but with what heart and intention we make our decision. If our intention is to honor God and seek to be found in the center of His will, and that leads us one way more than the other, then even if we’re “wrong”, is there really any room for regret?

  4. you are my hero.
    oh wait. no. i take that back. that’s too dramatic and does not do nuanced justice as to what this entry speaks at.

    you know how there are times in life when you’re thinking something and NO ONE seems to quite be able to articulate exactly what you’re unintelligibly thinking including yourself.

    and then sometimes u get lucky enough to run into someone who does it for you and it’s like that “I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN!!!” feeling?

    so. yea. nieophyte. i kno exactly what you mean. i have no friggin clue what the heck my problem is. but you’ve begun to frame it for me a little bit here.

    i think i’m done thinking. i’m gonna start deciding IN FAITH. crazy. scary. and it’s about time.

  5. […] So, in light of neophyte’s most excellent post a few days ago, a few of the authors here were talking about how familiar the topic was and how we […]

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