Friday, December 28, 2007

Analysis Paralysis

I am an avid maker of New Year’s resolutions. I love to sit down and figure out the very heart of the reasons I haven’t quite lived up to my potential, every year. When I look back on each year, I’m usually surprised at how much change has happened, and all of the various things I’ve managed to deal with and put energy into, but no matter what, there’s a sense of “I’ll do better next year.”

Lately though, my point of view is changing. I’m more content with having done enough each year, and what used to be a very self critical process is more optimistic and hopeful. Mainly, I’ve come to see the whole analytical process as an elaborate avoidance tactic. This effort to figure out the perfect solution to the struggles inherent in existing is paralyzing, at least to me. Introverts have a tendency to think things over for a long time before responding. I recognize the value in thoughtful, considered responses, but too often I see myself running out of energy before I come to action. I have notebooks full of great ideas – unused.

My new challenge is to see when I’m avoiding something by overanalyzing or trying to make it perfect, and then to let go.

I see others stuck in the same trap – folks who don’t begin exercising because they want to know the perfect exercise first. The perfect workout is the one you’ll actually do.

Nutritional advice, especially health claims on highly processed foods, calls up a similar tendency: “These cookies say they contain calcium and zero grams of trans fats. That sounds healthy. I’ll take 2 boxes.” Like a magician misdirecting the audience’s attention, highlighting the minutia distracts from the big picture. In the big picture, if you want a healthy choice, get the hell out of the cookie aisle and head to produce!

My favorite nutritional advice that cuts through over-analysis paralysis and this cheap illusion of analysis comes from Marion Nestle and Michael Pollan:

-Eat less, eat mostly plants. Move more.
-Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food
-If a product has health claims on it, it’s probably not healthy.

My favorite healthy eating practice is to just try to put together the most colorful plate of whole foods I can. It feels much more like a joyful self expression than a disciplined and oppressive health regime.

It seems to come down to living in reality, to the best of our ability. Our information is incomplete, our perceptions are distorted, but we can be sensible, and that doesn’t have to be complicated.