Analysis paralysis. In other words, the inability to make a decision because you have so many choices available, and you want to make sure you choose the right option. It can affect some people when they are making a large decision in their lives and they want to make sure that they choose right- say the choice on whether to have a surgery or not- they can research the pros and cons, risks and side effects, read forums giving advice or personal experiences, and weigh up costs. At the end there might be evidence to support both sides, and the person making the decision simply can’t decide between the two options. For others it can be everything in their lives, even the small things. What to wear to work, choosing between two barely perceivable colour shades for curtains, deciding what case to put on their phone. Spending endless amounts of time making decisions and in the end not making a decision at all because you don’t want to choose wrong. We’ve all been guilty of doing this at some point, but you might be surprised at how frequently this happens when it comes to getting healthy, starting a diet, or exercising.
So why does this happen? Obviously fear of making the wrong choice and causing harm of some sort is the big one, but it can also occur when you have tied your personal identity to perfection. People who are especially hard on themselves when they make mistakes, who become really disappointed with themselves or feel useless/stupid/inadequate/like a fraud when they make a small mistake may be basing their value as a human being on being “perfect”. To clarify, this is not to say that they think they are perfect, usually the opposite. In order to counteract their insecurities they feel they must always act correctly, do the right thing, make the right choices, and when they do make a mistake, instead of counting it as a lesson for next time or acknowledging that they are only human and mistakes happen, they tend to internalize this as a reflection of their self worth as a person. “Mistakes happen” vs. “this mistake makes me a bad person”. If how you see yourself is tied so closely with how you perform in everyday life, it’s no wonder small decisions can become overwhelming, and fear of making the wrong decision can lead to no decision being made at all.
The third reason for analysis paralysis is that it is a way of tricking yourself into thinking you are making progress with something, when in fact you are procrastinating with actually getting started. You tell yourself you need to do some research on the best way to do something, and a month later you are still looking at all the possibilities without actually making any changes in your life.
This one is overwhelmingly common when it comes to dieting, because to some extent it’s done in the public eye (people notice if your lunches swap from burgers to salads), and there’s the fear of failing at a diet since the results of your success or failure is easily visible to everyone around you- you are either losing weight or you aren’t. This is especially scary if you have tried dieting before and failed…and then gained more than you started off with. So feeling unhappy with your weight, but equally (if not more) afraid of failing losing it put your mind into a state of conflict which is unpleasant. We don’t like unpleasant emotions, and our minds will search for a way to feel better. One of which is fooling ourselves into believing we are making progress but without any of the risk.
We start researching different diets, maybe read some books on dieting, look into the best ways to exercise- should be join a gym? Get a personal trainer? Should we be choosing low intensity long duration exercises or short bursts of high intensity exercise? Which burns fat more efficiently? Which super foods should we be including in our diets to fight off hunger? Should we be taking supplements? Maybe shakes are the way to go. Maybe we need to do a cooking class first so that we know how to prepare healthy meals we will like. Low carb? High carb? Is it sugar or fat we should be avoiding? What about diet pills? Hmm, there’s a new wonder diet that’s just been shown on TV, maybe we should throw out all the research we have done so far and do that diet instead. All this research makes us think we are getting closer to discovering the perfect way to lose weight, when in fact what it is doing is giving us an excuse to not get started just yet.
So you can see that things are a little more complex than “I’m going to start a diet” or “I’m going to get fit”. And the media just looooves to jump in with all the new fads that are circulating, a lot of which conflict with one another- “So on a Paleo diet I can eat brownies, a low carb diet I can eat unlimited bacon, and a low fat diet I can eat pasta?”. There’s also the incredibly deceiving catchphrases of “natural” and “healthy”- dried fruit and nuts are both, yet a small handful contains more calories than an entire meal.
How do we cut through all the mountains of information and just make a decision that will work for us and that we can stick to?
1: Change your attitude from one of losing weight to one of getting healthy, or making a lifestyle change.
This is one way to avoid your sense of self worth being tied to your physical appearance. If your goal was to make healthier choices, move more, and avoid processed unhealthy foods- you will feel so much better about yourself with each choice that you make through the week, or opportunity you find to be more physically active. You are also teaching yourself to associate pleasure with making healthy choices, rather than feeling deprived over not being allowed the unhealthy things. One clever way to reinforce this, is to consider healthy whole foods as “energy boosters” and processed unhealthy foods as “energy drainers”.
And the great thing here is that there’s no perfect plan you need to follow, you look at what you would normally do and then try and make a decision for something that is healthier instead. Biscuits at morning tea? Swap to whole fruit instead. White toast in the mornings? Go for the grainy stuff. Two sugars in your coffee? Bring it to one. Taking the lift up? Go the stairs on the way down. Making changes every day to make healthier food choices and move more is real progress, even if you aren’t doing everything completely perfectly. It’s a whole lot better than researching how to be perfect and making no actual changes at all.
2: Limit your choices.
If there are thousands of diet plans, and thousands of exercise programs, how are you supposed to know which one to choose? Well, here’s a little secret that might actually surprise you… pretty much all diets work. If the calories coming into your body through food are less than the calories being burned off through your normal body processes + physical activity, you will lose weight. Which is why there are such vocal supporters for almost any diet plan you look into. What you should be aiming for, rather than the “best” diet, is for the ones that are most similar to what you are eating now. Pick a diet that includes real food, in moderate portions, and that you could see yourself following long term. The same for exercise- find something that is at your level of fitness, and you think you would enjoy, and do that. Forget about perfect, and think about what you would be happy to continue for a year, two years, ten years. That should cut out quite a lot of the choices you have to deliberate between.
3: Remember the outcome you want, rather than the method you use to get there.
You want to have great energy levels, be able to run around with your kids, feel comfortable in your clothes, and confident in public, and actually live rather than just existing. If you have a slice of your nieces birthday cake does this mean you aren’t going to get the outcome you want and that you are a failure? Of course not! Keep your eye on the big picture, and the reasons why you want it, and don’t sweat the small stuff. If your goal is to go from a size 16 to a size 12 this year, a bump or two in the road isn’t going to make any difference as long as the majority of the time you’re doing the right thing. On bad day doesn’t mean you’ve fallen off the wagon and should just give up, every day/meal/choice is a fresh start!