Of course you should spend a little time thinking about a new idea before you begin. But when overthinking and over-planning drags on for so long that your project isn’t going anywhere, you’ve sunk deep into analysis paralysis and you need a little push out of the muck.
Cara lays out some easy ways to recognize when you’re stuck in this planning state and offers strategies to get you up and moving.
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Welcome to the Cara Brookins Show, where you’ll find all the tools you need to get unstuck and build a better life. I know what it feels like to need a friend to talk you through the hard stuff. From cleaning off your desk, to building a new desk, or even rebuilding your entire life from scratch, I’ll be here with you for every step. Let’s get moving and build exactly the life you want.
I make a lot of friends on planes and in airports, in fact, maybe that’s where I met you. If not, then there’s a good chance our turn to share in-flight pretzels just hasn’t popped up yet. Now that the world is starting to step onto planes again, make sure you look for me in the seat next to you. I probably have a book in my hand, but I’ll put it down for a great convo.
Meeting new people is one of the things I missed most during COVID. So, it’s probably no surprise that on one of my first business flights after the covid lock down I had a great convo with a new friend. which is, I guess, proof that masks don’t stop us from making real human connections and friendships. That’s good news for everyone.
Well, on this flight, I met a woman named Madison who told me she was writing a screenplay. (A screenplay is just the industry name for a movie script. Madison wanted to write a movie) This was pretty exciting to me, and it really sounded like Madison wasn’t playing at it either. There wasn’t this ‘someday’ glint in her eye when she talked about it. You know what I mean.
Sometimes our projects feel so far ‘out there’ that they’re more of a Pixar animation in our mind than a thing we can feel as our actual someday reality.
Not Madison. She outlined all the steps she’d started with. And they were strong. First, and most importantly, she had a GREAT idea for a movie. Something that could be a real blockbuster. Next she’d read the right books about turning that idea into a screenplay. She found a Facebook group of people who wanted to do the same thing. She took a class on writing. She enrolled in an online masterclass about screenplays.
There’s more. But you get the idea. She did her research and she set herself up for success. But then, she did more research. And then a little more. She planned in even more detail. And then more. And—
Well, did you know there’s such a thing as too much research? Too much planning? Too much thinking over every little thing that might go into a project, until you feel so overwhelmed with the possibilities that you end up doing: nothing. at. all.
It’s true. And it has a name. This is called Analysis Paralysis. When you spend so much time and energy researching a thing, that you become too paralyzed to actually do the thing. It happened to Madison. It’s happened to me. And it’s happened to you before too.
There’s a really obvious reason we over analyze things. And better, there are several easy ways to recognize and overcome this bad habit. Because while it’s normal to spend a little time thinking about a new idea before you begin, and it’s normal to make some plans, it’s not helpful in any way at all to do it to a level that stops you .
Here’s an example of how far into Analysis Paralysis Madison had sunk. She had a file about movie directors. Because she was trying to figure out which director would be best for film? She’d watched movies by all the directors in her file. Producers? She’d researched them too. And she’d check into cases where a smaller studio might be better than a larger one?
Which actors would be cast in each roll in her movie? She had a file for that! Where would it be filmed? Did she need an agent? Which agent should she go for if she decides she needs one? And, here’s my all time favorite, preparing her family to re-locate everyone to LA after her film career takes off. She had a realtor picked out for her house.
Now. Just to be clear. The problem with this thinking is NOT the optimism. I 100% believe in planning for wild success. Because success doesn’t happen by accident. You have to set it up.
And putting a few of these things on a vision board is also a-ok. You’re not going to hit a goal you don’t set. So set these big goals. Big goals are not the problem.
The problem with all of this is a lot more simple. It’s all the way back to the basics of taking action. When I asked Madison which version of her screenplay she was working on, she looked a little confused. Then she said: The first version.
I was almost afraid to ask the next question. But I did anyhow.
What page are you on?
Well, she said, I’ve planned out every detail, and I have an outline written. But the rest is all up here. She tapped her head.
And that’s when I knew she was in a load of trouble. Here’s why.
Because for more than a year, she hd spent a whole lot of brain power planning for things that she couldn’t possibly know enough about to plan well. The producers, cast, and her possible move to LA, didn’t matter at all until she had a thick ream of paper in her hand with her screenplay on it. And you know what that meant?
It meant she was putting her time and energy into the wrong thing at the wrong time. The wrong target at the wrong time.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know there’s a phase of every single project, where it’s all up here in your head. When it’s a beautiful, glorious plan in your head. And I know too that you really can see every single detail clearly. That’s an amazing thing we humans can do. And it’s important. No, it’s actually VITAL to every project that you do this.
But that stage of the project should be short. Super short. Because seeing the project in your head, is not the same as doing the project. If that phase stretches long, you slip into analysis paralysis.
You’ve heard me say before that you really won’t know how to do the thing until you do the thing. You also really won’t have any way of making reasonable decisions about later stages of the project until you do the early stages of the project. For example, you shouldn’t be researching directors, if you’ve never written a directors note.
We’ve all gone down this path with our projects before. Including me, so I get it. Let’s first understand why it’s happening, and then I’ll give you a tip to use so you can have a clear idea of when to stop analyzing and start doing—before you get to the paralysis part.
There’s a bunch of stuff happening in your head when you have a new project idea.
If you remember a couple weeks ago in episode seven we talked about what happens in your brain when you come up with a new idea. If you haven’t listened to that episode be sure to check it out later, it’s called When Your Big Idea Can’t Happen Yet.
The basic idea though is that a new idea kind of sets a little fire in a spot in your brain with neurons lighting up, and if you think if it like this you can imagine that it heats up the areas around that idea fire until it sets more little fires and then they light up. Very quickly you end up with this area in your brain that branches out with all of these new ideas all sprouting from that original idea. So imagine this looks like burning tree.
With each new time that you thought, “Oh, and then I could do THIS” being a new branch on the tree as you brainstorm all the . Make sense? Ideas are fiery energy. They’re exciting. And they set off a chain reaction of new ideas. It’s easy to get caught up in that excitement and let it keep burning into new branches.
Ok. So of course when Madison had the idea to write a screenplay—but she knew very little about it, she went through this cycle of learning more. Her brain kept lighting up with all these new branches of her idea tree. That’s productive and smart. But where things went wrong was when she crossed over a line of putting time and energy into things that don’t matter RIGHT NOW.
That’s super important. Putting time and energy into things that don’t matter RIGHT NOW.
. . .
I want you to stop and think for a minute about how great it would feel if you could have an idea for a project and then easily just start doing it. Pick up the pen or the hammer. Build the website or hang a sign over your door. Just get moving and do it.
Why is that so hard, just taking that first step? Why do we end up so paralyzed that most of our ideas land in the “someday” folder.
That’s what my free “Get Unstuck” Challenge is all about.
I’ve done a lot of things in my life that are really big. I’ve published eight books, built a career writing software, a public speaking business, and I built an entire house with my kids by watching YouTube videos.
But this challenge right here, this is one of the most important things I’m doing. Because I know how frustrating it is to really want a better life. To maybe even have an exact idea of what you want to do. And to just feel too stuck or too burned out to get there.
And I know too that it’s possible for you to do what I did. To overcome that feeling of being stuck. It’s 100% possible for you to overcome that stuck feeling and to build exactly the life you want.
I’ll take you step by step with a series of four video challenges. And at the end you’ll be ready to finally get started on your big project.
Go to Cara Brookins.com and click on “get unstuck” to sign up for this free Get Unstuck challenge.
. . .
It isn’t that the things Madison was researching and learning were irrelevant to writing a screenplay. She may actually need to know those things. But they were things that weren’t relevant RIGHT NOW. And while that might seem like a subtle difference, it’s important for two reasons.
First, because in order to do real meaningful research on some of these topics, she had to know a whole lot more about her screenplay. And the only way she could find those answers was to write the screenplay.
The same is true if you’re, let’s say you’re launching a new program at the office, applying for a new position, buying a new oven, or releasing a brand new menu for your restaurant.
There is a point where you have to stop planning and just step out and begin DOING THE THING. That doesn’t mean you quit planning completely. It means you will continue setting up your plan for the next steps AS you work. From the moment you take your first step, your action and planning go hand in hand and fuel each other.
The second reason you need to make sure your planning steps are relevant RIGHT NOW—is the most important reason in my opinion—It’s because the energy that shows up with a new idea is only with you for a short time. It’s like any flame that burns hot, it also burns out really quickly. Our brains are designed to produce this energy spurt and to help create an energy spurt in our bodies too, so we have everything we need to launch us into the project. You’ve felt this.
It’s why a new project feels so good. It’s why we feel energized and excited about a new project. We feel restless. Wiggling in our seats even. Because we’re ready to go. And that’s exactly what we should do. GO. Start the project.
Our early enthusiasm, motivation and energy is meant to be spent doing the project, not fueling an endless cycle of planning.
Because if your projects are as big and life changing as they should be, they’re also going to be hard. And doing hard things takes energy and motivation. So we don’t want to waste or misdirect any of that precious energy.
I talk a whole lot more about how to plan and how to avoid over-planning in my Build Something course. I take you through everything by video, on how to start and finish a big project, and the planning section in that course is all about how to set this first and most important part of your project up right. So make sure you check it out.
Now that you understand the basics though about how you get stuck in this analysis phase because it’s a hot and exciting fire, let’s talk about one of the big reasons you stay in that heat. It’s going to sting a little. Truth hurts.
We stay in our planning stage, because planning tricks us into feeling like it’s action—but without having to take the risk of doing the thing. And our brain will take the easy way out any time we let it. The bad news is, the easy way out doesn’t get you to your goal. Ever.
As long as you stay stuck in the planning stage, then you hold yourself in this automatically upbeat space where all that your planning feels like it’s going to just come true. Like the complete screenplay, the new restaurant, the paycheck, the promotion. And all the other details you imagined down all the branches of your planning idea tree.
This feels safe. Because planning can’t fail. As long as it’s a plan. It’s planned as a success.
But the second you step out and START the project, the branch could Snap. You could fail. And then the whole tree will tumble down. Timber.
What I’m saying is that one of the reasons we get stuck in analysis paralysis is because we’re afraid. And I get it. Doing new things is scary. Failure feels bad. I know all that. But after I tell you this next part, you’ll be a lot more afraid of staying stuck than you are of trying.
Because the end result of analysis paralysis is also failure. You can’t stay stuck there forever in a pretend land of ‘someday I’ll start and finish this’. Your brain and body won’t let you. Your brain just plain isn’t designed to stay in that state.
What happens when you stay in that research and planning state for two long? Well that flaming tree only has so much fuel. So it burns out. Your energy and enthusiasm for the project burns out. We’ve all had this happen to. You’ve had an idea that you started planning and were super excited about but then eventually it faded away. And even if you tell yourself you’ll revive it someday, there’s almost no chance you really will. That idea died in the planning stage. More specifically, that idea died FROM the planning stage.
And when you think about it that way, it’s a much bigger and sadder failure to have a project burn out before you even finish planning it. I’d rather give a great new idea a try and fall flat on my face than never give it a shot at all. And I bet you would too. So how do we do that. How do we recognize where it’s time to stop planning and start doing? It’s actually pretty easy.
What you do, is you keep checking in with yourself by asking yourself this one question:
Do I know enough to start.
That’s it. Do I know enough to start?
Ask it every day. Or at the very least at really short intervals that are milestones in your research and planning process. If you’re working with a team or even with one other person, then set up a system where you regularly ask each other this question: Do I know enough to start.
And when the answer is YES. Then you start.
And remember you don’t have to know how you’re going to do step 7 or 27 or 707 in order to do step one.
When you know how to do step one. Do step one.
This doesn’t mean that your planning and research is finished. It means that you’ll be doing more informed planning as you go because you’ll understand a lot more about the process. It means instead of wasting your time planning out along a dozen POSSIBLE branches of your tree, you’ll be planning down the branch you’re actually traveling. And you know what that means?
It means a lot more energy, motivation, and enthusiasm is directed exactly where it needs to go. It means your project will start sooner, when you’re still in those early and excited phases of the idea. And that means it’s more likely to be successful.
Back to Madison and her screenplay. When should she have moved from her planning and research stage to her first step in order to avoid analysis paralysis?
Well, it was perfectly legit for her to do her outlining, read the books, take the classes. And then she should have gotten really serious about the writing. And when she had a moment of feeling stuck or needing a break, or she was between drafts on her writing, then she could continue learning about the film industry, including trying to figure out which directors and producers would fit for her. Maybe even reaching out to an agent after she had a sample of writing.
But the main focus once she started writing, THAT action should be her main focus, until she reached the end. And guess what Madison is doing now? She’s writing. And she’s writing quickly. Already she can see that a lot of the research she did would have been improved if she had started the writing earlier.
The default move for every stage of your project is action. So anytime you feel stuck or standing still too long, look for the next action step that you can take right now. This is true for every stage, but we especially get stuck in this planning stage.
Just ask yourself: Do I know enough to start?
And when the answer is YES. Then you start.
There is literally no downside to this. To learning how to recognize when you’re stuck in analysis paralysis and in getting yourself out of that.
You are ready for this. And you can absolutely do it. You’re ready to have a real working project instead of an eternal project in the works. And the steps to get you there are really simple.
Imagine how it will feel to move seamlessly—and also fearlessly—through your project from idea to planning and then right into action on step one. It will feel how it’s supposed to feel. That’s how it will feel. Because this is how your mind is set up to pull you through the stages of every project, and now you know exactly how to tap into that.
I think that’s enough on this topic, any more and we’ll be over analyzing. Go get yourself unstuck.
Thanks for hanging out with me today, head over to carabrookins.com for more (free) tools, and we should connect on social media too. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast.