September 8, 2021

Emotional Paralysis: 5 Ways to Balance our Thoughts & Emotions without Falling Over.


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Have you heard of the term analysis paralysis?

I’ve been using it for years, but until 15 minutes ago I had never looked up the definition.

Analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis is “the state of overanalyzing/overthinking a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.” (Thanks Wikipedia.)

I am a little surprised that my photo isn’t next to that definition. My thoughts can run away with swift speed and used to stop me dead in my tracks.

I have an analytical mind by nature; I’m also highly intelligent and my curiosity is just as high. “Why?” has always been my favorite question. While this has led to a highly successful academic record and brought me a beautiful career inside of the world of organizational development, it has also been a pain in my ass at times.

Welcome, again, to the dialectic. Contradictions and their solutions could occupy me for…well, forever.

Interestingly enough, my ability to analyze alone is not what gets me into real trouble. What creates the paralysis is when I attach my emotions to my analysis. I am okay that there is not an analytical solution to world peace (yet). And if I start analyzing the situation, I can pull several reasons for this phenomena and can provide plenty of evidence for “why we fight.” I can even do this with skill.

Sort of. My effectiveness starts to wane as soon as I empathize with the problem—when I see starving kids in my minds eye, when I feel the pain of what it must be like to lose a child to war, when I think of the genocide that happens across the world, that’s when paralysis kicks in. It isn’t just the options that get me, it’s the effect that these choices have on people.

I call it emotional paralysis. I have been known to find myself in situations where I am the one being hurt and trying to “understand” why I am being hurt without removing myself from the situation. Rationalizing mistreatment is not uncommon by the way. The human mind tries to make sense of phenomena; if we can explain it, we can settle it. Emotions, however, aren’t at all linear and we all experience them differently.

This is especially true when the information, the experience, and the evidence don’t match up, which happens all the time. Remember the game “telephone” from childhood? Subjectivity can really confuse a situation, and quickly. I can’t tell you how many times in the last five years I have known that I was being unreasonable and yet reasonable all at the same time.

So, what do we do about it? How do we handle it when the head and the heart don’t match?

You find middle ground. You radically accept the situation as it is and not as you want it to be.

We live in a contentious world right now. The increased tension can be felt just about everywhere. Sensitive or not, the human experience is intense these days. If you are working on any sort of “improvement” process (either personally or professionally) you know what I am talking about. Looking inward when the standard is to point fingers is an interesting feat.

So, rather than get all intellectual on it, I invite you to give yourself a few days off and just let your life simmer. Release the work in favor of gentle reflection.

Here are a few specifics on how I balance my thoughts and my emotions:

  1. Instead of drawing conclusions, make observations.
  2. Notice your internal dialogue and notice the language you use with other people. When emotions get heavy, I have noticed that what I say and how I say it becomes more stressed. Internally, I attach greater meaning to your words and my own.
  3. Name the phenomenon. By recognizing that I am emotional, I can “think” before I speak and give my nervous system the opportunity to respond to my words. It is like giving myself a head start on relaxation and resolution.
  4. Validate the emotion as it exists in your system. Label it accordingly, without judgment. There is nothing wrong with being angry. There is nothing wrong with shame. They exist. The more you can align with “what is” the more you can begin to choose whether it is working for you or not.
  5. Limit the time you spend doing any of this. Get outside. Move. Phone a friend. Go see a movie. Do something you enjoy. Live your life. Today I can work steps 1-4 in less than two minutes, when it used to take so much more time—practice makes proficient.

And remember:

You are seen.

You are deserving of your emotions.

Keep moving forward friends. We are doing a great job.


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