Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Is Depression Causing You to Have an Analysis Paralysis?

Depression robs you of motivation, slows your thinking, impairs your concentration, and makes you indecisive. Thus, when it comes to putting things into action, your depression can make you go into a state of analysis paralysis wherein you cannot decide on how to implement your plan. 

Common attributes of analysis paralysis are:

  • You work on solutions to a problem but are overwhelmed by the available options.
  • You feel you don’t have the “perfect” solution to a problem.
  • You are afraid of picking up the “wrong” solution.
  • You overthink about the possible solutions and believe that the problem is too complicated.
  • You are afraid that you don’t have all the facts to make a decision.

You may never have all the facts and there would always be unknown factors that may impact your decisions. A well-written action plan will help you tide over this analysis paralysis and shift you from an analytic to an action mode. An example of an action plan is in the table below.

Action Steps
Potential Barriers
Measures of Implementation
“SMART” goal:
What steps must be taken to implement the goal?
What specific supports are needed to implement the action steps?
What problems would I run into with the action steps (time, cost, scope)?
How would I know that I have succeeded in my action steps?
By when will I complete the action steps?

Crucial to developing a successful action plan is to first arrive at “SMART” goals. SMART goals are:

Specific: Goals must clearly tell you what you are going to do. 

Measurable: You should be able to measure your goals. If you can’t, then you wouldn’t know if you have successfully achieved them. Your action steps toward the goals should also be measurable.

Attainable: Your goals should be realistic and attainable by you. Ideal goals are neither too easy and nor too hard to achieve. They require you to stretch a bit to achieve them and this stretch is the challenge that kicks in your intrinsic motivation, the drive, to keep pursuing your goals.

Relevant: Your goals must fit in the bigger scheme of your plan or life goals.

Time-bound: Your goals should have a start date, a finish date, and dates for achieving key milestones. 

When it comes to self-management of depression, the most important element of a “SMART” goal is the “R” – how the goal is relevant to your current life circumstances. If you choose a goal that is not relevant to your values or interests, then completing such a goal is unlikely to bring about a lasting change in your subjective sense of well-being. An example of a SMART goal is: “By January 1, I will implement an exercise program that will include 20 minutes a day of aerobic exercise (on the treadmill) for one day a week for one week, then 20 minutes of aerobic exercise for two days a week for another week, and then 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three days a week. By January 22, I will be exercising for 20 minutes three days a week.” This goal breaks down the bigger goal of starting an exercise routine into smaller achievable action steps, is measurable by way of duration and frequency, has a start and a finish date, and is relevant to your overarching goal of self-management of depression. Besides having SMART goals, it is important to have a manageable list of action steps. Having too many items in action steps may foster procrastination as it takes away your focus from the most crucial things on that list. Anything that can be done in less than five minutes – just do it! If you want help from other people, list that under the “resources” column. If any task can be delegated to others, then do so.

A lot of times well-crafted actions plans may not deliver because you did not factor in the potential barriers or constraints associated with the plan. Borrowing from the literature on Project Management, potential barriers can be divided into the triple constraints of time, cost, and scope.

Time constraint: You have to set a realistic time frame for completing your action plan, breaking it down to the time it takes for each action step to complete and also allow yourself some additional time if you envisage any barriers. For example, if you have to find time between your busy work schedule and doing household chores to add an exercise routine, then choose only those times of the day or days of the week when you can commit to finding time to exercise. If you wake up at 8 A.M. every day, then having a goal of waking up early to find time to exercise may not work.

Cost constraint: Your action plan must have a finite budget. You have to factor in the cost of all the resources you need to make your action plan work. For example, if you need to buy an exercise equipment or get a gym membership, then explore the options you have before you commit to a strategy.

Scope constraint: Stated in simple terms, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Scope refers to the overarching goal of the action plan and also the quality of the end product you are hoping to get with your action plan. For example, you begin your new exercise routine with 30 minutes of vigorous exercise every day, but if your body is not conditioned to such a routine, then you will feel exhausted the first time you do it and later feel frustrated that you were unable to stick with your new action plan. Therefore, consider your limitations before you define the goals for the action plan.

To learn more about evidence-based self-management techniques that are proven to work for depression, check out Dr. Duggal's Author Page.


Written by a board-certified psychiatrist and an international expert on self-management of depression, this blog focuses on proven scientific methods of treating depression that go beyond medications and traditional therapy. It discusses elements of healthy lifestyle, positive psychology, relationships, values, strengths, communication, and wellness. The content of the blog is not to be construed as treatment advice.

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