Dan Burns is a professional sports photographer. To pay the bills though, he shoots “anything that moves,” from dance rehearsals and polo matches to brown bears and pro football games. Based in Connecticut, Dan is an “in-the-trenches” kind of guy who also teaches workshops for Audubon groups and Wounded Warriors. So you can imagine that 30 years of experience brings a pocketful of insights, like this one: “Many people are afraid to fail,” he shared last week over the phone. “They suffer from paralysis by analysis.” As Dan elaborated, I realized that paralysis by analysis is an action-killer for photographers, doctors, gardeners–you name it.
Paralysis by analysis is where you don’t take any action due to over-thinking about details or over-planning. “People end up frozen in a panic, unable to move forward,” Dan says. “They might bring their camera to a workshop, but they don’t take many pictures.”
Beginners often suffer from paralysis by analysis. Beginning gardeners, for example, might experience thoughts like these: What if my soil’s not right? What if my carrot seeds don’t come up? What if the dog gets into the daffodil beds? So let’s pick on gardeners for a bit (I can do that, since I too, am a gardener, so long as the weather here in Kodiak permits me to do so).
How to de-fuse analysis paralysis
Planning certainly helps when we start a new project but it shouldn’t go to the extent that it overwhelms us to the point where we fail to make a decision and take action; or give up part way through. Take this broad-based example: The hottest trend continues to be “grow your own” and organically (if possible), which is fueled by:
- Economic conditions
- The desire for better flavor
- Increased nutrition
- Food safety concerns
Seed retailers are noticing the heightened concern with nutrition among home gardeners. Evidence of this trend is found in the pages of 2012 seed catalogs where item descriptions feature levels of vitamins and other nutrients. So while the number of gardeners in the U.S. continues to rise, I’ll bet quite a few of them won’t be back after their first year. Most of them probably found vegetable gardening too much work or they felt overwhelmed as the season unfolded. Or they never even planted a seed.
In order to help gardeners overcome Analysis Paralysis, I’ve generated a list of tips to encourage folks to take action and reach for a trowel. Even if you’re NOT a gardener, I think you’ll find these tips enlightening:
Seven ways to beat analysis paralysis
1. Plan: You still need a plan no matter what, but avoid over-planning. If it’s your first time gardening, start small, plant a few things; begin with one raised bed or three containers on your deck.
2. Listen and learn: Experience is your best teacher, but there are many local gardeners who have blazed the trail before you. Attend garden club meetings and workshops. Online resources are great, but one-on-one “face mail” is better. Consider hanging a trowel around your neck when you do errands so people will recognize you as a gardener and strike up a conversation with you!
3. Just begin: After planning, listening and learning, stop asking “what if” questions. Place a seed order, prepare a garden plot and trust that you will learn true lessons along the way.
4. Forget perfection: Many photo-gardeners secretly wish their gardens and yards looked like something out of Better Homes and Gardens. Sure, it’s great to aspire to be the perfect gardener, but there’s practicality to consider, too. Do your best (that’s all anyone can expect), and learn, learn, learn from your mistakes.
5. Keep the momentum going: Once you start this season’s garden–however polite– do something each day to keep things moving forward. It might be something small like pruning a shrub, pulling weeds for ten minutes, cutting back dead perennials or cleaning out a hanging basket. If your garden is an indoor one, then re-pot a suffering houseplant. Every step is an accomplishment.
6. Learn to make decisions: This is an important skill that helps you overcome analysis paralysis. Practice your decision-making skills by setting mini goals or timelines. For example, what lettuce should I plant, bib or leaf? What pansies should I grow by the front door, orange or blue? When should I transplant broccoli seedlings, in May or June?
7. Hang around do-ers: The company you keep is one of the greatest influences to your well-being. Armchair gardeners simply talk about it; true gardeners have dirt under their nails. Volunteer to help a neighbor build raised beds or put up a hoophouse. Help with the community garden’s plant sale. You’ll accomplish more in the course of a day and feel better about yourself by hanging around half-full, not half-empty kind of people.
How your daily decisions shape your whole life
Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives, says that regrets are the worst things you can cling to during your lifetime. Bronnie shared her experiences in her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. I’m not trying to be morbid here. Rather, I wish to share a slice of wisdom that continues to shape my life, my decisions. Bronnie writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom.
“When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says in an interview printed in The Guardian, “common themes surfaced again and again.”
What is the most common regret of all? “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
In other words, don’t worry about whether your neighbor likes blue pansies or pink ones. Just grow them. If you want to erect a Saint Francis statue next to your lilac bush, then do so. “It is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled,” says Bronnie. “Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams.”
Learning how to take good pictures; growing spinach for the first time, building a better mousetrap, starting a new business; it’s all the same stuff. Forget the “what if” questions and get growing, photographing, running, jumping, cooking…