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How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

Hello again everyone,

When faced with life/career struggles, the obvious solution nowadays is to spill your guts to random stranger online via anonymous profile lol.

Here goes…

I am 27 going on 28. I am a few years into my career as a design engineer (started out with two years as a test engineer, and now a little over a year after being promoted to design engineer.)

I have repeatedly run into issues with analysis paralysis and lacking confidence when it comes to design decisions. Often times I start out thinking that I know something, then often find myself second guessing myself when it comes to making a final decision.

I know that any engineer work his salt needs to do his research, however I still find that after I do research I have a hard time forcing myself to decisions.

I also know that being a design engineer requires confidence, and to have confidence in your decisions.

I feel like I am past the point that I should still feel green, but I still feel green.

Some days I find myself wondering if I am cut out to be a design engineer and why I got promoted in the first place.

I am very much a perfectionist, and I find myself constantly in fear of making the wrong decision or making the wrong call.

I constantly feel like I am lost and I do not know what the next step is. I am finding myself in a holding pattern and do not know how to get out of it.

Has anyone else ever been in this same situation? How did you deal with it?

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

I sat through a webinar about the need to just make a decision, based on what you know, and move forward with it. Sometimes you will make the wrong choice, but that can be a great learning opportunity in itself.

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

Sounds like you need a peer to act as a sounding board; someone you can discuss your designs with. And you need to practice making decisions.

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

You are singing my tune, well, my tune from a few decades ago. Some random phrases that have helped me in my career:
(1) From my father who was also an engineer upon my graduation from college: "Well now that your academics are over, your education can begin." SOOOOO TRUE!!
You should look at every day as a learning experience. The "flip side of the same coin" has an opposite view of the same fact: "Even though you have an engineering degree you do not know everything." In fact, you don't even know enough. All you really know is HOW TO LEARN, and that is the most valuable trait to have!
(2) NEVER BE EMBARASSED TO SAY I DON'T KNOW. People appreciate honesty and truth.
(3) The people that work with something every day know more about it than you do. They may not know the engineering principles, but they know what they see. They will be your most valuable resource, and your most valuable supporters if you keep them on your side. You support them and they'll support you. Listen to them. Take their ideas and make them work.
(4) Don't be afraid to experiment. Most engineering solutions are a result of a series of developmental trials rather than a single explosion of brilliance. Resist the temptation to present "the solution", but instead offer an idea to try, a suggestion.
(5) On the topic of continuous advancement remember another phrase: "There is a point in the life of every project when its time to shoot the engineers and start production." You'll learn more from trying something than from doing nothing, so do something. "The perfect is the enemy of the possible."
(6) Management doesn't expect perfection. They expect action. They expect visible effort.
(7) Feeling "green" just means you still have things to learn. Great! Go learn them - through experience! I've been doing this for over 40 years and I'm still green in LOTS of areas. I'm a mechanical engineer but don't ask me about HVAC, or plumbing, or steam, or lots of other traditional mechanical disciplines.
(8) On the "fear of making the wrong decision". Remember this: "the only wrong decision is no decision". To expect the perfect answer the first time is unrealistic. Offer a potential solution for trial, along with a possible course of action after that trial depending on the results.
(9) "I constantly feel like I am lost". I'm also hearing a hesitancy to ask for advice or guidance. Get over that! Ask the grey hairs for their thoughts. People take your request for advice as a compliment. They don't think less of you, they think more!

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

Great advice Jboggs.

Just to emphasize what Jboggs said, "I don't know" is not a valid answer but "I don't know, but let me find out" is a valid answer. I had a boss who once told me "Don't bring me a problem without a solution". This means that its ok not to know the answer, but at least try to rationalize a possible answer. I will also offer a piece of advice that I have received......engineering doesn't mean having all the right answers, sometimes it means having all the right questions. Self doubt may not feel like a good thing, but it can be up to a point. You'll often hear engineers use the phrase "Losing sleep at night"......which literally is a real thing, I've done it. Confidence comes with practice.

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

Completely concur with JBoggs and MotorCity; its all very good advice. Particularly (5).

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

Engineering is all about risk reduction. Its also ultimately a team sport regardless of the individual events. The more you review each others' work as a team the lower your risk of mistakes and bad decisions creating a lousy product. If you're worried about making mistakes then work on improving the engineering review process, if you believe the process is solid then why worry?

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

Thank you all for your feedback. This is extremely helpful and encouraging.

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

The root of your problem is right here


I am very much a perfectionist,

The perfect design does not exist. Every design requires compromises between many factors.

Big piece of weak stuff or small piece of strong stuff?

Easy to make or easy to maintain?

Use standard stuff so replacements can be bought anywhere, or custom to force your customer to come back to you?

What are the capabilities of your supply chain?

Etc. etc. etc.

Know those factors. Know which ones are the actual design drivers, and which are just along for the ride.

Then take advantage of one of the most powerful words in English. "Because".

I made this choice because....

Write that down in your design notebook. Move on to the next decision. Repeat.

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

Also learn that when you are 95% sure, just smile and tell the guys to go for it.

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis


I am very much a perfectionist, and I find myself constantly in fear of making the wrong decision or making the wrong call.
I've encountered the same. For me, needing the work to be really good and something to be proud of as a reflection on my own value. But in reality, it's not, and actually can't be. It's a job, and at the end of the day the value of your work comes from the service you're providing the client, which is greatly impaired by procrastination and lack of communication that often comes with perfectionism. It's been helpful to find a hobby outside of work that allows me to care about little details and spend however much time on things that I want (eg woodworking, programming, etc). This can take some of the pressure off of your work needing to be perfect and allow you to just provide whatever service your client needs (as opposed to demanding your work meet your needs).

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

An engineering degree is a license to learn. It gets you in a place where you can apply the basic knowledge that you have to larger and more complex problems. It will require you to learn , research and develop your skills. Every job will have some new or unique angle.
When you get promoted into a different job you have to apply the skills, experience and knowledge you have acquired to the new job, but you will also have to learn , research and develop in the new role. You will probably make some mistakes but use the knowledge you have already , plus the counsel and guidance from anybody(up or down the food chain) around you to make sure those mistakes are not fatal, learn from them and don't make the mistake again.

Likewise you have been in the job 5-6 years. Therefore in relative terms you still know not much, but you are developing. Be certain and confident about what you know and use that to build upon by research, and learnings.

You talk about not being able to make a decision and move on. I have seen many "designers" get hung up on some of the relatively minor relatively insignificant detail, what ifs and various scenarios. In such case I apply the 80/20 rule. You can get within 80% of a "likely" solution with about 20% effort. This allows you to quickly produce some alternative solutions, and get a substantial amount of progress to test a solution , with clients, with production , with management or whatever. This aids the decision making process.

"Any water can be made potable if you filter it through enough money"

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

One piece of advice that my dad passed to me from one of his mentors that's helped me: If you're stuck between two options and you can't tell which one is the "right" one, you've just got to pick one and run with it. Obviously you still need to do your due diligence with this approach and understand any risks you may be taking, but remembering this stops me from running around in circles on the same problem.

Another thing I like to do is keep in mind the cost difference between two options. If I know a 5/8" bolt will work but I'm not sure if I can go down to a 1/2" bolt, I've often just gone to the McMaster website, compared costs, realized my time is worth more than the cost reduction, decided to keep the 5/8" bolt and move on, even though I think it's probably overkill. Of course sometimes you'll find out that the cost difference it very significant, but then you at least have an idea of how much time to spend on it. Note that for this strategy to work, you really should know the hourly cost your company uses for your time (it will be much higher than your wages would indicate if you're not already familiar).

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

I will present an answer that others haven't, and I think it's pretty important. You should just focus on self improvement. This is the core of being happy. Working on meditation, exercise, yoga, eating healthy, learning, reading, and literally anything that makes you a better person, will make you more confident. This improvement extends to engineering decisions and design. I'm not here to dunk on anyone else's answer, and I think they are also important. This is just something to do in parallel with those answers. Jboggs had a particularly strong answer and I agree with all of it.

To share my own experience, I've been doing professional engineering for 12 years (7 years if you count licensed) but I've never, ever doubted a single design past the 3 year point. I've made mistakes because I'm human, but I've always been able to get past that and learn from it. It's because I'm confident in myself and I've done the work to be able to get the right answers. I hope you can do the same!

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

I can say from personal experience that еhere are two main ways to improve confidence and avoid analysis paralysis.
The first is to develop a clear understanding of the issue at hand. When you know what you're dealing with, it's easier to make decisions and take action. The second method was suggested to me by my father and it works. You have to improve confidence is to set realistic goals. If you're constantly aiming for perfection, you're likely to feel overwhelmed and uncertain. But if you focus on achievable objectives, you'll find it much easier to stay confident and take action. If we're constantly afraid of making the wrong decision, we may miss out on opportunities or experiences that could be beneficial for us. I found ways to boost your self-confidence, why not? It's okay to make mistakes - everyone does it. Remember about it and don't doubt yourself wink

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

This is a really heartfelt post, it's the first one I've read on joining this forum. Everyone has stumbling blocks - if it's any consolation I'm 59 and can honestly tell you that 'feeling green' doesn't go away with age. Relax with your own trajectory, is the best thing anyone can do faced with the challenges of reality. The energy you put into your projects will reflect in the way they turn out, so if you fear stuff, those fears will spring out as realisations. The things we imagine are closely linked with the way things turn out to be.

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

One additional trick I've found...

Getting out onto the construction site or the manufacturing floor (especially with a good contractor or manufacturing team) will really help build some perspective on what really is needed, what the priorities are, and ultimately what little details get washed away in the face of other constraints.

RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis


I am very much a perfectionist

I would get a level check the plumb, flatness, and straightness of your own home; you'll quickly see that there's NOTHING that's the way it's supposed to be. I've replaced things that I know were installed by the original builder and found mismatched fasteners or holes that were too big, etc.

I would second the advice to find a peer to review your work; knowing that someone else, who is qualified, approves your work or would have done exactly the same thing, works wonders for boosting confidence.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
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RE: How to improve confidence and analysis paralysis

You are not alone. Most engineers become engineers because we they are 1) Analytical 2) Detail oriented 3) Hate making a mistake or being wrong

There-in lies the problem. Anything new, despite all the training, all analysis, all research will still have an element of the unknown. That is why we are engineers and not scientists.

4 tips

1. Understand your emotional response to that decision that you dread to make. What does it trigger in you and what are some things that seem to help deal with the emotion of making a decision when you feel you don't have all the facts or lack confidence. Go for a walk? Listen to music? Meditate?

2. Learn. Web-sites, books, articles, videos, online courses, subject matter experts. Good decisions come from good body of knowledge

3. Support System: Who are your cheerleaders? People that will support you in this moment of self doubt?

4. Do: Despite all the above actions, confidence comes from doing. What are the smaller decisions that don't have earth shattering negative implications in case of being 'wrong"? Start with those. Start in non work, low risk environment. As a volunteer, in personal life, do things where you make decisions in light of lower data and once you succeed it will spillover into better decision making at work.

All the best!

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