Paralysis by Analysis

"There are more possible games of chess than there are atoms in the universe. No-one can possibly predict them all, not even you. Which means that the first move can be terrifying. It's the furthest point from the end of the game, there's a virtually infinite sea of possibilities between you and the other side... but it also means that if you make a mistake, there's a nearly infinite amount of ways to fix it. So you should simply relax, and play."
Harold Finch, Person of Interest, "If-Then-Else".

It's the final quarter. The game is still too close to call. The clock is counting down. There are seconds to go. You have the ball. It's all up to you. And you stand there. And do nothing.

Friend, you just choked.

Any time you're doing something you're accustomed to, something you're good at. Hell, you can be a recognized master in your field, but as soon as the pressure is on, you can choke. It can happen in sports. It can happen on game shows. It can happen in bed.

Expert athletes often talk about getting in "the zone", when they stop thinking about what they're doing it and just do it. This usually leads to perfect performances that crush the other team easily.

Choking occurs when, instead of getting in the zone and shutting off the thinking, the expert starts thinking about what he's doing. He starts trying to control everything, trying to account for every last variable. He gets in his head and because there's just too much to think about, he can't do anything. He's got the yips or, as the other wiki calls it, focal dystonia.

Compare with the Centipede's Dilemma. Contrast Awesomeness by Analysis.


  • 8 Mile: Bunny Rabbit's first time performing on stage leads to him freezing while the crowd chants "Choke! Choke! Choke!".
  • Teen Wolf: The eponymous teen opens the movie at the free throw line, way up in his head. He bounces. He bounces the ball. He bounces. He bounces. He bricks it. He is despised.
  • Bull Durham: Crash's rule #1, "Don't think, it'll only hurt the ballclub."

Live-Action TV
  • Psych: "Shawn Gets The Yips".
  • NUMB3RS: Charlie's dad can't understand why the Cal Sci Basketball team is so poor (although Charlie points out, not unreasonably, that it's not really a burning concern for a bunch of science geeks) and convinces Charlie to try to improve them using "Scientific Methods". This only results in increasing frustration for Charlie as his methods fail to achieve anything. Ultimately, they only win thanks to his dad bringing in a couple of Ringers.
    • This actually was done and worked. The conclusion was basically: do a full-court press all game every game.
  • How I Met Your Mother: Happens to Barney in "The Yips". He runs into Rhonda, the older woman he lost his virginity to. She previously told him he was the best she ever had, and when he found out she was lying, he lost his confidence and had a hard time flirting with women, since he kept overthinking. He got it back when he slept with her again, and this time she said that he really was the best she's ever had.
  • Scrubs: Elliot is unable to perform a tracheal intubation, an easy medical procedure she learned in her first week as an intern.
  • In 30 Rock, it happens to Jenna and Pete is able to help her because it happened to him in the Olympics.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Peak Performance", Picard and Riker fight each other as part of a military exercise, and Data (who is acting as Picard's first officer) gets hit by this twice. First, he loses a strategy game to the Starfleet observer, and spends almost half the episode agonizing about his loss and analyzing his systems for what went wrong. Then, when Picard orders him to get his act together and come up with a strategy to defeat Riker, Data nearly does this to himself again by analyzing Riker's usual strategy, analyzing how Riker is likely to change his strategy knowing Data knows his strategy, analyzing how Riker is likely to not change his strategy knowing that Data knows Riker knows Data knows his usually strategy, etc.

Tabletop Games
  • "Analysis Paralysis" usually has a slightly different but related meaning when used in discussion of Tabletop Games. Some players become highly analytical in every game they play, always looking for the best possible move on every turn. However, some games have such a huge number of possible moves, with subtle and far-reaching consequences, that analyzing them all could take ludicrous amounts of time. (There's a reason why the chess clock was invented.) Others are designed as simple little family games, to be played quickly and casually, with little riding on the result; subjecting them to chess-master levels of analysis just gets ludicrous. Most tabletop games have a turn sequence, with each player waiting their turn, so the player who is paralyzed by analysis doesn't actually lose as a result; they just slow things down to a painful extent and make the game boring. A few tabletop games include components such as egg-timers to enforce time limits on turns, saving less analytical players from boredom.

Video Games

Web Comics
  • xkcd #1445 has a graph showing the respective time costs of two strategies next to the far greater time cost of assessing which of the strategies is more efficient.

Web Original
  • The Noob webseries and novel imply that Sparadrap is compeltely immunne to it (mentioning that "pressure has no effect on him"), which helps his real-life profession as a tennis player a lot.

Western Animation
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Rainbow Dash has this issue, particularly when her idols, the Wonderbolts, are involved. For instance, in "Sonic Rainboom", she enters into a big stunt flying competition for which the Wonderbolts are judges. However, her inability to pull off the titular move a second time (after pulling it off once as a young filly) while practicing gives her pause for thought, which quickly snowballs into panic, and eventually leaves her practically catatonic with fear. Then she has to save Rarity and the 'Bolts from falling to their death, and Rainbooms without even thinking about it.

Real Life
  • Ken Jennings, the winningest guy ever to win at Jeopardy once told an interviewer that the question he was most embarrassed about getting wrong was because he knew the answer. And he knew that he knew the answer. He just couldn't remember the answer, because he'd never sat down and studied the poem like he did with everything else. Because it was his father's favorite poem: "Jabberwocky".
  • Professional Greg Norman blew it out of the water for three days at the 1996 U.S. Master's. Then he tanked on the last day and finished five shots out of first (And That's Terrible).
  • This article describes and explains the phenomenon, and is also the Trope Namer. It's more complex and varied than simple Paralysis by Analysis. Sometimes it's a desire to avert stereotypes (an Asian kid flunking math, a black kid who's bad at sports, a boy who really doesn't want to follow in the footsteps of a domineering father who he's actually a lot like). Sometimes it's because of stereotypes (an Asian kid being bad at sports, a black kid or a girl bad at math and science). There are a lot of ways to drive yourself to undeserved failure.
  • This is ESPN's list of the ten worst chokes of sports history.
  • This list focuses on golf.
  • The other wiki has a list organized by sport.