I tried to start this post with three different sentences in the past five minutes. Why? Because, like many others, I struggle with overthinking things. I want to plan, and I can obsess over the slightest detail, often at the expense of execution. This is a problem. It inhibits action, it can make us pause when we should be pressing forward. Sometimes I even find myself overthinking the potential results of an action, then miss the chance to grab the results I want.
We can get caught in mental loops of – If this… then that… because of that, then this… wash, rinse, repeat until before you know it, the day is over and you are laying in bed trying in vain to fall asleep while you mind races on.
Some of this problem is generated from our cultural desire to plan every thing out. We have to build a course of action, consider the primary, secondary, and tertiary effects. Then we need an alternate plan, and maybe a third alternate, you know just in case… wait, do we need to have back up plans for each primary plan? And at the end of the day we realize the only real feasible option was the first plan, and then we obsess on how we just wasted so much time.
Do you see how this type of thinking, when over done, can be a real problem? It certainly has jammed me up in the past. So, if we have a problem with overthinking things that means we have an opportunity to gain some time back in our lives by simplifying our thinking. There are a couple of things I think we might be able to do about that.
First, start with your gut feeling. We have developed our intuition over hundreds of thousands of years. Your instincts are going to get you in the ballpark of a solution. The easiest justification for this is based simply in motivation. If it feels like the right thing to do, then you will inherently have more motivation to do it, and this will increase your chances of a positive outcome. If it feels like the wrong thing to do then you will have less motivation to do it, and this will decrease your chances of a positive outcome.
Second, break the mental judo match you are having with yourself. Self talk is important but we can get carried away. I talk myself through some of my best ideas and plans while standing in a hot shower. At other times I have tied myself in knots struggling through a challenging scenario by endlessly talking myself up and down the same mental path. Want a simple solution? Research shows a hot shower promotes creative thinking… but a cold shower shocks your brain into survival mode. So I indulge myself in a few minutes of hot water and deep thoughts and then BAM! Cold snap! This type of cold exposure is call a Scottish shower and while it is horrible… I highly recommend it.
For a less aggressive approach you can also free write. The physical act of putting a pen in your hand and writing down the thoughts as they come can help relieve some of the pressure you are putting on yourself to remember all these details. I’ve started doing this every night to help quiet my mind before I go to sleep.
The final, and most important, recommendation I have for breaking the habit of overthinking is to talk the problem through with a mentor. Not a friend or your spouse. A mentor. The difference here is important. A mentor holds a special place in your social connections. They are empowered by the status you give them as a mentor to be blunt and offer constructive criticisms in ways that aren’t as well received from other relationships. When a mentor advises you it is because you sought them out for their knowledge, training, and experience; along with their capabilities and capacity, discipline, grit, and focus.
What do you think? Do you have any other techniques for breaking the habit of overthinking?
I would love to hear from you. Come on over to our closed facebook discussion group to share your insights and connect with Jessica. Or you can email me directly at Jon@masteryofskill.com. You can also sign up to receive The Friday Huddle, a short weekly email from me that gives you the tips, insights, and musings that have gotten me through the week.