I overthink every single minuscule, seemingly unimportant detail when it comes to things I care about.
I care about work, so I always strive for perfection in everything that I do. If I’m pushed for time, I fret over being unable to proofread a proposal as many times as I’d like to before I’ve turned it in – even if I know that the spelling is perfect and the concepts are sound. If I’m pitching a new, slightly “out there” idea, until I hear feedback telling me otherwise, I worry that my colleagues will think it’s unrealistic or unattainable – even if my gut tells me that it’s good and I should believe in myself.
I care about writing, so I check over blog posts, reports, and even emails several times before sending them on their way. Before I began writing this, I spent ten minutes Googling whether to use “overthink,” or “over-think.” Seriously. (Thanks, dictionary.com!)
Overthinkers often spend time and energy planning for potential problems which never come to fruition. The upshot is that once that thing you’ve been getting worked up about has passed without complication, you ask yourself, “why was I so worried about that in the first place?” – but don’t. The act of overthinking can be invaluable in business and in life if you learn how to make it work for you, not against you.
Using your tendency to overthink to prepare yourself
As someone who meticulously weighs up the possible impact and effect of every conceivable consequence before making a decision, I know that overthinking can be a burden that rests heavy in your head – especially when you are faced with tough choices. (I’m not talking about having to make a split-second decision on whether you want a vanilla latte or a caramel macchiato when you’re one person away from the front of the queue at Starbucks – you’re on your own with that one.) However, a propensity for scrupulous planning and constant balancing of “what-ifs” can work to your advantage.
Overthinkers always have a contingency plan if something goes wrong. When a potentially problematic situation arises, I am rarely left wondering, “how do I handle this?” – because I’ve already considered an infinitude of ways in which a situation could develop and thought about how I would resolve or alleviate the result of those developments to create a positive outcome.
When you find your mind frantically cycling through the pages of an imaginary flipchart titled, “Things That Could Go Wrong,” step back and take a breath. For each of the potential issues that you’ve identified, think about what you would do to counteract or eliminate them. You can even write your ideas down if it helps you to organise your thoughts.
Knowing how and when to prevent yourself from overthinking
Overthinking can be draining – particularly when the subject of your excessively analytical attentions is something which is out with your control. The problem with overthinking is that you can’t just turn it off – if you are an overthinker, you will know that it is going to take time and discipline to learn how to stop yourself from being sucked into the quicksands of senseless stress every time something has you veering into imaginary flipchart territory.
The first step is learning to realise when your overthinking has shifted from productive to pointless. I figured this out the hard way years ago after spending several sleepless nights obsessing over an impending meeting then having to quickly gulp down three double espressos beforehand to get myself through because I was so tired.
Now, when I realise that I’m beginning to become consumed by futile overthinking, I try to distract myself and use my energy in a more positive way by:
Get comfortable in a tidy room with no distractions and lose yourself in the pages of a book. Write down unfamiliar words and look up their definitions. Scribble quotations in the back of a notebook and come back to them the next time you need to settle your mind. The benefits of reading are rich and plentiful and time spent with a good book is never time wasted.
Go walking. Go jogging. Go uni-cycling, if that’s your thing. Exercise is great for forcing you to focus on one thing, and one thing alone (which for me, means concentrating on not dying in a breathless heap while running through the streets of Toronto).
It sounds counterintuitive, but opening up your laptop and working through your emails or researching information for a new project can help you to regain a sense of control and can also be beneficial to your career. You can also scope out opportunities to assist a struggling or snowed-under colleague – and that’s a situation which works out well for everyone.
And even if nothing I’ve talked about helps – the world will always have double espressos.