I am an over thinker. What I mean by that is I tend to analyze, to want to understand and optimize everything, to need everything to be clear before engaging.
There is nothing wrong with that. It comes from a survival mechanism (a way to operate in the world that we developed over the years since we were born) which enables me to:
- Feel safe: if I can think of everything that needs to be done, everything that can go wrong, understand how things work, to be in control, then I know where I am going. Then I can’t fail, or at least I minimize the risk of failures. And I feel safe.
- Optimize: since I was a kid, I always wanted to have it all. When I was asked do you want A or B, I would say both and I was said it’s impossible, I would find ways to demonstrate that it was possible, it was just a matter of motivation and optimization.
- Seek perfection, which is great for a perfectionist.
There are some benefits to overthink:
- I am usually good, sometime great, at what I do
- I am pretty reliable to do what I have to do
- I am professional
- I am rarely taken aback
- I am in control, stay safe and it feels good
Now here is the flip side:
- The most obvious one is that it costs a lot of time trying to optimize and plan for everything. I remember, in my previous career as a project manager, spending hours to review and tweak my slides for the steering committees of boards of Directors. All this for details that no one would even notice. Now I’m not saying I should have gone unprepared, it was of course a good thing to anticipate what could go wrong and to clear my message but not that much.
- It creates blind spots. When doing my first videos on Facebook, I was so much overthinking about how I should do it, what people would think and so concerned about bothering people (that’s one of my internal roadblocks) that I didn’t realize that I was actually posting on my Facebook Page, my wall. It’s like being scared to bother people with what you are doing in your own home which sounds ridiculous. But I didn’t see that, lost in my overthinking.
- It holds me back from taking actions and doing things. Since I need everything to be clear before I move on so, I will prepare and prepare and prepare but this just postpones the time for me to take a leap. And it’s an easy way to avoid doing what’s uncomfortable.
- It creates frustration when things don’t unfold as planned, and they most often don’t. If you spend so much time thinking and preparing something, the frustration is even bigger when it doesn’t happen the way you want
- It kill possibilities: as soon as I start to think, fear will show up, and my brain will find all the reasons why doing that thing is impossible or irrelevant, or not worth it, and why I should stay comfortable where I am.
- I miss opportunities: By the time I have gone through my process, analysis, optimization, decision making and I am ready, the opportunity is gone. Really.
What do I do with this?
- I notice when I tend to overthink and I ask myself “what do I want to do now?”, to be at choice rather than it being an automatism.
- I practice raising my hand without knowing. This analogy comes from when my coach invited me to raise my hand, in a group coaching program I am in, even before I start to think about whether my question is good enough, whether I want to coach or be coached, etc… Very challenging. The few times I did it though, it was great. I didn’t have the opportunity to stress, I just dived in. This happened recently as I was on a call with Michael Neil, a very notorious coach, in a group program. I just raised my hand and was coached by him in front of a hundred of people, on video. It didn’t feel stressful or awesome, it just was. Only the next day did I start to overthink again (“oh, I must have looked stupid etc…”). So, I try to practice just doing without knowing all I would normally need to know, but I must admit it is still hard.
- I have a post-it in front of me where it is written: Seeking Perfection is easier than Taking Action. A great reminder to check if what I am trying to do by thinking is actually a way for me to avoid doing what’s uncomfortable and if so, then just do what’s uncomfortable.
So, where/when are you overthinking? What are the benefits? And what are the costs? Can you be at choice?