Do you ever type an email, edit it, revise it, ask yourself if you should actually send it, edit it some more, hover over the “Send” button…then save it in Drafts for later?
Or have you been offered an opportunity that thrills you but, since you’re not 110% confident you are 110% qualified, you ponder, waffle, make pro/con lists, weigh every single possibility …meanwhile the opportunity is handed to someone else who immediately says Yes?
Or do you have an idea for a Facebook post but then start analyzing it from all angles: Will anyone find it useful or funny or helpful? What if no one ‘likes’ it? Could someone possibly misinterpret this word? – then eventually end up hitting “Leave Page” instead of “Post” because of your uncertainty?
While thinking before acting is important, overthinking can immobilize us. Thinking too much and worrying about the possible “what if’s” can lessen our confidence, increase self-doubt, and lead to missed opportunities (not to mention wasted time and energy). As a leader, too much thinking and too little doing can chip away at our team’s confidence in us as well.
Overthinking, at its most basic, means going over negative thoughts and questions extensively in your mind – often for extended periods and without any positive action as a result. This continuous questioning leads to what Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema termed the yeast effect: “Just as yeasty bread dough will double in size after it’s been kneaded, our negative thoughts expand, grow, and begin to take up all the space around them in our minds.”
The result: more questioning, self-doubt, and second-guessing!
How can you put a stop to overthinking and begin acting more decisively? Here are 3 starting points:
1. Give yourself a time limit.
If your work report is due to the company president at noon on Friday, you know you need to submit it by noon on Friday – 100% perfect or not. Transfer this same experience to areas in which you tend to overthink. For example, give yourself 20 minutes to respond to emails, setting a timer to remind you. More often than not the saying is true: Done is better than perfect.
2. Imagine the worst.
This sounds counter to positive leadership but can actually be a helpful decision-making tool. Reflect on the worst-case scenario and decide if you can live with it and that others won’t be harmed by it. If you realize that potential typo in your email doesn’t have life or death consequences, for example, that knowledge will allow you to click “Send” more quickly and with less stress.
3. Practice winging it.
Many of my clients feel most confident when they are well-prepared, and with good reason. Improvising at times, however, and realizing we can survive (and often thrive) by doing so, helps alleviate overthinking and overplanning. Try giving a presentation using just a rough outline rather than a complete script, for example. You might find that you are more authentic and engaged in the present moment, thereby connecting more deeply with your audience. (Check out Patricia Ryan Madson’s Improv Wisdom for more insight.)
The next time you find yourself spinning in overthinking, take a deep breath, employ one of the above tips, then take an action. “If you only remember one thing from this book,” write Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in The Confidence Code, “let it be this: When in doubt, act… Action separates the timid from the bold.”
That opportunity that lights you up? Accept and figure it out. That email you’ve been waffling over? Just click “Send.”
Dr. Christi Hegstad helps you successfully do what you love! As a Certified Executive and Leadership Coach and the President of MAP Professional Development Inc., she coaches executives and leaders who feel stuck – whether in their leadership abilities, at a certain income level, or “spinning their wheels” in the day-to-day – to flourish towards a purposeful vision with clarity, confidence, and meaningful action.
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