I’m prone to over-thinking, which shows up as ruminating and worrying about things I’ve done (or not done) and said (or not said). My tendency to over-think also occasionally shows up when I’m trying to make decisions and at times can stop me in my tracks. I spend too much time weighing the options, worrying about what could go wrong, or stalling because I’ve not found the “perfect” way forward. It’s not always as simple as “just decide and move on!” Can you relate to any of this? If so, here are four tips for to overcome over-thinking mode and move yourself forward.
1) Align to your values and strengths. It’s not always necessary or helpful to do this for smaller decisions (when you’re in the midst of choosing new dishes, for example). But when deciding on what gets my time, attention, and energy, it is critical that I consider how the situation and the choices align to my core values. The more important or riskier the decision, the more important to me that the choice I make aligns to multiple values and that I leverage one or more character strengths.
2) Get some space. Sometimes as over-thinkers we want to keep working the problem until the solution comes. And sometimes that’s the worst thing we can do. When I notice that I am pushing too hard, I’ve learned to give myself space and set the decision process aside. I might work on something else for a while, or I’ll take a break, read a book, grab a coloring book and some colored pencils, or go for a walk. When I have the luxury, I’ll let the decision rest for a few days or a week. When I’m really stuck, I leave it alone even longer. With enough time and space, the right answer emerges naturally. Some of my best ideas and resolutions have come when I’m walking in nature.
3) Process with others. I tend to process problems in my journal and often see things more clearly after I write everything out. But sometimes after trying this or the other tactics mentioned above, I’m still stuck. I am very fortunate to have a very active support network I can turn to when I need help. I’ve processed problems with a family member, a dear friend, a trusted colleague, my coach, my accountability partner, and my spiritual director. Sometimes I discuss the same problem with multiple people for two reasons: each time I talk it through, another piece becomes clearer and each person adds their unique perspective. I have experienced both small shifts and major breakthroughs after discussing my challenges with one or more people.
4) Notice your body’s response. Recently, I was contemplating making a fairly significant change to the scope of my work. There was one type of service in particular I liked doing less than all others but for a variety of reasons, I was having a hard time deciding to let it go. After contemplating this off and on for nearly a year, the time came when I needed to decide. I brought this up during a session with my coach and she asked me, for the sake of our discussion today, what if you just set that aside? You know it’s there, you can come back to it later. But what if for now you just let it go? I noticed immediately that my body felt lighter, my shoulders relaxed, and I felt a wave of positive energy coursing through my body. The next thing I noticed was that it was my mind that had been fighting this decision all along. My brain was trying to drag me back down into the swirl with questions, doubts, and fears. But the message from my body was too loud to ignore: You’ll be much happier without it. I decided shortly after that call to let that kind of work go for now, assuring my worried mind that that I can always come back to it again later if I needed to.
So, fellow over-thinkers, which strategies work best for you? I’d love to hear what else you’ve done to release the grip of over-thinking, make your decision, and move forward.