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The Intricacies of Overthinking

Have you ever found yourself stuck in an endless cycle of thought?

The question is… Exactly how long do you do this for? Is your thought process just a flutter across your mind or are you having a never ending seven course meal - sitting with your thoughts?

Overthinking is an art many of us unintentionally master, especially as professionals. 

In my experience, for women striving to be leaders, overthinking can be a particularly stealthy hurdle, often disguised as meticulousness or thoroughness.

Generally speaking it can be debilitating and can show up in various guises; imposter syndrome, lack of confidence, procrastination… Addressing this issue can be crucial for releasing blocks which have been holding you back and allowing you to have the clarity to move forward.

In this article we will uncover the definition of overthinking, how to determine if you’re an over thinker, the cause and effect of overthinking and how to overcome it.

So what exactly does the term ‘overthinking’ mean?
At its core, overthinking is the act of dwelling on something for longer than necessary, analysing it excessively, and often creating problems that aren’t even there by catastrophising and 'worst case scenario-ing' events.

Consider it the mental equivalent of running a marathon on a treadmill – exerting energy without moving forward.

How do I know if I’m an over thinker?
Here are 3 signs that tick the overthinking box: 
  1. Analysis Paralysis: You find it hard to make decisions because you're too busy weighing every possible outcome, however minute.
  2. Constant Worry: Even after a decision is made, you can't find peace. Instead, you're plagued by 'what ifs' and worst-case scenarios.
  3. Perpetual Rumination: Past events and conversations and future plans become a recurring movie in your mind, making it difficult to focus on the present.
Why do we overthink?
Negativity bias is a real thing! An evolutionary survival strategy designed to keep us safe that is now working from 'out of date' information (in modern life, there is very little to really threaten our survival). But the brain still works that way. Research suggests that we are three times more likely to focus on the negative than the positive.

In a professional context, this might mean anticipating problems in a project or foreseeing challenges in a meeting or focusing on failures and shortcomings rather than wins and learnings. However, modern life, with its myriad complexities, can sometimes hijack this mechanism, turning constructive reflection into draining rumination.

Add to this personal experiences, the pressure to be perfect (almost always self-imposed), or the fear of making mistakes – especially in high-stakes professional settings – can amplify overthinking. The desire to make the "best" decision, or the fear of regret, can bind us in a cycle of endless contemplation.

Is there a one size fits all when it comes to overthinking?
There are different categories to overthinking, this includes:

  • Negative Forecasting: This involves predicting the worst possible outcome. It's when you're convinced your proposal will get rejected, or a client will give negative feedback even before anything happens.
  • Reflective Overthinking: Often retrospective in nature, this is where you continually replay past events, analysing what you could've done differently.
  • Decisional Overthinking: The inability to choose due to the excessive need to weigh every single option and potential outcome, be it choosing a job offer or deciding on a team strategy.
Why should I be concerned about overthinking?

There are several effects from the endless cycle of overthinking which can impact your body and mind profoundly. you can be impacted by overthinking in several ways:

Stress and Anxiety: Overthinking can lead to elevated stress levels. Continually anticipating the worst or ruminating over past events can trigger anxiety symptoms, making day-to-day tasks challenging.

Decision-making Paralysis: Analysis paralysis, a result of overthinking, can hinder progress. Opportunities might be missed as professionals become stuck in decision-making loops.

Reduced Creativity: Overthinking can stifle creative processes. Instead of allowing the mind to explore freely, it becomes entangled in cycles of repeated thoughts.

Physical Health Issues: Chronic overthinking can lead to sleep disturbances, muscle tension, and even digestive problems, all of which can have long-term repercussions on our health.

For women the role of overthinking in their professional life can have a huge effect.
Historically, women have faced heightened scrutiny in the workplace weighed down with cultural and societal pressures. This scrutiny can often lead to a perceived need for perfection. Overthinking, in this context, is seen as a way to avoid mistakes and to ensure that every decision or action is above reproach. However, it's essential to recognise that perfection is a myth, and striving for it can hamper genuine progress.

Female leaders, like their male counterparts, often need to make timely and effective decisions, and overthinking can delay these decisions. By breaking the cycle of overthinking, women can assert themselves more confidently, reinforcing their positions as decisive leaders. 

For some professional women, overthinking can lead to missed chances and a loss of opportunities.  Whether it's a project, a new role, or an innovative idea, hesitating due to excessive rumination (because of lack of confidence, imposter syndrome) can allow others to step in and take the lead.

Constantly second-guessing oneself or seeking validation can give an impression of insecurity. In leadership roles, decisiveness and confidence are often admired and seen as indicative of strong leadership. 

Lastly, chronic overthinking can lead to stress, anxiety, and eventual burnout. Leaders need to be mentally robust and consistently energetic, and overthinking can sap the vital energy needed to lead effectively.

Now that you’re aware of the intricacies of overthinking, here’s how you can take steps to manage it.
  1. Set Clear Boundaries: Allocate specific times for decision-making or reflection. Once that time is up, commit to moving forward, even if you feel uncertain.
  2. Mindfulness and Meditation: These practices can help ground you in the present moment, making it easier to let go of obsessive thoughts. (See more here).
  3. Limit Information Intake: When faced with a decision, gather necessary information but avoid going down endless rabbit holes. More information doesn't always mean better decisions. 
  4. Talk it Out: Sometimes, discussing your thoughts with a trusted colleague or coach can provide clarity. They might offer a fresh perspective or even help you realise when you're spiralling into overthinking territory.
Remember, it's natural for professionals to want to make the best choices. But sometimes, taking a step back, breathing, and trusting yourself can be the key to breaking the overthinking cycle. Going with your gut and being in tune with your intuition is your superpower - when you lean into this in business it often trumps data and analysis. So be sure to tap into this underused trait, and have the confidence to access and listen to your intuition.

For many, progress is often made through action, not just contemplation. If this article resonated with you and you would like to take action to release blocks which have been holding you back and keeping you stuck then please book in a call so we can find a way for you to move forward. Take a look at my diary and let's schedule in a call, I’d love to hear from you.

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