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5 Ways to Stop Overthinking and Become More Productive


5 Ways to Stop Overthinking and Become More Productive

Raise your hand if one of these sounds like you:

  • You type an email, edit and revise endlessly, debate for hours whether to click “send,” then end up storing it in your drafts folder for later.
  • You receive an exciting invitation but debate the pros and cons for so long that the opportunity passes.
  • You hear good news, and your mind immediately goes to the questions: What does this mean for your future? Your family? Your job? Every other possible contingency?
  • You leave a conversation unsettled, then for the next week think of dozens of things you could have said instead.

Thinking is good and, frankly, you can probably bring to mind a few people who would benefit from exercising a bit more thought. Overthinking, however, can undermine our self-confidence, diminish our decision-making ability and waste a lot of time.

As a former overthinker, I know this all too well.

Fortunately, you can curb overthinking and free up precious mental space for more productive things. Experiment with these five ideas for starters:

1. Take action.

Whenever I make a decision, I immediately take an action in favor of it – to show I’m serious, and to prevent the “buyer’s remorse” brand of overthinking. As Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write in “The Confidence Code,” action separates the timid from the bold. Be bold.

2. Set a timer.

You can do this both for the action — “I’ll give myself 15 minutes to compose and send this email” — and for overthinking itself — “I’ll let myself worry for the next 10 minutes, but then I’m done.” Sounds silly, but it works surprisingly well.

3. Dwell on success.

Conjure up a list, ideally on paper, of decisions you’ve made in the past that turned out well. Then, if you need to dwell, do so there rather than on the negatives and worries.

4. Practice improv.

If you’ve ever attended improvisational theater, you know that those performers are masters at not overthinking. What can you learn from them and adopt into your own processes? My personal favorite? The “Yes, and … ” principle. Google it or read an improv actor’s memoir. There are several terrific ones in bookstores right now.

5. Imagine all possible outcomes.

What’s the worst that could happen – and could you live with that? What’s the best that could happen – and how much do you want that? What will this action or decision mean to you next week, next month, five years from now?

Earlier, I referred to myself as a former overthinker, and most days that’s true. I also consider myself a recovering perfectionist, and those two things – overthinking and perfectionism – tend to go hand in hand. If you need professional support to curb your overthinking, don’t be afraid to reach out for it. But if it’s mostly just annoying and time-wasting, give a couple of these strategies a try.

Then spend all that extra time engaged in something meaningful, purposeful and difference-making – all great antidotes to overthinking as well!

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