If you find yourself overthinking things in your leadership role, you’re not alone. Overthinking is a common challenge for thoughtful leaders.
Thinking about what you’re doing and the impact you are having is a good thing. But when this turns into thinking too much, it can stop you from taking action.
Overthinking things can mean missing opportunities, or being too slow moving to solve problems before they spiral out of control. It can also make you look like a leader who is lacking confidence.
So how do we know when we’re overthinking things, and how do we put a stop to it?
In this article, I’ll take a look at both of these aspects so you can stop thinking and start doing.
What Is Overthinking, and How Do You Know When You’re Doing It?
The concept of overthinking is fairly subjective. How can you know when you have done just the right amount of thinking, and not too much?
It’s hard to answer this question, so instead, I’ll provide a few guidelines for you!
You might be overthinking things if you:
- Are running through the same thoughts over and over, without reaching an outcome
- Blow things out of proportion, worrying about the worst outcomes (even if they aren’t realistic)
- Aren’t taking action. Instead, you’re continuously planning or taking time to think
- Become obsessed with finding the perfect solution
- Are receiving feedback that you are too slow to act or make a decision.
Are any of these true for you? If so, you might be overthinking things in your role.
Why Do You Overthink Things?
I’ve coached many leaders who fall into the overthinking trap. During this coaching, I’ve noticed some similarities in their situations.
You Overthink Things Because They Really Matter to You
We generally don’t tend to overthink things that are trivial in nature. You probably don’t agonise over what you’re going to have for dinner on any given night.
However, when something really matters, you might find yourself overthinking any decisions relating to it. You might find yourself worrying about the consequences of your actions, or what might go wrong.
The things that really matter to you may bring out these overthinking qualities. Can you identify any patterns in your overthinking behaviour?
If so, this may be a good starting point for working out how to address your tendency to think too much.
You Are Overthinking Because You Fear What’s Coming
Sometimes, we overthink things because we fear the consequences of taking action. Deep down, we know what we must do, but we keep thinking about it until we are completely comfortable with the next steps.
If you are fearful of an action you need to take, you may have a tendency to overthink it instead of just getting started.
This is a form of procrastination which can cause us to miss opportunities. Sometimes, we may even hope that if we take no action, the problem will go away.
Often this resistance to taking action is a great sign that this is an area we really should be tackling as a priority!
You Are Thinking Too Much Because You Crave Certainty
Overthinking can also be a sign of wanting an outcome to be perfect, or a certainty. You keep dwelling on potential solutions until the right one falls into place.
You wait until the perfect moment to tackle that hard conversation, but it never comes.
That’s because nothing is ever perfect, or certain. Especially in leadership in complex workplaces. We need to overcome the discomfort of uncertainty or ambiguity, and take action.
How to Stop Overthinking Things
Overthinking often happens when we’re working out what to do, how or when to do it. It can also relate to excessive worry about the consequences of our actions.
Whatever the case, here are some ideas for you to stop your overthinking, and spend your time doing something far more useful instead.
1. Embrace Uncertainty
Much of the time, overthinking happens because we don’t know exactly what the outcome of our actions will be. So we hesitate, thinking about the options until we have the perfect solution.
Unfortunately, ambiguity and uncertainty are always going to be a part of leadership and life.
The perfect option, solution or course of action usually doesn’t exist.
Embracing uncertainty is not easy, and some people can handle it better than others.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of uncertainty. I’d rather have a perfect plan and execute it flawlessly. However, over my time as a consultant and as a coach, I’ve become more comfortable with “working in the grey”.
One way to become more comfortable with uncertainty is to set checkpoints where you can review progress or revise your plan.
If you feel you’re overthinking a decision or course of action, you can make a choice, and then set a timeframe where you’ll review the outcome and decide what to do next.
This helps you to get started, without making it feel as if everything is final. Sometimes this is enough to feel comfortable about proceeding, at least to the next step.
2. Write Down Your Analysis
Another step which can help you to reduce overthinking is to stop and do some simple analysis.
Often a simple table of pros and cons (positives and negatives) for a decision or course of action can help you to gain clarity on which option is best. Or, you could try something like a SWOT analysis, if it makes sense in your situation.
You might also create a plan for your preferred option or action, so you can understand the steps that need to be taken to move forward.
An important part of this is to make sure you write it down (or use a computer). Without this part, you can always tell yourself that you’re “not quite sure” which way to go. In other words, failing to make time to do your analysis is simply another way to procrastinate.
Once you’ve done the analysis, you know you’ve done the work to understand the situation, and now you simply need to take action.
3. Get a Second Opinion
When we go it alone, it’s easy to feel uncertain and fearful. If we are making a big decision by ourselves, it can feel daunting.
To overcome this, find someone to use as a sounding board. This could be a trusted mentor, colleague, friend or coach. Ask them to help you test your thinking so you can refine your options.
In many cases what happens is that you realise you’ve done a lot of good thinking already. When you get your second opinion, it might confirm what you already know.
However, this sense-check can provide yourself with the confidence that you’re on the right track. And a nudge to move you to the next point, which is to take action.
4. Understand the “Do Nothing” Option
Something that is often overlooked when it comes to overthinking is that there is usually a cost to thinking too much.
In other words, if you take too long to act, you might miss out on an opportunity. Or, the situation could get worse as you fail to take action.
What is the cost of overthinking things, in your situation?
It’s a useful question to answer which could propel you into action.
5. Stop Overthinking Things By Having Someone Hold You Accountable
Have you ever noticed that you tend to overthink things less often when someone is relying on you?
Accountability can be a powerful force, because it’s not just you that you’re letting down. It’s other people too.
This could be as simple as asking a colleague to follow up with you about a decision or action that you know you need to make.
You can also increase that feeling of accountability by making a commitment to deliver an outcome by a certain time.
Some people find it easy to overthink things because by spinning their wheels, they are only letting themselves down. Making it bigger than yourself can encourage you to make a change.
Learn More: How to Encourage Team Members to Take Accountability.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
If you have been overthinking things for your whole life, you’re probably *really* good at it.
After all, you’ve been practicing it for a long time.
Overthinking is giving you something. You’re not doing it just for fun, you’re probably doing it because it gives you a sense of comfort in some way.
But if you’re reading this, you probably feel like something needs to change. You no longer want to do what you’ve been doing before.
All that practice you’ve been doing is no longer the routine you want to follow.
We are all practicing something. So why not practice something else? Practice taking action, instead of overthinking.
That’s how you’ll get good at it.