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Do You Think Too Much?

by Elise Museles

dont-think-too-muchIt was 2 AM.

The whole family was sound asleep while my third cup of green tea was slowly getting cold next to my laptop. I’d been squinting into my computer screen for hours like my life depended on it.

It was a big-time project I’d been working on, and my deadline was just around the corner. No, this wasn’t a procrastination issue. I’d been chipping away at it, section by section, for weeks (okay months).

The problem was: I was sitting still, but my head was moving at a million miles per hour.

Suddenly, the color choices, font selection, email sequences, and social media promotion plans started running together in my head. My thoughts were like bumper cars smashing into one another.

With all that noise going on (inside my head), it was impossible to concentrate, and impossible to work. Yet there I was, trying to force myself – again – because it had to be perfect. Every “i” had to be dotted, and every “t” crossed, or I wouldn’t sleep again. Ever.

But the more I tried… the dizzier I got with the details.

Can you think of a time (or a thousand times) when you tried so hard to engineer an outcome that you drove yourself completely insane? What happened? Did you finish the project, stick with your diet, follow through with your intention…or just quit because the process became too cumbersome? Or maybe you achieved your goal, but didn’t enjoy the journey.

Why the devil’s in the details

There’s a very specific curse on overthinkers: we sweat the small stuff. Every. Single. Day.

While being detail-oriented means we consistently produce good work or “get things done” or “follow through with the plan”, there’s a point of diminishing returns. When we scrutinize every angle of a situation, we can get so caught up in the details that we can’t see straight anymore.  To make matters worse, we end up worrying needlessly and creating a whole heap of extra stress.

Has that ever happened to you? Yep, my hand is raised, too.

Overthinking has a way of sneaking in under the radar. You might presume it’s just one project, one new diet, one workout, one vacation to plan, but soon it all starts to add up…and weigh you down!

The worst part is that your hyperactive brain makes all these decisions feel like life or death. And while your detail-oriented mind has likely played a huge role in your successes… it can also hold you hostage.

When every decision you make requires a complete and thorough analysis, you get so caught up in the nitty-gritty that you lose sight of the big picture and get stuck in place. All the pleasure gets sucked out of the process as you stir up unnecessary stress and anxiety. (Remember those hours you spent meticulously mapping out meal plans, counting carbs and calories, and precisely measuring every bite? How fun was that?) Eventually, the situation becomes so complicated; it’s suddenly easier to just give up rather than follow through.

Well, Overthinkers of the world – it’s time we stood up and told our detail-crunching brains: enough already!

Here’s exactly how we’re going to do that:

First, step away. Athletes need time to replenish and recharge – so do you and your brilliant mind. Maybe you need to remove yourself from the complex situation, or an effort that’s not creating your desired outcome.

Next, take a deep breath. Exhale. Then take another breath. Exhale. Third breath. And out again. Relax. Stress creates an excess of the hormone cortisol, which sends your adrenals into overdrive. Deep breathing forces your body to switch into a lower gear.

Now, it’s time to dig deep. Ask yourself: “Is this excess worrying and fear of not being perfect or doing things the ‘right way’ preventing me from completing my projects, sharing my gifts with the world, and enjoying the process?”

Consider these three questions:

  • Does it really matter?  (C’mon. Be honest here.)
  • What is the worst possible outcome?
  • Will this really make a difference tomorrow? And the next day and the next…

Answer yourself fully and thoroughly. Continue with your deep breathing and relaxation. You’ll be amazed at what you see with a replenished set of eyes.

Question of the day: do you run into problems with overthinking, and flipping out over the smallest details? Does every decision you make seem monumental?  Feel free to dive into THOSE details in the comments below.

16 Responses to Do You Think Too Much?

  1. Saman September 18, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    Elise – it’s literally incredible how your weekly writings will fall right into something I am personally realizing about myself and starting to work on and then suddenly – you have a lot to say about it in my inbox and it feels like magic! I am DEFINITELY an over-thinker. I am actually learning ways to stop caring SO much like TOO much because I think I am realizing it just doesn’t matter as much as I think it does. I am trying to “go with the flow” more often and stop worrying about everything little thing – I love those last bullet points!

    • Elise September 18, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

      Hi Saman~ I am so glad that you are getting the message right when you need to hear it. I LOVE when that happens to me, too:). It sounds like you are taking all the right steps to go with the flow. I know it is easier said than done, but just keep reminding yourself what you wrote here. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Silvia September 18, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Hi Elise, This piece so speaks to me. On the one hand I know that inspiration happens for me through thoughts. My inner guides know that I’m a thinker so they speak to me most often there. While this is good to know, I also know that sometimes the messages get lost in all the chatter that comes with over thinking. So when it gets too loud I have to shut down and do something physical. And it doesn’t have to be exercise, it can be something simple like sweeping the floor or washing dishes – anything mindless will do. The miracle is that these activities put me in a relaxed state and then I can hear the message. Thank you for this!

    • Elise September 18, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

      Silvia! You definitely hit the nail on the head with the notion of moving out of the stressful thinking and into a relaxed state. For each person, it can mean something else. But I LOVE your examples of the dish washing and floor sweeping just to step away from yourself for a moment. Thank you for always offering lots of wisdom!

  3. Court McCracken September 18, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

    Yes, I sweat the details. I am totally a simultaneous big picture thinker and detail oriented perfectionist…yikes! But these are great thoughts. I definitely get more accomplished when I am in a relaxed state. Thanks so much!

    • Elise September 18, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

      Court, at least you are able to keep the big picture in mind amidst all the details. I agree with you about being more focused and productive while in a relaxed state. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Leslie September 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    This is such an easy trap for us to fall into, with the pace at which life goes and how increasingly we are “accessible” via technology. It definitely feeds the beast. Several years ago, I was a compulsive email-checker at work (even in the wee hours of the morning), and this was expected of everyone! It made it very easy to overthink decisions, and not turn off my brain. Since leaving that job, I now make it a practice to NOT check email after hours, unless I know something really dire/urgent is going on. This goes for weekends too. This has really helped me to leave work at work, and just relax and enjoy life outside the office. This in turn, helps stave off the stress. Regardless, I think we all fall victim to deliberation at times, and this is a really good reminder to BREATHE. Thanks, Elise!

    • Elise September 20, 2013 at 1:12 am #

      Leslie! Such great advice that makes perfect sense, but it is not so easy to implement. I am envious of your ability to “turn off”, and it is a good reminder for all of us to create space to just enjoy being instead of always having to be “on”. Thank you for posting your comments:).

  5. Lorna September 19, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

    I really try to not take things so seriously any more. I used to make everything life or death and looking back–how ridiculous was I? And as you say–when we rile ourselves up it isn’t healthy. Done is better than perfect.

    • Elise September 20, 2013 at 1:56 am #

      Congratulations on your new (and improved) attitude. Love that saying and I try to remember that done is better than perfect. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Marsha from September 19, 2013 at 9:17 pm #

    This used to be a CHRONIC problem for me, but I’ve found that meditation has worked wonders on dealing with it.
    I don’t even meditate every day – I probably do 10 minutes 3 days out of every 5, but even that has made a massive difference to my over-thinking problem!

    Thanks for the handy reminder that breaks are an ESSENTIAL part of working hard and well!

    • Elise September 20, 2013 at 1:54 am #

      Marsha, thanks for the mediation reminder. I love how you make it more accessible and easier for most of us to practice with your relaxed approach. Creating that space even a few times a week can make a big difference!

  7. Sherry September 19, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

    I tend to get caught up in, “there is no such thing as a second, third or 100th draft!”; that slippery slope of hyper-productivity & hyper-perfectionism. I have made some changes in my environment so that I am forced to step away, breathe, and refresh my vision through distraction, in order to be able to “see” things better and easier.

    • Elise September 20, 2013 at 1:53 am #

      Sherry, great insights and advice! Thank you. Stepping away is huge and gives perspective. I sometimes even laugh at myself once I can remove myself and see things with more clarity.

  8. Alejandra Ruani September 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    Absolutely, every decision I make seems monumental… gosh, I need to let go of that…

    You’re the best Elise, please help us all!

    • Elise September 22, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

      Thanks for your enthusiasm. I hope some of the suggestions help you start to let go…even just a little.

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