As a life coach, one of my roles is to help people clean up their language. We get our clients to drop their “oughts” and “shoulds” which are verbal sticks in which we beat themselves. “I ought to go to the gym” (but you'd rather jog with Brillo pads in your bra) or “I should phone my mother” (but eating coal seems preferable).
Coaches seek out diminishing words like “just” as in “I'm just a mother”. Another phrase I am beginning to get a psychological klaxon horn of wariness about is the seemingly innocuous - “Hmmm interesting. I will think about that”.
Now if you are a professional academic or a poet in residence this can legitimately be strung out for some time and is totally acceptable behaviour for the dissertation or thought piece that it will produce.
For most of us, however, it is a halting mechanism, a rather sophisticated styling out of the concept of avoidance; it's procrastination with a PhD.
I may set a client homework and checking in a week later on progress if the response is “I've been reflecting” I know this is a bluffer's excuse dressed as a scholarly side step. Overthinking is the curse of the reticent, the wary and the deeply scared. It is like throwing a stone in a washing machine, pressing fast spin and jamming it so it goes around in perpetuity. Like a hamster in a wheel our thoughts go spinning round, gaining momentum, rarely coming up with a novel solution other than the ones you have initially considered but can't face.
You will lose sleep, opportunities and life passes you by as you strike your best Rodin's The Thinker pose, scratch imaginary goatees and look studiously intense.
But what does it give you? Well nothing comes of nothing. No, I tell I lie, it will give you confusion, exhaustion, it will double your doubt and eventually lead to despair. What a big price to stay exactly in the same place.
Now I know there is a place for rumination, reverie, meditation and consideration but over thinking is different. It's fear that has had a Botox lift to make it look more pleasant. It's our way of putting on the brakes, not taking action and wishing we or life were different without having to do or change anything. You know the answer but don't like or nor what to change anything so “hmmmm interesting” is the response.
So, if you can put your hands up and admit to being part of Overthinking Anon here are a few tips to help you get out of that rut and into life's groove:
- Park all your thoughts and options on a big piece of paper – draw arrows from one thought to another and write out what the real solutions are even if you are scared looking at them.
- Get a download doula. Ask a good friend to sit with you as you allow your thoughts a free fall unload and accept the feedback they offer.
- Ask yourself what is the best that can happen and adjust your mindset to the positive. Stop catastrophising. Get perspective. Take a bloody risk.
- What will happen if you do nothing? If you are happy to live with regret, without growing or stepping up then stay the same.
- Get a coach.
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