Friday, August 21, 2015

About over-thinking (and under-doing)

(one of Elizabeth Gilbert's favorite quotes)

Do you know what an "Ask-hole" is? It's someone who constantly asks for advice but does not do anything with it.  But that’s not exactly what this post is about. Or maybe it is just a little bit.

As a coach and someone who is curious about people's behavior, I often hear themes and thorny issues that my clients, friends and colleagues grapple with. Everyone is unique, of course, and yet we all tend to be dealing with certain things which seem universal. For instance - over-thinking.

In the Western cultures and, certainly corporate culture, a huge value is placed on thinking. There is "thought leadership" and "thought partnership", there is "thinking fast and slow" (from the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman), there is "thinking without thinking" (from the book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell), there is the famous  “I think therefore I am” (philosophical proposition by RenĂ© Descartes), and there the thinking inside and outside the box from every corporate “strategic” PowerPoint presentation, and so on. Please don't get me wrong, I love thinking. In fact, I am pretty good at it, if I may say so myself. However, everything has a benefit and a cost. In my coaching discussions, sometime I find that people are simply hiding behind thinking. Pure, good old thinking turns into Over-thinking and then simply becomes procrastination. I am finding that the cost of thinking or prolonged thinking is lack of action and doing.  Basically - over-thinking = under-doing.

I often wonder, why are we overthinking? Psychology tells us that when we are compelled to some action (lack of action), it's because there is some inherent benefit to it. I have identified at least two possible reasons / benefits which make overthinking so compelling:

1)   It's easier to just "mull things over" and over rather than taking action. It does not seem as overwhelming.
2)  There is a mock safety in inaction. Pretend thinking simply covers up a fear. When we take action, we can look foolish, we could be wrong, we could be laughed at and all kinds of other upleasantries. It's risky!

And what’s the cost? The price we pay for overthinking and under-doing is feeling of frustration and stagnation. And if we are wise enough, a realization that the richest life moments happen and not just thought about.

So what to do?  You guessed it – I am a proposing a step by step process. An antidote to overthinking and under-doing.

Step 1:
Articulate the issue that you have been thinking about for the past two days, one week, a decade or any amount of time that's significant for you. Example: "Going to medical school was a mistake. I should have never become a doctor. I wish I could change things but it seems too late.”

Step 2
Spend exactly 60 seconds feeling sorry for yourself. 1, 2, 3.... Poof - 60 seconds are

Step 3
Ask yourself: what am going to do about it?

Option 1 - do nothing.
Great - acknowledge that you are consciously making that decision and learn to
live with it minus the pity.  There is liberty and beauty which come from telling ourselves the truth. It's ok to not want to do anything about any number of issues in our lives. However, make that decision with open eyes and deliberately, that's a very adult thing to do - it's called taking responsibility.

Option 2 - do nothing but continue to mull it over while asking for advice
BUT acknowledge to yourself that you are just doing it for yourself, because you like the attention you are getting from others when you are “thinking out loud.” And that's ok too.

Option 3 - do something.
Great. Break it down into manageable components and get to work. Hire a coach.
Stick with the plan of action. Get your hands really dirty. Check in with yourself periodically - do I still want this (whatever it may be) badly enough? If the answer is yes - continue on your course. If the answer is no, correct the course of action.

Bottom line - don't hide behind anything, including over-thinking. Just don't do it. You are wasting your time which could be used living your best life.

If all else fails, watch Daniel Pink’s fabulous and inspiring address to the Northwestern University graduates where he makes the case for more doing and less thinking.

And  yes, in case you are wondering, there is such a thing as overdoing and under-thinking, which will also land you in hot water. But that’s for another post.