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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

How to Overcome Your Fear of Thinking

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Rafael Ramirez Lee/Shutterstock.com

If you haven’t seen it, take a look at this recent article in The New York Times.

It’s a fascinating recap of a study at the University of Virginia that confirms what you may already know. Lots of us are keep ourselves “super busy” because we’d rather have a day packed with doing stuff than leave anytime to be alone with our thoughts. The UVA study showed that most people don’t like being in their own heads for even six minutes because if you give yourself time to think you might have to think about difficult, unresolved problems or challenges.

Just like you can’t solve a problem if you don’t know about it, you can’t solve it if you don’t think about it. But if you don’t think about it, it’s just going to eat at you. It will still be lurking in the background as you avoid thinking about it.

The impact of all that lurking is stress and anxiety that will cause you to think that much less clearly. Avoiding your thoughts damages your relationships because not tuning into your own thoughts and feelings makes it much less likely that you’ll be able to tune into the thoughts and feelings of others. It also has a serious impact on your health as I noted in Chill Out. Your Life Depends On It.

Earlier this year I wrote a post called Three Simple Ways to Create Space to Think. Of course, that post assumed that you were interested in finding the space. If you’re starting to think that you’ve packed your days to avoid thinking, here are three ideas that might help you overcome that.

Screen Free Time. Lately, I’ve been asking my clients where and when they get their best ideas. Typical responses include in the shower, driving, cutting the grass and exercising. Pretty much anywhere beside the office and any activity that is impossible to do or life-threatening to do while looking at a screen. (Ever try to text while swimming? It doesn’t work.). If you want to get comfortable with your thoughts, go do something that precludes looking at a screen.

Be Mindful About Little Breaks. For years, the lowest rated behavior in our Next Level 360s and self-assessments has been pacing myself by building in regular breaks from work. Even the busiest people have several little or longer moments throughout the day that are unscheduled. The question is what do you do with them when you have them? Distract yourself with a few more emails, a game on your phone or some click bait article on a news site? Instead, how about a quick walk around the building or taking three deep breaths?

Ask Yourself Two Simple Questions. Since being alone with your thoughts for six minutes can be scary for a lot of people, why not try four? For any given problem or challenge, take four minutes to ask yourself two simple questions: What am I trying to do here and how do I need to show up to do that? This is another one that I ask clients to do all the time. Invariably, they’re amazed by what they can come up with in allowing themselves to just think for four minutes. And the good news is that no one has had a panic attack in the process.

Like so many things in life, getting comfortable being with your own thoughts can start by taking some small, simple steps. I’ve offered three here. What else could you do to get started?

(Image via Rafael Ramirez Lee/Shutterstock.com)

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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