How To Stop Overthinking Things and Get Out of Your Own Way
You know the feeling: You’ve made a list of pros and cons, you’ve searched the Internet and talked with friends. But you still can’t decide.
Have you been struggling through a dilemma and spinning your wheels? You know the feeling: you’re trying to come to a decision, but you just can’t shake the niggling sense that something is out of place. You’ve made a list of pros and cons, you’ve talked with friends. You’ve searched the Internet and read dozens of chat boards on the topic. And still, no decision.
You, my friend, are overthinking it.
It’s time to stop analyzing so much and dial in to your “other” intelligence: your feelings.
Shelley Row is the author of Think Less, Live More: Lessons from a Recovering Over-Thinker (Booklocker.com, 2015). She’s researched the field of neuroscience to understand exactly what happens when we are stuck and trying to figure out what to do. Row is a professional engineer and “the ultimate over-thinker,” so she personally understands how what it’s like when we mentally spin our wheels.
When I interviewed Row for my book review, she told me why it’s OK to have feelings at work—and how those feelings can help you make important decisions:
“Because I am a hardcore thinker, I can relate to people who love to think. What I help them understand is first of all, to recognize their feelings. I do an exercise with my clients that I call Notice and Name. It’s very simple: notice the nagging feeling you’re having and give it a name. Are you scared, worried, or disgruntled? Because when we over-think things, there is this little nagging feeling that gets in the way. When you give a language to the feeling, you help validate another part of who you are. When you notice and name how you’re feeling, you move yourself from negativity into more positive territory for problem-solving."
Why is this? Here’s how Row explains the brain and its relationship to emotion:
“The feeling part of your brain—it doesn’t have access to language. The feelings come without language. So when you recognize you are getting that little gnawing inside, you know something is bugging you, it’s just not sitting right. Then to give it a name helps give voice to the feeling which is actually part of your intelligence. It just comes to you through feelings rather than through thought."
Row’s research uncovered another benefit to tapping into feelings: speed.
“There is a thinking part of the brain and it is really powerful, but it is also slow (in terms of brain processing speed) and energy intensive. The other parts of the brain, which store things like long-term memory, your value systems, your habits, and your expertise—that’s in the part of the brain that is very fast and it takes very little energy. That’s where the brain likes to live, but it doesn’t have language. So when you have that little nagging feeling that is coming when you are overthinking something, then it is a different part of your brain that is trying to bring your own intelligence to you. So when you shove it away, you are literally shoving away part of your intelligence. So for hardcore thinkers . . . when they begin to understand how the brain is working, it gives them more permission to acknowledge the feeling that is coming and try to understand what their other ‘intelligence’ is bringing to them."
So the next time you’re agonizing over an important decision, stop and notice what the non-language part of your brain is trying to tell you. Give your “thinking brain” a rest for a while and just let your “feeling” brain do the talking. I personally find that doing something physical, musical or with nature (inside with plants or outside) is helpful for giving the feeling brain a chance to speak.
Jennifer Miller is a freelance writer who covers leadership, careers and the workplace. This article originally appeared on her award-winning blog The People Equation. Join the conversation on Facebook and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why Is It So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK Before You Speak.”