The Overthinking Trap

The more time you spend thinking about things, the better they become. Right? Well, no and here’s why…

People generally fall into one of two camps: dreamers or doers. I used to see this more in terms of observers and action takers. I was definitely in the former. Often lost in thought and lacking in action taking. Several hours spent pondering something was far more appealing than several hours of doing something. In my mind (appropriately enough), thinking about something was doing something.

Having been in the coaching world for many years, I can usually tell pretty quickly who is going to be successful and who is not. With a few simple questions, I could know within less than 5 minutes whether you are operating more in your inner world or your outer world. With some people, it’s immediately apparent. I’m sure it was with me and it still is my more natural tendency to turn inwards rather than outwards.

When I first started coaching, I would wonder why so many coaches whom I knew were not especially gifted at coaching would do so well with their coaching businesses. It was a mystery to me until I recognised something they were doing that I was not. When I say recognised, it had to be pointed out to me. They were out there marketing their services. They just got started and didn’t worry about if they were on the right or wrong track, they just did it.

It took me a while longer to recognise the thing they were not doing, that I was doing and I see many others doing it today. They were not trying to think the whole thing into existence and they were not fighting their own doubts. A person could live and die wrestling with their own doubts and feelings of worthiness and the rest of the world will be unaffected because this all happens in their inner world, not the outer world.

If you’re more of a thinker, don’t feel too bad about it. You’re far from alone but you do need to recognise that there is a big difference between thinking something through and overthinking it. Overthinking things is a trait more often associated with high intelligence, so, you know, take that one as a compliment. Thing is, what good is that high intelligence of yours if it’s stuck in analysis paralysis?

Overthinkers should not be confused with the magical thinkers who think that by creating a vision board and visualising something it will mysteriously and magically appear in their lives. Although in both sets there is a disconnect between cause and effect and a lack of understanding that it is only by taking action to move you in the direction of your dreams that the things you want to be, do, have or create can have a chance of appearing in your life. Both are trapped in imagination and I could (and probably will) write a whole piece on the magical thinking trap.

Overthinkers are also more likely to be introverted, simply by virtue of needing to think before speaking, whereas natural extroverts tend to think as they are speaking. For me, writing like this is probably as close as I get to an understanding of that extrovert quality because I am thinking and formulating as I write. I can do it in this format but not so much when I’m speaking.

As you might guess, a combination of overthinking and introversion are not commonly the traits of a high achiever or go-getter. The more we think about things, the more reasons we will find not to take action, the more doubts that will arise and the likelihood of inaction and feeling frustrated grows with them.

The trouble with developing an action habit is that action is often messy, uncomfortable and imperfect. However, done is always greater than perfect. This can be summed up with the simple algebraic equation D>P=R (R = results.) That’s about as close to maths as this is going to get.

5 common objections to taking action:

  • I’m not ready yet
  • I don’t know where to start
  • Someone else is already doing it
  • I don’t know if I can do it
  • It might not work

Perhaps you can think of a few more? As I already mentioned, you’re intelligent. You know the solution to this. You don’t really need me to tell you to go do it anyway, but you kind of do need me or someone to tell you to go do it anyway. You need the pattern interrupt to get yourself out of just thinking about it and get your hands dirty (usually metaphorically) whilst you take action. You can go away and consider that. Go on, have a good think about it and stay in that comfortable thinking not doing trap. Or…

Who would you prefer to be: the academic who has spent years thinking and learning or the person who went out and did it? I know this is a sweeping and probably unfair generalisation of academics but I merely mean it as a useful contrast. Overthinking is like an escape room where the exit door is wide open and you’re still searching for clues, but one step towards action will start to rid you of ennui and bring forth feelings of fulfilment and purpose as you set about making something happen.

Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast & Slow, whilst quite a heavy read is nonetheless valuable and the research that went into the book showed that we feel more fulfilment and more purpose in our lives when we are in the process of taking action to whatever we wish to achieve. Action always feels better than inaction. That general malaise that you can’t quite explain often lifts when action is being taken.

So, what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Are you an action taker? A dreamer? Was this article useful? Trash? Your thoughts and feedback are interesting and important to me, even if you think I’m completely wrong. Disagreement and debate are how we all learn and grow. I don’t write any of this as some guru with all the answers but as someone who is continually on a journey of personal growth and professional development. A fellow traveller who is willing to risk putting his thoughts out into the world in the hope others might find them interesting and maybe also helpful.

I’m taking a hiatus from my podcast whilst I get to grips with my new full-time work and prepare for a full relaunch. I have to say, I am loving the work and find sales to be very exciting and the opportunity to help other podcasters on their path to growth and monetisation is incredibly satisfying to me. I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone in ways I never thought I would and it’s exciting, even with the uncertainty of my success in doing something new. Perhaps, precisely because of that?

And to think, I applied for the role on a whim and never expected to get it. Now, I’m feeling determined and encouraged to get as good at sales as I possibly can and am immersing myself in sales training, books and podcasts to accelerate my growth. Also, I’m just doing it and have learned more about sales in a few weeks of doing sales calls than I did in several years of learning about sales. I also love being part of a growth-focused team sharing the same mission and supporting each other to make it happen.

I always love to wrap up my newsletters with a song and this one is my energiser for taking action. A call to action for the overthinkers who want to make the change to becoming action takers. It’s also my wake-up alarm on my phone, reminding me each morning that it’s time to get out of bed and take action to get the things I want. Britney, do your thing…

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John Alexander Ball

John Alexander Ball

6 Followers

Host of the Podfluence podcast. Professional speaker & ethical influence coach. The James Corden of podcasting, a chubby British guy who thinks he’s funny.