At The Leadership Coaches, we often work with clients who overthink. Unfortunately, this can often place them in an unresourceful state and a blocker in committing to making decisions and taking action.
In this blog, the wonderful coach Heather shares how to reduce overthinking with coaching.
What Is Overthinking?
Before we delve into how to reduce overthinking with coaching, let’s take a moment to quickly touch on what overthinking is. Although it sounds pretty self-explanatory, overthinking is and includes:
Constantly worrying about the future/ruminating on the past.
Catastrophising/thinking the worst has or will happen.
Second guessing/making assumptions.
Procrastination/unable to make a decision.
Constant mental chatter/ a little voice (predominantly negative) in our head that just never stops.
In coaching relationships, coaches often notice overthinking due to behaviours you demonstrate or what you share during conversations. Sometimes, you may be unaware that you are overthinking. So, when you work with a coach, they support you in gaining awareness by providing feedback about what they are noticing about your thinking process and its impact on you. As always, these conversations need to be handled with compassion and honesty and are entirely confidential.
However, overthinking can, at times, be a symptom of:
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
When working with a coach, it’s important to remember that they have a duty of care for you. If they think you have an overthinking disorder, they may signpost you to your GP or a specialist.
Fortunately, this is rare, and most people that work with a leadership coach can transform their overthinking with some self-help strategies that the coach can introduce during the coaching conversations.
Why Do We Overthink?
If you frequently find yourself overthinking, you may have questioned why you do this.
Essentially, we overthink because we are super aware of our thoughts. This means that you may spend a lot of time and energy trying to understand the causes and meaning of your thoughts.
We are all very different, and so the factors that cause us to overthink differ greatly. However, some of the main reasons why we overthink often include:
How To Recognise Overthinking
Here are some typical behaviours of an overthinker:
A running commentary in your head, critiquing every word you said yesterday and worrying what terrible future might await you.
Going over and over your decisions, petrified you’ve made the wrong one, or procrastinating over the next one.
Analysing what your friend or colleague really meant by that throwaway comment in a Teams meeting or that sideways glance, they made when you walked in the room.
Agonising over what to post on social media and concerned when others are having a better time than you or getting more likes.
Reading and re-reading texts from others to analyse the message's true meaning.
The ‘What ifs’ and ‘should ofs’ that dominate our thinking and speaking.
Feeling listless and low energy because all the mental chatter stops you from sleeping well.
Beating yourself up for your perceived inadequacies.
Being unable to be true to yourself because you’re so busy working out what other people need, want, and think.
Are There Any Benefits to Overthinking?
In our quest to always provide balance in our blogs, there are actually some benefits to the overthinking mind. There is evidence to suggest that individuals who have the propensity to overthink obtain positive outcomes in a number of areas, such as:
Creativity: Researchers at King’s College in London discovered that people who worry a lot are more likely to have creativity as one of their superpowers. This is because they like to find meaning in every situation and, as a result, have excellent imagination skills.
Observational skills: Overthinkers tend to notice the detail in life and will pick up on the subtle nuances in conversations and situations that others often miss.
Relationship building and empathy: Because over-thinkers prefer to mull over issues rather than react immediately, they are more likely to take the time to think about the other person's point of view.
Super prepared: An over-thinker is always prepared for any situation. This gives them time to prepare how to ‘get over’ things quickly and move on faster than others would.
Emotional regulation: Over-thinkers are surprised by a few things. They are far less likely to react in the heat of the moment. You’d never hear an over-thinker say, “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking”, because they’re ALWAYS thinking.
Overthinking is very often the result of a strength or natural talent (e.g. being well prepared, having big-picture creative thinking), which goes into overdrive/is overused in a situation and, as a result, becomes a performance risk for the individual.
How To Reduce Overthinking With Coaching
If you want to help yourself navigate overthinking, you can’t simply say to yourself to “let go” or “stop thinking”. We all know that it’s not as easy as that, and saying these things to yourself can actually do more harm than good. This is why you’ll never hear a coach tell you to “get over it and stop worrying”.
Instead, to reduce overthinking with coaching, coaches can help you develop long-term strategies that boost self-awareness and provide a deep understanding of your overthinking behaviours and actions that are super practical, easy to implement, and really work! To offer you more insight into how working with a coach can help you reduce overthinking, here are “Super Seven Strategies” that coaches will often use and encourage you to take advantage of:
1. Identify triggers
When you start working with a coach, they’ll support you in identifying any triggers that cause you to overthink. If you recognise that certain situations or people start your overthinking, you’ll be encouraged to explore these in more detail to identify the root cause.
2. Constructive pauses three times a day
Taking a constructive pause mid-morning, after lunch, and at the close of the working day to clear your mind and free yourself from the mental chatter and constant bombardment of thoughts can be extremely beneficial.
For this exercise, your coach will encourage you to sit quietly and comfortably for three minutes with a pen and paper. They’ll ask you to write down every thought that comes into your mind – don’t fight it or follow it or analyse it – simply write it down, however random it is! Keep doing this until the three minutes are up. If no thoughts come in, enjoy this micro break in your day. Look at your piece of paper – what do you notice? Are there any things on there that need your attention? If so, then move them onto your daily to-do list.
Once you’ve done this, tear up the paper and continue your day. Repeat this activity as outlined previously – at least three times a day. Keep taking these mindful pauses for at least 21 days, and you will notice a reduction in the mental chatter, more clarity to your thinking, and you’ll be making decisions more easily and effectively.
3. Get out of your head
Whatever it takes to get out of your head, do it. Telling yourself to stop thinking about something can be counterproductive. After all, the more you try to tell yourself not to think about it or forget it, the more likely you are to actually think about it.
For example, if we tell our brain to stop thinking about black cats – we will keep thinking about them! Instead, get them to “change the channel” and do something different.
This can be taking a brisk walk in the park or just around the block, cooking, reading a novel, painting, doing some DIY, completing a jigsaw, taking a bath or shower – whatever puts you ‘in flow’ and keeps you relaxed will then start to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and generate the hormones that calm you and ground you, e.g. dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.
4. Time box your thinking time
You don’t have to stop your thinking entirely. Instead of allowing your thinking to spread across your day, diarise some set times when you are actively thinking, mulling, ruminating, and reflecting. When you time box this thinking time, you are giving your mind a message that it can relax for the rest of the day!
5. Give your overthinking mind a name and a silly identity – e.g. “The Blue Blobby Thing”
Ok, this sounds a bit crazy - but it works well. When you start to hear those intrusive thoughts chattering away in your head – visualise that it’s “The Blue Blobby Thing” saying them, and then tell it to do one right now, as who wants to listen to what a Blue Blobby Thing has to say anyway!
6. Acknowledge your successes
When you’re in the middle of an overthinking attack, stop what you are doing and write down five things that have gone well over the past week and your role in them.
These don’t need to be huge accomplishments – e.g. you exercised every day, cleaned your office, or completed a piece of work ahead of schedule.
How does it make you feel? Chances are you will feel a sense of accomplishment. That feeling of accomplishment reminds us that we are successful as we’ve been successful in managing our overthinking in the past and can do it again.
7. Breathing exercises
The next time you find yourself overwhelmed with thoughts, there are a few breathing exercises you could use to support you in calming your mind and coming back to the hear and now. Below, we share one of our particular favourites: box breathing.
Close your eyes and imagine there's a square in front of you. As you let your eyes move up the left-hand side of the square, breathe in for the count of four. As your eyes wander along the top of the square, hold your breath for four seconds. Then, as you come down the right-hand side of the square, exhale to the count of four. Working your way along the bottom of the square, let yourself pause again. This breathing exercise is extremely beneficial when you find yourself overthinking as it encourages you to be mindful and focus on the moment rather than thinking about something that's happened in the past or something that might happen in the future.
Three Books To Help You Understand Your Overthinking
Here are three great and very different books to recommend to your client as further reading on the subject:
A funny and cheeky look at overthinking by a highly successful overthinker, TikTok social media sensation Hayley Morris: Me vs Brain: An Overthinker’s Guide to Life – the instant Sunday Times bestseller!: Amazon.co.uk: Morris, Hayley: 9781529196047: Books
A spiritual classic from Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment: (20th Anniversary Edition): Amazon.co.uk: Eckhart Tolle: 9780340733509: Books.
Practical tips and techniques from certified life coach and social interaction specialist, Chase Hill: How to Stop Overthinking: The 7-Step Plan to Control and Eliminate Negative Thoughts, Declutter Your Mind and Start Thinking Positively in 5 Minutes or Less: Amazon.co.uk: Hill, Chase, Sharp, Scott: 9781098853372: Books
We all know that overthinking can become a problem. When we get caught up in our thoughts, we can project worst-case scenarios that are unlikely to happen, and we can often become fearful of making decisions.
The good news is that coaching is one of the most effective ways to help us reduce overthinking.
As we’ve shared above, coaching can help us to reduce our overthinking by providing a sounding board for our thoughts, helping us to develop a plan of action, and holding us accountable to our goals.
Contact us today if you’re ready to reduce your overthinking and live a more productive and joyful life. We have many coaches within our team that can support you.
Content sourced and created by leadership coach Heather, executive performance coach and overthinker!