How Overthinking Is Slowing Killing You: Throw Out Plan ZAug 10, 2021
A huge part of my “job” (we’re all volunteers) as the Crew Chief for the “world’s greatest race team,” the Cactus Warriors, is to do all of the planning for the race.
This is a non-inclusive list of some of the things that I am responsible for planning for the team:
● Putting together a budget for each race and collecting money from the team members
● Outlining the race plan, including determining how to break the race up into sections, deciding who should race each section, coordinating the movement of four to seven crew vehicles, three to six riders, and nine to twelve crew members across several hundred miles of Baja desert.
● Coordinating trailers, trucks, etc. to transport motorcycles, gear, and people to the race.
● Coordinating travel schedules for up to twenty-five people each race to ensure that everyone makes it to their assignments on time.
● Designing, ordering, and distributing hundreds of t-shirts, hoodies, and race uniforms.
● Putting together a pre-running plan that allows each of the riders to ride each of their 1-3 sections several times before the race.
● Working with the mechanic and bike builder to be sure that our race bike is properly and legally set up for the race.
● Managing and setting up all of the technology for the race including GPS Units, satellite communication devices, GoPro Cameras, drones, race radios, etc.
In short, there’s A LOT of planning to do. Oh, and did I mention that we do this FOUR TIMES PER YEAR?
If there is any lesson that I’ve learned more than any other over the many years that we’ve been racing it’s that OVERTHINKING can ruin everything. Overthinking can take a pretty good plan and turn it into mush in a matter of minutes.
We had an instance just this week while discussing the race plan with the team where one member seemed intent on changing the plan for no apparent reason. His need to “change for change's sake” led to over an hour of wasted time, a plan that was essentially THE SAME as it had been in the first place, and a good amount of animosity toward the teammate consumed with overthinking the plan.
Not the most desired outcome.
“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week” — George Patton
What I’ve come to realize is that a good plan...or a good ENOUGH plan…, when well executed, will almost always beat a “perfect” plan.
Overthinking that plan and trying to come up with myriad contingency plans to cover any and all possible outcomes is not only frustrating and time-consuming but in the end, often does not create a materially better outcome than the original plan. So why do we overthink so much?
While everyone overthinks situations once in a while, some people are plagued with a constant barrage of thoughts all the time.
Chronic overthinkers rehash conversations they had yesterday, second-guess every decision they make and imagine disastrous outcomes all day every day.
Overthinking often involves two destructive thought patterns--ruminating and incessant worrying. Ruminating involves dwelling on the past.
Ruminating thoughts may include things like:
- I shouldn't have said those things at the meeting yesterday. I bet everyone thinks I'm an idiot.
- I should have stayed at my last job. I would be happier than I am now.
- My parents didn't teach me how to be confident. My insecurities have always held me back.
Worrying involves negative--often catastrophic--predictions about the future. Thoughts may include things like:
- I'm going to embarrass myself tomorrow when I give that presentation. I know I'm going to forget everything I'm supposed to say.
- Everyone else will get promoted before me.
- I know we won't ever have enough money to retire. We'll be too sick to work and we'll run out of money.
Fortunately, overthinking is just a habit and like all habits, overthinking, or should I say one’s propensity for overthinking can be overcome with consistent practice and a bit of effort.
Here are six ways to stop overthinking and move on to more important matters:
1. Be Aware.
Overthinking can become such a habit that you don't even recognize when you're doing it. Start paying attention to the way you think so you can become aware of the problem. When you're replaying events in your mind over and over, or worrying about things you can't control, acknowledge that your thoughts aren't productive. Thinking is only helpful when it leads to positive action.
2. Focus On Solutions.
Dwelling on your problems isn't helpful--but looking for solutions is. If it's something you have some control over, consider how you can prevent the problem or challenge yourself to identify five potential solutions. If it's something you have no control over--like a natural disaster--think about the strategies you can use to cope with it. Focus on the things you can control, like your attitude and effort.
3. Reframe negatives into positives.
It's easy to get carried away with negative thoughts. So before you conclude that calling in sick is going to get you fired, or that forgetting one deadline will cause you to become homeless, acknowledge that your thoughts may be exaggeratedly negative. Remember that your emotions will interfere with your ability to look at situations objectively. Take a step back and look at the evidence. What evidence do you have that your thought is true? What evidence do you have that your thought isn't true?
4. Give yourself time limits for reflection.
Stewing on your problems for long periods of time isn't productive, but brief consideration can be helpful. Thinking about how you could do things differently or recognizing potential pitfalls to your plan, could help you perform better in the future. Incorporate "thinking time" into your daily schedule. During that time period let yourself worry, ruminate, or mull over whatever you want. When your time is up, move onto something else. And when you start overthinking things outside of your scheduled thinking time, simply remind yourself that you'll need to wait until your "thinking time" to address those issues in your mind. I use a process called “Morning Pages” to do this in journal form. Essentially, each day I sit down with a pen and my journal and write, non-stop, until I have filled three handwritten pages with all of my thoughts, fears, and anxieties. When I’m done I simply close my journal. I gave myself those three pages to “get it all out” and now I must move on.
5. Be Present.
It's impossible to rehash yesterday or worry about tomorrow when you're living in the present. Mindfulness will help you become more aware of the here and now. Just like any other skill, mindfulness takes practice, but over time, it can decrease overthinking. There are classes, books, apps, courses, and videos available to help you learn mindfulness skills.
6. Switch it Up.
Simply telling yourself to stop thinking about something will backfire. The more you try to prevent a thought from entering your brain, the more likely it is to keep popping up. Change the channel in your brain by changing your activity. Exercise, engage in conversation on a completely different subject or work on a project that distracts you. Doing something different will put an end to the barrage of negative thoughts.
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