If you’re like many hard-working professionals, you likely enjoy developing yourself and others. You’re probably someone who also adores diving into new ideas and is energized by consuming information.
This ability to take in and process the world more deeply is particularly strong in the type of professionals who identify as what I call Sensitive Strivers — high achievers who think and feel everything more deeply. This description refers to about 15% to 20% of the population who have a genetic trait difference that leads to a finely attuned nervous system.
Sensitive Strivers and Overthinking
As a sensitive striver, you have many strengths. Sensitive strivers tend to be perceptive, observant, empathetic, and conscientious. Your sensitivity, combined with your drive to succeed, is what makes you a powerhouse performer.
On the other hand, because of their depth of processing, sensitive strivers often struggle to halt overthinking, or the tendency to think too much or too long about a subject. While sensitive strivers are often applauded for the way they explore angles and nuance, they can sometimes become paralyzed by doubt and indecision.
Take Ines, for instance. Ines was the head of learning and development at a Fortune 500 technology company who came to me for coaching because her job duties had grown. Nearly overnight, she was in charge of training initiatives across the company’s offices worldwide — during a pandemic.
While Ines was normally calm and even-keeled, the stress sent her spiraling into overthinking. She struggled to make judgment calls about strategy and overanalyzed her contributions in meetings. Worst of all, work bled into her personal time, and she had trouble “shutting off” her brain at night.
How to Halt Overthinking
Ines is not alone when it comes to her struggles. Many sensitive strivers lack the tools to manage their thoughtfulness effectively. The good news is that it’s possible to halt overthinking and to increase your resilience and improve your decision-making at the same time.
Here are several strategies I shared with Ines that can help you, too:
1. Name and Reframe
Naming your patterns of overthinking and then reframing them helps improve your perspective so that you can see new possibilities and find solutions instead of hitting mental dead ends.
Here are some common examples:
Sounds like: “If I don’t get this right, I’m a complete failure.”
How to reframe: Look for nuance in situations. When your mind presents only two forks in the road, slow down, and ask if you might be missing some options.
Sounds like: “I’m always screwing up.”
How to reframe: Stop using extreme words like “always,” “never,” “all” and “every.” Treat events in isolation; just because something happened once doesn’t mean it will happen again.
Sounds like: “I’m devastated by the flaw my boss pointed out, even though the rest of her feedback was good.”
How to reframe: Do a quick cost-benefit analysis and ask yourself, “How will it help me to keep focusing on the bad, and how will it hurt me?” If the cons outweigh the pros, you’ll find it easier to let go and move on.
2. Interrupt the Pattern
Whenever you find yourself lost in unhelpful thoughts, you can use a pattern interruption technique to ease yourself out of an overthinking spiral. Examples include:
- Silently say “Stop,” or imagine a red stop sign in your mind’s eye.
- Visualize your worries or fears as floating away in a balloon or drifting away down a stream.
- Keep a rubber band or hair tie around your wrist, and flick it each time you catch yourself overthinking.
These techniques help bring your mind back to the present moment so you can concentrate on the task at hand.
3. Change the “What if” Narrative
Instead of imagining potential criticisms of your work, ask yourself more constructive questions like:
- What if the senior leadership team loves my work?
- What if my idea is the breakthrough the project needs to finally move forward?
- What if this proposal revolutionizes how we work as a team?
The sensitive striver’s brain is wired to seek answers to questions. Instead of using your brainpower to go down a negative rabbit hole, direct your creativity toward scenarios that empower you rather than dragging you down.
4. Use Your Core Values as a Filter for Action
Think of core values as your “why.” They are principles that guide and inform your actions, helping you to show up as your full self. Core values also act as filters to reduce overthinking. Your values give you a mental shortcut, helping to dissolve the internal tension that leads to mental loops.
Ines used this tactic. Her top core value was integrity, so whenever she was faced with a difficult choice in her role as head, she asked herself, “What action brings me closer to integrity?” Sometimes, the answer meant giving hard feedback to her team. At other times, it meant admitting she was unsure during a meeting.
Take a moment today to think about your own core values. You can use this list of common core values as a jumping-off point.
At the end of the day, remember that your depth of perception and thoughtfulness are gifts. Halt overthinking and you’ll be able to reap the best of what you have to offer.