Triggered by perfectionism and fear of making a mistake, overthinking is common among family lawyers – making a mistake could jeopardize not only the client’s future but also the lawyer’s career.
Overthinking is a chronic condition of the mind where the ego takes over the functioning of the psyche and thinks merely for the sake of thinking. Most analyses come to a conclusion; overthinking is analysis on an endless loop that never reaches a conclusion.
Overthinking is Triggered by Fear of Making a Mistake
One common term applied to overthinking is “mental masturbation.” It is sparked by perfectionism and fear of making a mistake as well as lack of self-confidence. It is common in the workplace because no one wants to make mistakes on any level.
When we are assigned tasks or projects, we can focus on what might go wrong and how to avoid them. To a certain extent this actually may be helpful, and when we are unable to accomplish a task because we repeatedly ask “What If?” we get bogged down in the minutiae.
Sometimes we have memories of past mistakes that can trigger overthinking. Similarly, if we do not know how a task or project will conclude, we overly focus on avoiding pitfalls, real or imagined. Fear can overwhelm us and cause us to falter.
6 Tips for Overcoming Overthinking
So how do we stop overthinking? Here are six solutions to consider:
- Let go of the need to be right. Everyone wants to be professional and competent. Every situation is different. We all learn by our experiences and each of us is a “work in process.” Arguing every fine point and obsessing on being right is not helpful. Be familiar with the facts and practices, but if you learn something, let it be:
“Don’t make yourself wrong.”
- You don’t need to know why. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why things happen the way they happen, why people do the things they do and why life doesn’t follow my plan. I finally woke up to the notion that life is what happens when you had something else planned. In the final analysis, we don’t need to know why things happen. It is more important to know what happened or how something happened.
Trying to understanding why something happened can be like playing God.
- There is no such thing as a disaster. My father was a master of overthinking and overreacting. Events were either the worst thing that ever happened or the best thing in the world. I found this approach a tad overdramatic. It worked for him, but it caused PTSD for everyone else. Nothing is the worst thing that ever happened. If you believe that everything happens for a reason – and that reason is for your growth and enlightenment – the world is not such a threatening place.
Oftentimes, the only difference between a disaster and a miracle is time.
- Don’t pole vault over mouse turds. Most people need to step back from their lives and take a deep breath. When something happens that we don’t expect, or want, we can quickly lose perspective. Mouse turds become molehills which become mountains in a New York second. We need to ask ourselves, “How am I going to feel about this tomorrow, next week, in 30 days, or next year?”
Given time, most of the things we worry about will matter little, if at all.
- Give it time. Sometimes we get triggered when the unexpected happens. Rather than panic, give a challenging situation 48 hours to resolve itself. With some time to think about solutions, you don’t need to panic. You can seek advice, do some research, or simply clear my mind. Sometimes allowing myself 48 hours will allow my intuition to kick in and find a solution.
When I look back on the unexpected event, I usually realize it was not a big deal.
- Recognize you are overthinking. Sometimes we need to step back and take a breather. The worst-case scenario rarely happens. Take a deep breath and tell yourself: “I have this.” The word “resentment” literally means “thinking over and over.” We all know what resentment feels like, and we need to be grateful to overcome it. We can say to ourselves:
“I am grateful for this opportunity to learn and grow.”
Are You Ready to Give Overthinking a Rest?
The bottom line is we often create our own stress and cause our own suffering by overthinking. We can take deep breaths, try to see the humor or gift in the situation, and realize that we do not have to be right all of the time. At work as in life, there are no mistakes – only opportunities to learn.