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  • Writer's pictureBeatka Wójciak

The benefits of overthinking

Overthinking is often stigmatised in society, seen as a bad trait and something to try to eliminate from your life. It may indeed be something to try to work on, especially if it paralyses you to the point where you can’t take action.

A meme from Always sunny in Philadelphia showing a man presenting his crazy plan
Overthinking your next project

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

First, let’s acknowledge that if you’re prone to overthinking, you can’t just stop it at a whim. It’s like expecting someone to “stop worrying” - brains just don’t work this way. If anything, it will require some focused work to get it under control.

Your superpower

One of the biggest advantages is that you already have a plan A but also B, C, and D. This means that whatever challenge you face, it will seem easy to you because you already solved it in your head.

Sure, the extreme scenarios might be extremely unrealistic but that doesn’t matter - some parts of them might still help you with whatever you’re trying to solve.

I discovered it for myself when I started taking on challenges that seemed big and scary - only to realise that I made them much worse in my head. My imagination made them truly big and scary, yet reality didn’t live up to my expectations.

Time and time again I ended up surprised that I managed to resolve an issue I was dreading without much hassle. I already figured out all aspects of it so I knew exactly what to do.

One notable time it happened was when I was hosting an intern for the first time. Before they arrived, I was scared of so many things that could go wrong. What if they are not able to deliver on their project? What if they’ll have a very different personality and it will be impossible to have a working relationship? What if they get stuck on something and I won’t be able to help, and they’ll see I’m not actually competent? What if they don’t like me?!

How to harness it?

Now, I don’t know if it’s possible to teach yourself to not overthink stuff. I suspect that if you’re the kind of person with these tendencies, you’re likely to have a bit of that forever.

I think what’s more practical is learning to recognise that you’re doing it again and finding strategies to cope with it. I find that writing things down, or even drawing diagrams and making plans on paper works best. It takes things out of my head and puts them somewhere where I can look at everything at once.

I also like talking to people about my big complex issues, and more often than not they make me realise that I already made a plan and worried about things 5 years down the line, while I haven’t even done the first step.

My third strategy is going for a long swim, run or walk and just think everything through until I run out of thoughts - this works surprisingly well and helps me see the actual scale of the issue I’m facing.

These three things helped me a lot with the intern fear: I talked to other team members asking them for advice (and wrote it down!), created a few different contingency plans for when things go off plan, reviewed them with my manager to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and then I went through everything again, adding extra details and scenarios as needed.

I’m sure there are many other ways to harness the power of your brain looking at everything from all angles at the same time. I know some people who prefer dumping everything in a spreadsheet of their calendar.

The reality

In the end, I didn’t need most of my Intern Contingency Plans, but having them ready, complete with a step-by-step checklist helped me relax knowing that whatever happens - I’ll be able to handle it.

That internship went really well, and I ended up hosting several other interns over the years - and every next time, I didn’t need my emergency procedures that much. It was reassuring to have them ready from that first internship though!

Was this the last time I was overthinking something? Of course not, I do it all the time. But I’m very mindful of it, and rather than letting it overwhelm me - I’m turning it into detailed plans for different scenarios. Then when the time comes to execute: things feel easy.

I believe that overthinking is the sign that you care and you want to do things well - and as such it shouldn’t need to be eradicated. You can appreciate it and use it to your advantage - just remember to actually go ahead with this thing you’re overthinking!

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