You know that feeling when you’re going around and around trying to decide between chicken or fish, the red dress or the blue dress, or whether you should marry him or break up? “It feels like you’re a dog chasing its tail,” says Shelley Row, author of Think Less and Live More: Lessons from a Recovering Over-thinker.
Overthinking, also known as decision paralysis, is a burden in the lives of many women in both their personal and professional lives, says Row, a former engineer who now runs her own consulting company. The pitfalls of overthinking include taking far too long to make decisions, missing out on opportunities, making worse decisions than necessary and causing a whole lot of stress in the process.
The first step toward conquering overthinking involves no technology, no learning curve and no money. All you need is quiet. Once your mind is still, you’ll start to uncover messages Row says. “You’ll see that your indecisiveness is usually coming from deeply embedded experiences or fear.”
“The first time I had to fire someone, I really overthought it,” says Row, but once she was centered, she began to verbalize to herself what the problem was; she was afraid her boss wouldn’t agree with her decision. “I was giving my boss control of my self-esteem,” she says. “I realized that there was no way I would move up in my career if I constantly second guessed myself and allowed someone else to impact my self-esteem.” A deeper message, however, was an even bigger disabler. “Growing up, my mother would always say, ‘Now, Shelley, be nice.’ Being nice had become part of my value system.”
With these deeper feelings exposed, Row was able to grow from her realizations about her behavior. “For that decision, I had to understand that my mother was teaching me how to be nice on a playground. But being nice in business and adult life is different.” As Row grappled with this new information, she decided that firing her subordinate was indeed the nicest thing she could do. The situation wasn’t working out for either party and the employee would be better off moving on. Armed with this knowledge, which Row calls information mixed with intuition, or infotuition, she let the employee go and felt completely secure in her decision.
“The first time you work with this process, it feels so introspective and like you’re untangling a morass. But the next time it’s quicker and the next even quicker,” she says. Getting quiet and listening to where your stressed out mind takes you when faced with a difficult decision is key. Row likes walking, running and meditating. Others might achieve the same clarity by journaling or just sitting quietly. Whatever method works for you to truly hear yourself out, Row says the effort is worth the payoff. “You’ll make the best decisions of your life because they’ll be based on a combination of rational thought and feeling, and that’s really powerful.”