My assessment is that I am an over-thinker. More specifically, I am what an over-thinker would call an over-thinker. I liken my brain to the plant in “Little Shop of Horrors” – you know, the one who gets a little bit of flesh to eat, and then starts crying out “Feeeeed me, Seymour!”, causing poor Seymour to run himself ragged trying to feed the plant enough that it will calm down and stop asking for more food? That’s my brain when it is not in constructive mode. It gets a little thought, and it just keeps looking for more thoughts, and more thoughts and more thoughts, until I am completely run ragged from my thoughts.
In the height of my self-doubt, I could take a simple, innocent thought and, within seconds, turn it into an academy award winning story, which, in a couple of deft movements, I could then use to totally undermine myself, destroy my confidence and emotionally paralyse myself to the point of being unable to take any form of useful action.
For example, imagine a new senior manager at work, and imagine them saying “Good Morning” as someone walked past. Most people would probably think “Oh. The new senior manager said Good Morning to me. I will say good morning back”, if it even caused them to think that deeply. That’s because they don’t have the overthinking “super power”.
Those of us with the overthinking super power might think something like: “Oh, I can tell that they don’t think I am good at my job by their tone. And, if they did have any respect for me, they would have made eye contact. They didn’t make eye contact so clearly they have heard how terrible I am at my job and they are plotting how to get rid of me from the organisation. I knew it. This always happens when I get a new manager. I should have expected it. And anyway if it always happens when I get a new manager, what is wrong with me that causes that to happen? I should have learnt all of this by now. Seriously, what is wrong with me? And anyway, I don’t want to have anything to do with that manager if they are going to decide not to like me without even getting to know me. That’s the thing with managers. I really don’t know why I bother”.
Now, imagine that level of super power in the hands of a perfectionistic self-doubter. There is a ball of anxiety in my stomach from just thinking about what could come of that. And that is probably the result of experience, because that perfectionistic self-doubter with the over-thinking super power used to be me.
It was a stroke of pure genius that my coach decided to start one of our next coaching conversations with some “mindful physiology”. I honestly do not remember anything that we discussed or did during this conversation. Even looking back on my notes didn’t refresh my memory. I know that it involved body work and most likely my trademark “enthusiasm” for that. Apart from that, all that I remember is that my coach suggested that I had an incredible strength in thinking and said that he was wondering whether focusing my mind on the mindful physiology work would give me something constructive to do with my thinking.
My more blunt interpretation of my coach’s suggestion was that if we could find a way to focus my overthinking mind on constructive thoughts, perhaps we could stop it from going so crazy with the less helpful thoughts. The reason that I only remember this part of the conversation is that I was so excited to hear that in amongst all of the anxiety, self-doubt and craziness that seemed to be my life, someone had observed that I had a strength. At that point in my life, it had not occurred to me that I had a strength in anything, especially a strength in thinking. It is fair to say that my thinking had not felt like a strength for a very long time and, in recent times, it had been downright scary. However, I decided that if someone else thought that my thinking was a strength, then I was going to seize the opportunity and treat it as a strength. So I forgot about everything else that was discussed and walked away, already thinking about how I would use my strength in thinking.
What occurred to me was that, perhaps if I really started to think about what was going on in language, emotions and body, like really think and focus, I wouldn’t be focusing on the less helpful things in life.
And so my reflective process was born.
Every morning in the car on the way to work, I would have a coaching conversation with myself. It would cover everything on my list from my previous coaching conversation, everything that might be concerning me about going into the day, and anything else that came to mind. I would have an actual conversation, out loud in the car, so that I could hear my stories. And then I would ask myself why I was holding those stories, and why I was feeling like I was feeling. Sometimes, I would have an epiphany. Every time, I would make a plan about how I was going into my day, what way of being would work for me and what I would like to achieve that day. On the way home, I would have a conversation with myself about how my day went, what learning had come out of it, and what learning was yet to come. Every day, I would set goals, and talk to myself about how I was measuring against those goals.
This became my sacred time. I would become so disappointed if I had an easy run in the traffic, because my reflecting time was shortened! I also really felt put out if I had to give someone a lift and couldn’t have my reflecting time. It was so special to me, because I could become absorbed in my reflections, and take on the learning. So. Much. Learning.
My thoughts became purely about what to create, and my mind was kept so busy with my reflective process at the beginning and end of my day that it was quite happy to spend the middle of the day focusing on work. In fact, it almost appreciated the rest.
This was an amazing step forward. I still had moments when my thinking wasn’t helpful. However, I was now able to reflect on why I’d had those moments and what would be useful in turning them around.
It was a great feeling, moving from being an over-thinker to a reflective learner.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that I had hit upon the foundation of the ontological approach – that process of learning about how we are being, so that we can apply that learning to our being in order to shift what we are doing. In my own work, I call it the Be. Do. Learn. approach – we be, which is what causes us to do the things that we can do. If we can learn from that and apply it to how we are being, we can shift what we do.
I think the other part of this was that I was really starting to become a learner. It is interesting that, in our society, we tend to think of knowledge as something to acquire. We learn how to “know stuff” because “knowing stuff” gives us power. I think this can lead to a somewhat negative listening of the word “learner” because we interpret learning as “not knowing stuff”. In the ontological world, knowledge is about our ability to take action (where taking action could be listening, managing our assessments, making a request, understanding our moods, lifting our shoulders, or anything, really). So, from an ontological perspective, it is potentially very useful to be a learner because doing so enables other possibilities for action to become available to us.
Points to Ponder…
- How would the addition of a reflective process help you?
- Where in your life would it help you to be a learner?
- What strengths do you see in yourself that you may be able to use more resourcefully?
I am a leadership and life coach, available for coaching and facilitation services. If you feel that it would be useful to have a conversation with me, please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.
4 thoughts on “From the Overthinking of a Self-Doubter to the Reflections of a Learner”
“Observe, Orient, Decide, Act” – seems like another way of putting this. Should probably probably tell about the dark state of mind that led me to reach out to Mal to get me started back on the road to physical health (even if we did overdo it a bit in the 1st session!). But is was mainly, as Granny Weatherwax would put it, “Headology”.
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Thanks for taking the time to comment, SHOCKING. Interestingly, one of my coaching colleagues uses “Observe, Choose, Act” to describe this process, so I think that you have summed it up nicely. Sorry to hear that you were in a dark place before starting on the road to physical health. I have found writing about my experience quite healing.
The way you changed from overthinking to making your mind work for you is fantastic. Learning points for me here, for sure! I often find that writing things down helps me to have those epiphany moments of clarity and makes me more inclined to take note. Thank you for sharing. xx
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You are very welcome and I am pleased that it was helpful. This was a massive turning point for me, and I give full credit to my coach for his genius thinking. I didn’t really know what I was doing until I had done it. I can relate to writing helping with epiphany moments. I often found when I was being coached that a lot of what came up didn’t fall into place until I had written about it. xx
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