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Overthinking It

by Dr. Robert Glover on Jul 21st, 2013.     2 comments

overthinkingI recently read a New York Times interview with Andre Durand, CEO of Ping Identity.

The interviewer asked Mr. Durand what advice he gives aspiring entrepreneurs. Here is what he said:

“Everyone talks about the role of persistence, and I’ve come to like this one-liner: ‘The world filters out the uncommitted.’ It’s not just entrepreneurship – it’s true about anything you want to do.
 
“I also see a lot of brilliant people overthinking. They overanalyze an idea before it’s even off the ground. They have a smart idea, but they spend all their time thinking about all the what-ifs. By the time they’ve done their risk assessment, they don’t do anything. It’s like, ‘Well, what’s the point?’
 
“Yes, there are all sorts of unknowns. I like to say the first step is not nearly as big as you think, and success takes a lot longer than you might think. It’s that weird dichotomy. The first step literally is just to say you’re going to do it, and then start doing it."

A few things really stood out to me in Mr. Durand’s comments.
 
One was that the world filters out the uncommitted.”
 
I have found this to be true in every area of life. For over thirty years I have been helping people put their intention into action.
 
I understand that change is slow and often hampered by old self-limiting beliefs and deeply ingrained mental habits. But here is the thing. I’ve never seen anyone accomplish any major thing or change in any significant way without being “all the way in.”
 
You can desire an amazing girlfriend, a great relationship, a fit body, your own successful business, or a satisfying life, but nothing happens until you get really committed.
 
I always laugh when I hear people preach “moderation in all things.” I laugh because I have yet to meet a person who really accomplished or created something of significance who was moderate in all things. When you see people who seem to have what you want or have accomplished what you want to accomplish, I promise you one thing: they weren’t moderate in all things. They were committed. They were all in.
 
The second thing in this interview that really stood out to me was Mr. Durand’s comment about how many brilliant people don’t accomplish much because they “overthink” everything. I have seen this – both in myself and in people with whom I work.
 
The majority of the people I work with are brighter than average, and bright people tend to have brains that are “problem-solving machines.” This can be a great tool when managed well.
 
Unfortunately, it can also be a curse, because a problem-solving machine needs problems to solve. A bright person can spend all of his or her time trying to figure out everything that might possibly go wrong with any decision or plan before taking action. When a person get’s caught up in the “what-ifs” Mr. Durand mentions, the paralysis of analysis sets in. Nothing changes; nothing is accomplished.
 
I see this with guys overthinking the simple process of saying hello to a woman and introducing themselves. They think they have to say something really clever for a woman to want to have a conversation with them. They overanalyze everything that might go wrong – she might be in a relationship, he might get rejected, he might look foolish, he might run out of things to say, he might get beat up by her boyfriend – so they do nothing.
 
I see this with men already in relationships. So afraid of ever doing anything that might upset their wife or girlfriend, they become passive, avoidant, and risk-adverse. They won’t lead, won’t say what they think or want, won’t tell the truth, won’t do anything that might rock the boat, and they never create any positive emotional tension. That is why I teach a course on relationships in which I teach men how to get All The Way In.”
 
I especially see the tendency to overthink and overanalyze when it comes to people acting with passion and living up to their potential in work and career. I have worked with countless intelligent and creative men and women who are stuck in middle management (or below), failing to live up to their full potential because of their tendency to try to get every duck in a row before taking any action. The “what-ifs” paralyze them.
 
What’s the answer?
 
I tell people you can’t think your way through most things in life; you have to act your way through.
 
The easiest way to do this begins with the advice Mr. Durand gives in his interview: “The first step literally is just to say you’re going to do it, and then start doing it."
 
To do this, I apply what I call the “One Pull-Up” approach.
 
I don’t like doing pull-ups. Whenever I think about doing them, my mind immediately thinks about how hard they are and that if I start, I’ll have to do nine or ten. This thinking causes me to avoid doing any pull-ups. So nothing ever changes.
 
So I break it down. I take a breath and tell myself that I only have to do one pull up. I then jump up and do it. But since that first one usually comes pretty easily, I do a few more. I typically then challenge myself to do one or two more than my mind thinks I can. Before I know it, I’ve done my nine or ten pull-ups and feel great.
 
If you are one of those brilliant people who get in their own way by overthinking instead of taking action, the One Pull Up approach is a great place to start.

Stop trying to think your way through and start acting your way through. Whatever goal or task has you paralyzed; break it down, do some small part of it, and watch yourself start moving ahead.


Robert
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Topics: Passion Work and Career

2 Comments

Ace says ...
Robert, this is a very helpful article you have written!

I am one of the people that very often thinks too much ... to the point that it either hinders my performance in what I'm doing or even that I end up not taking any action at all. Coincidentally, I've actually recently begun working on myself to stop thinking too much and to begin taking action. I like what you said in one of your tweets: "Thinking creates anxiety, action cures it." And now, with your blog article, it has given me even more motivation to think less and act more. Thanks so much for your article!
Kevin K says ...
Dr. Glover, I like your point about how people who are "problem solving machines" tend to over-analyze situations before making decisions or taking action and therefore these brilliant people often don't accomplish much because they "overthink" everything. Your suggestion to take action first is very much in line with the way entrepreneurial individuals think. I write reviews of the best books for those want to develop an entrepreneurial mindset at http://kevinkauzlaric.com/, and the one thing that I come across a lot is that entrepreneurial people take action first before overthinking things. I would suggest for those who are "problem solving machines" (like myself) to take action first, and then analyze what you've learned from that. You can still analyze, just hold off until after first taking some initial action. I try my best to do this and usually discover that the situation is much more positive than I would have thought had I only engaged in "overthinking".

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