Overcoming overthinking

In a time of change, difficulties are bound to arise. Psychologically and emotionally, there are three main reasons why we can then sometimes find ourselves unable to decide how move forward. The first of these is called overthinking.

Overthinking is paralysis by analysis: endless flipping back and forth between the alternatives, wondering which one is best, but never actually doing any of them.

The classic example of this comes from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. It is clear early on that Hamlet’s uncle has killed his father and married his mother. But instead of taking action Hamlet overthinks what to do: “Is it nobler,” he wonders, “to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?” Might he succeed? Might he fail? Would death become an endless time “to sleep, perchance to dream”?

As he dithers over whether “to be or not to be,” events move on around him until suddenly, oops!: “I am dead, Horatio.”

A wasted opportunity.

We all recognise this, which is why we love the play. But the living death that Hamlet achieves by not taking action is worse than the actual death he eventually suffers anyway. By choosing to dither he accomplishes nothing and the play is a tragedy in the truest sense.

To be or not to be” truly is the question. Or rather, “to become or not to become.”

In a time of change, all ways forward will be difficult and we will never know 100 percent how things are going to turn out. So the priority becomes not to predict what will happen but to find out what is most important, most inspiring, to us and then to do our best to achieve that.

As Peter Drucker said:

“Doing the right things is more important than doing things right.”

If Hamlet had had the tools of Inner Leadership he could have understood his situation more clearly, identified more opportunities for moving forward, and then chosen the one that was best for him.

We would have lost a famous play, but Hamlet would have gained a more life-filled ending.


Adapted from Inner Leadership.


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