The Secret Culprit behind Over-Thinking: Fear

by | Jan 24, 2016

snow2By Saturday afternoon there was already 18 inches of snow. Tree limbs sagged with the weight and narrow, shoveled paths wiggled toward the garage. And, it was still snowing. The boxwood hedges, that I have nurtured since they were tiny, splayed apart from mounds of wet snow. Their brittle branches can snap under any sustained pressure, and they grow back v-e-e-e-r-y slowly. So, I waded into the wiggly paths with my broom to brush the snow from the boxwood. (yes…really) But the snow had a hard crust on the surface that laughed at my feeble swipes. I had to punch holes into the crust, break it apart and then brush it aside. Green branches gleefully bounced back. Pleased, I murmured to myself, “Be free!” (yes…really)

You’re thinking, “What could this possibly have to do with over-thinking?” Good question. Here’s the thing, when we are stymied by over-thinking, it’s as though a heavy weight—like the snow—holds us back. I learned from my experience and from working with groups, the oppressive weight frequently comes from fear. Fear of making the wrong decision; of standing out; of not standing out; of rejection. Need I go on? In fact, in an over-thinking workshop last week, 80% of the participants identified fear as the root cause of their over-thinking. Most people never do anything about it. If you’re not most people, take conscious steps to sweep it away.

Here are five questions to bust through the crust and brush away the fear.

Why am I hesitating? Answer honestly. Maybe it’s, “If I make the wrong decision the company could lose money.” Or, “I don’t want the boss to be disappointed in me.” Perhaps this, “I don’t want to cause a ripple in the team.” Some even said, “No one has ever done this before.” Stating the hesitation acknowledges that there’s snow on your branches.

What am I afraid of? Add this question to the previous one. It sounds like this: I don’t want the company to lose money. So, what am I afraid of? Answers could be, “I’d feel terrible if the company was less profitable.” Or, “I’m afraid I’d lose my job.” Acknowledging the fear out loud is like punching holes in the crust of the snow so you can brush it away.

What would you need to give up or let go of to move through the fear? Now probe. In this example, maybe you have to give up the expectation that every decision always makes money for the company. Or that you couldn’t survive the loss of your job. This question requires deeply honest reflection to loosen the snow.

What would you be freed up to do? What would it feel like if you removed the fear? Maybe you are freed up to make bold decisions expecting that you get more right than wrong. Or maybe you are freed up to bring your best self to the job knowing that you are worthy of employment. What’s possible for you?

Are you willing to give that up or let that go? This is a legitimate choice. You may sense how it feels to release yourself from the fear, but are you willing to? Depending on your personal situation, the answer may be “no.” Perhaps you can’t afford to risk losing your job. Either way, you are now consciously aware of the price you pay for fear. And, whether you let go of the fear or not, you can stop over-thinking, make the decision and move on.

Most people remain unconsciously weighed down by fear. It’s far better to give yourself the option to be rid of the restrictions of the snow. It’s the harder path…just like tramping through 20 inches of snow to care for a shrub. But, when the snow melts, healthy, whole, beautiful boxwoods will continue to grow. And so it is with you. Make the choice to consciously deal with your fears so that you bounce back with resilience. And, it liberates you from over-thinking.

Now go, and be free!


Author Byline: Founder and CEO of Blue Fjord Leaders, Shelley Row P.E. CSP, was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers. Professional engineer and former senior executive, she was recognized as one of the best minds in advanced traffic management systems.

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