There are some leaders with all the talent, skill, and potential in the world. Yet, they could facilitate a Master’s Class on over-thinking. In fact, you could even say they have a superpower in the art of creating problems that don’t exist. They seem to need daily confirmation that the power still works by seeing problems suddenly appear without any effort at all.

If you’ve been keeping up with the news (that is if you can find an accurate source without an agenda), you’ve seen all of the chaos that’s still occurring in Seattle, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Virginia, DC, etc. Each of these areas are suffering from an abdication of leadership, wherein the leader can’t decide on which course of action to take (for whatever reason) and defaults to doing nothing at all.  

There’s even a personality description assigned to this kind of leadership trait. It’s called the Perfectionist, which is one of the 7 difficult personality traits in the workplace. Perfectionists hold onto decisions out of the need for a perfect outcome until it’s too late. By the way, those personality traits aren’t exclusive to the workplace. I have a family member with this trait I’m thinking about as I write this post.

Leaders with this trait aren’t just cautious. They tend toward hypervigilance, over-thinking every possible scenario in their mind as a way of protecting themselves, while at the same time only creating more problems through inaction. I’ve worked with many of these individuals. Race, gender, religion, etc., it matters not. The consistency and depth with which this habitual default is embedded is the most difficult of the difficult personality traits to change.

Yes, I said habitual default. We all have them. It’s the behavior we default to unconsciously and repetitively when we feel threatened in any way, whether out of stress, anxiety, or a sudden unexpected assault of any kind out of our normal experience.

My work with leaders has to do with Personal Leadership Effectiveness™, the substance of which is an individual’s attitudes, which influence their behaviors. Two especially important recognition’s are:

  1. What values do they prize above all others?
  2. What habits do they have that are getting in the way of their effectiveness?

The latter is always the most difficult to identify and even more difficult to confront and resolve.

I’ve always felt that how you begin anything is how you’ll progress and ultimately accomplish your objective. If you’re being held hostage by over-thinking, I recommend you begin with the following:

  1. Call yourself out. You’re not protecting anyone. All you’re doing is creating more problems for yourself and everyone under your influence.
  2. Start identifying your triggers and paying attention to your thought patterns. Write them down and post them where you can see them daily. When you recognize one or the other, pull yourself back out.
  3. Give your brain a break.  You may not be able to make every thought shut up, but you can take breaks. I’m not one to take naps. However, I am intentional about this one thing daily. I find a quite place, where for just a few minutes, I can clear my head. No phones, no computers, no people. I just want to clear my head. The results are amazing!
  4. Create new mental patterns. When your mind starts trying to create a problem, use logic and reason to bring it back to reality. Find new ways of reacting rather than falling into old patterns. Have conversations about something positive rather than dwelling on your fears. You’re not ignoring anything; you’re just finding new ways to respond.
  5. See your triggers for what they are. Triggers come from trauma, and what they really do is show us an area we need to heal. They’re protective at their very roots. As a society, we’ve made triggers a minefield and asked other people to tiptoe around them. The real positive of a trigger is that it points to an experience we’ve had that still needs attention and healing. I can tell you that early in my life, I was bullied unmercifully from the age of 10-13, just because my first name had more of a feminine than masculine implication. Along with being raised as the only boy and oldest with 5 sisters, all in sequential proximity of age, sure makes life interesting in a small town of 300 people. That experience has stayed with me my whole life and there’s a lot I’ve come to terms with. It’s made me stronger, for sure.
  6. Become more grounded in the present. Mindfulness as a practice can be incredibly helpful for over-thinkers. It pulls us back from the downward spiral by keeping us only in the present moment of what we’re experiencing. It keeps us from looking in the rear-view mirror all the time.
  7. Seek clarity. Instead of assuming the worst every time, you don’t have to play out the scenarios one by one in the hope that one of them is the perfect outcome. Figure out what’s happening by having an actual conversation with someone about what’s in your head.

As I noted, the work of identifying habitual defaults is not just difficult; it’s an exercise in being vulnerable and honest with yourself. It’s about looking in the mirror and recognizing that the person you see is the one you’ll have the most problems with the rest of your life.

Better to do the more difficult work of creating and embedding new habits to replace the old ones. It will make the person in the mirror much easier to contend with.

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