Overthinking vs Thinking on Purpose.


So much of the time my clients want to move directly into action- sending emails, posting photos, announcing new products to the world- instead of spending any time thinking. But if you’re hoping to become successful, consistent time thinking must be the foundation of your action. Otherwise you’ll just be spinning your wheels. Your brain might tell you that you don’t have time. I think it’s the most important step you can take.

Overthinking is the tactic so many of us take when we’re trying to solve something important. When we’re doing things that are important to us. You might call overthinking by a different name- worrying. Worrying is essentially thinking about something over and over again, typically imagining the worst-case scenario but really never getting anywhere productive toward solving it. Really all you’re doing is playing your brain a tape of the worst-possible outcome over and over and over, which is not very helpful.

It usually leaves you exhausted, feeling powerless and is a stand-in for real, production action and thinking.

I’d like to propose an alternative today. Something that I believe is both helpful and calming, and done regularly (at the start of a project, at the start of a week, when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed) is productive and leaves you feeling like you’re better off.

I’m talking about Thinking on Purpose.

Thinking on Purpose:

  • Happens at a set time, for a set amount of time.

  • Is very helpful to begin any new week or project.

  • Is not catastrophizing (ie, obsessing about the worst-case scenario)

  • Allows you to tap into a calm, courageous and confident mind.

  • Can be done when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

  • Is productive even if your brain tells you you don’t have time.

  • Is necessary if you’re going to evolve or grow your business or life into something different.

  • Allows your brain to stop Overthinking because you can tell it that you’re getting to it so it doesn’t have to worry.

Overthinking is:

  • something our brain does when we’re worried

  • a habit we practice over and over and over

  • a buffer- something our brain goes to to deal with emotions that we don’t want to feel

  • inaction that masks itself as productive action

  • exhausting

Overthinking is something our brains do to make sure we’re considering something but then we never get a break from it. Your brain never gets resolution so it keeps it in the back of your mind, making sure you don’t forget you have to obsess about this thing. But that’s exhausting and unproductive, no matter what your brain tells you. You could definitely be doing other things in a more productive, focused way without this set of thoughts in the back of your mind stressing you out.

My method for Thinking on Purpose involves identifying the major components of a ‘problem’ or a project and asking myself what matters. It also involves me checking in with my Emotional Health. I set aside a specific time and place for this, but I also find myself doing this when I’m super overwhelmed, which has been happening lately. My brain tries to tell me that I don’t have time for thinking, and it’s pretty sneaky so I really have to do my thoughtwork to stay on track- even though I know intellectually that overthinking isn’t the answer. It’s just that I’ve practiced it a lot, so it’s a habit I’ve been working on breaking.

I promise you that once you apply Thinking on Purpose to an area of your life (money, relationships, time, wellness, creative projects, life in general) you’ll get so much further than you would if you were just worrying or overthinking.

Here’s how I do Thinking on Purpose:

  • I put time on my calendar (usually 1-2 hours)

  • I don’t do any other work- it’s really hard because I have so much to do and during this practice, my mind really wants to go to all the stuff I have to do

  • I decide at the beginning what I want to emerge with after an hour or so. What would be really good to walk away with AFTER my time of Thinking on Purpose? A blog post? A plan? Clarity? A podcast outline? A decision?

  • I coach myself through spending time right here, right now doing this one thing

  • I ask myself what’s most important about the problem / project I’m working on

  • Why is it important to my life or business that I’m taking time doing this anyway?

  • What feels scary or worrisome about the project / problem?

  • What’s my ideal outcome of the project?

  • What’s truly the worst-case scenario?

  • And then I get into the thinking about the actual project / problem. I try to understand it from all angles. What do I need to answer that I don’t know yet? What is holding me back from getting answers?


My Tips for trading Overthinking for Thinking on Purpose:

  • Keep a running list of stuff that you want to get answers to or think about but then let it out of your mind

  • When you’re focused on one thing, stay focused on that one thing for the time you decided you would

  • Decide at the beginning what success looks like in that thinking session

  • If other stuff comes up, just note it in your Later category on a piece of paper or wherever you take notes

  • If you get overwhelmed, pause for a minute for a quick walk or stretch or breathing. If you’re new to this you might experience anxiety at changing how your brain works. And THIS is the magical part. Reassuring your brain that this way makes more sense and is better for you anyway.

  • Stick with it but don’t be mad at yourself if you don’t always walk away doing it perfectly. Done is better than perfect anyway.

Stephanie Sheldon