Ep #88: How to Stop Overthinking Your Work and Life

by | Podcast

One of the things that keeps striking me in my coaching and personal conversations these last few weeks is that this worldwide crisis is putting a spotlight on what matters most to us. We’re getting clear about what we really care about in life and maybe even questioning some deeply held beliefs. 

At the same time as this clarity is glimmering within us, we are also experiencing some real confusion and overwhelm largely a result of overthinking:

Our overthinking brain is really getting revved up about what we should do in our business and how to position our work and offerings, especially now. 

So we have these glimmers of clarity mixed in with a lot more uncertainty than we're used to seeing in the world  and it really can make for a lot of overthinking.

In today’s Brilliance at Work podcast episode we talk about how to stop overthinking your work and your life, so you can stay present to the joy available even when things get suddenly new and different in the world.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode: 

  • Why all of the strategies I’ve tried for so many years of self development haven’t been as helpful as I hoped they’d be
  • How a simple way of seeing (vs. something I have to DO) has changed the way I parent, how I present on stage, and how I write and create podcasts and articles  
  • Why overthinking pretty much never leads to greater clarity…and what does lead to the clarity we are wishing for 
  • What I mean by “Falling out of our overthinking” and how it helps way more than all of the fancy strategies I’ve learned over decades of study
  • How to invite your brain into calmness when you are overthinking so that it can do what it’s meant to 

Listen to the Full “Stop Overthinking” Episode: 

Featured on the Show:

PREVIOUS EPISODE | Ep #87: What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do in Your Business with Barb Patterson

NEXT EPISODE | Ep #89: Your Crystal Clear Message Will Keep You Grounded


Full “Stop Overthinking” Episode Transcript:

Welcome to the Brilliance at Work podcast where we shine a light on where great work, charisma and leadership that makes a positive difference really comes from, I'm Michelle Barry Franco. I'm an executive coach speaking coach and your honored host and I'm delighted that you're here. Hello, my brilliant friends.

Hello to you from inside another day in the surreal world of shelter at home or is it called quarantine or, I don't, what is the difference even between the two? I guess I think of quarantine as even more protected like inside of our home anyway, it's so weird that these words have even just become a regular part of our vocabulary now. Today at our house we had our first event in the Franco family farm quarantine olympics. My husband Jim, who is also part of our business here, decided to put together, we had talked about what are we going to do for spring break and you know the girls are home, but of course they've been home for a few weeks. We live in California, so we've been shut down in California for a while. We lived near San Francisco area, so again we've been shut down for a while, but the teachers were creating some regular zoom call gatherings for their students and they had homework and we would have, we'd all meet at the table at 8:30 in the morning and talk about what's going to happen for the day, what homework they have, how they were going to get outside, that kind of thing.

We're real lucky. We live near a lot of open space, a lot of hiking so we can walk to places and get some outdoor time, which is really awesome. We were kind of creating our own systems when school was in, but we were homeschooling school from home, but now it's spring break and normally on spring break we often go do something at least for a subset of the days. Of course, we can't do that right now. We were trying to think how we can mix things up and make it exciting. Jim, it was actually his birthday a couple of days ago and he spent a good part of the day putting together these olympics and it has all these different events, like a trampoline event, a Frisbee golf event where on a couple of pastures we have just under two acres.

Enough space to do a Frisbee golf kind of event and I can't remember whether the basketball, we have a basketball hoop out in the driveway. He put this together. Today was our cornhole events. The corn hole, he lives in the Midwest. I feel like those are more common there. We'd have them out at roasts, they'd do a big bonfire. Anyway, so we have these, this cornhole says that we've pulled that out today was the first event. It's just so funny to think about life right now. The ways that we're figuring out how to bring some interest and delight and we are, I really want to recognize we are all healthy right now. None of us in our immediate family is sick and even in my next layer of family, we do have friends and family members who we love dearly who have lost people to the virus.

It's not that we're not aware of course of the seriousness of this and, and the reasons why we're home. I mean, we're all staying home because this is a very serious risk to life and we care about human life, but those of us that are home and well and have kids or even without kids are getting creative. That's what we're doing over here in the Franco, the Franco family farm. I've also had moving on from a little window into our world as a family. I've also had some really rich conversations with business owners this past week about their businesses during this very strange new world and really how to position their work and their offerings to reflect and really make sense in what is now our current reality. Like within a matter of days, weeks, everything feels like it's changed in many ways. What matters has we have a spotlight on different things around what matters.

This can be really tricky, but I've also noticed in these conversations, this situation has been especially clarifying as well. I hear myself and my clients being impassioned about what we believe, what we know to be true even in these circumstances about what we really, really want people to know. It's just interesting to notice how this kind of a crisis situation and really a shared crisis across the world has made certain truths or deep beliefs rise up. Really. I mean in a way, a crisis like this, as I said it, it puts that spotlight on what matters the most to us and at the same time it can rev up our overthinking brain about what we should do in our business. We have this kind of like this mix of clarity around beliefs, maybe even deep seated beliefs, but taking that and applying it to what feels like a brand new circumstance with a lot more uncertainty than we're used to seeing in the world really can make for a lot of overthinking.

I love that I get to record this episode for you. After my wonderful conversation with Barb Patterson last week, we talked about what to do when you don't know what to do in your business and if you have not listened to that, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Barb is the person that I go to help me get reconnected with my own clarity and my own wisdom. That's such a great episode to listen to in concert with this one that I'm going to share with you today. Today we're going to talk about how to stop overthinking your work and your life because that seems extra helpful right now given all the conversations that I'm having with people. I know it's coming up for me too. Before we dive into this topic, I would love to ask you to please if you haven't already and if you enjoy this podcast, if you would head over to your favorite listening app and give us a rating and a review.

This just helps us get found more easily in all of the many podcasts that are out there. I appreciate you taking the minute to go over and do that. Maybe you have a little extra time cause we're not driving around as much now when we're listening to podcasts so it'd be awesome if you could head over and do that. Thank you so much. Okay, now let's talk about how to stop overthinking your work and your life. I was in a conversation with a person in our broader brilliance at work community last week and she had like so many of us so much thinking about what's wrong with her. These current circumstances have just sort of have had her brains zero in on what she has been doing wrong and has done wrong over the whole last year and a half in her business. She feels like these errors, these things she's done wrong.

The ways in which she's really not capable was the way she was thinking about it, how this situation has highlighted that inadequacy within her, that in capability within her more than ever. She's been trying to figure out what to do about this. Like, and you've probably heard this too, it's like, Oh, now's the time where you can read all those books that you've been wanting to read, where you can start working on the deeper work in your own life and in your psyche and in your background, in your history. You can go get that all cleaned up so that you'll come out of this time ready and raring to go and I think that's been swirling in her world too. She's been thinking, all right, so I have been screwing up in many ways over the last year and a half. It's, I've had too much to do and now I can clean up all my old thinking, all the past bad stories that I have and that'll fix it.

The list of things that she's tried to help her stop feeling like such a failure. It's kind of long. It's things like energy work, EFT, tapping, emotional freedom technique, meditation, personality workshops that she's taken and she's going to go through all those notes. Again, spiritual guidance that she's gotten in the past and that she's planning to tap again coming up. She's got worksheets that she can and is supposed to, of course pull out whenever she's feeling stuck and when she's lost. She's got practices and rituals and she's really gathered these, yes, in the last year and a half. But even in the years before that as she was moving towards starting her own business, because it was all part of a, a process of personal development and discovery. By the way, suddenly I'm telling my own story here, which happens to me with clients all the time. I'll be talking to, or even just people in the community.

Like in this conversation, I'll be talking with someone and I'm basically hearing very close versions of my own story too. As I share this with you, if any of its resonating, I just want to say to you, me too, this was me for years and years and it makes sense because there's something really powerful. You've heard me talk about how our brain loves novelty. Our brain loves a mystery. When we're learning something new, you may remember I did a podcast, I think it was called, How Learning Does Not Create Transformation, something like that. The focus of that was just recognizing that there's this beautiful hit that happens in our brain. It's almost like a drug that goes, Oh, something new. Some new piece of information that I've never had before, and I think this one's going to solve all of my problems.

Well, when you start getting into the personal development realm or the professional development realm, and often the two will go together. You can have a bunch of those hits and feel like, Oh my gosh, if I just do this, if I do this next thing, Oh well I'm going to try this next process or ritual or practice. If I just create the perfect morning routine, just like my mentor or the person I love following on Instagram, they've shared with me their perfect morning routine. If I do that, it's going to help me realize all my dreams and again, I'm not saying that that morning routine hasn't been beautiful for that person who's sharing it. I'm not saying that meditation or spiritual guidance or EFT tapping or energy work. I'm not saying none of it is wonderful. I like to use some of those. I've certainly had beautiful experiences with many of them, but I've had a say.

I spent 10 plus years journaling. I'll just use a, one of the examples of things that came up a lot in my own path, pages and pages of my thoughts and really it started and the most beautiful place. I'm almost nervous to say this to you because I know that this is such a beloved book and process, but this path into a lot of overthinking for me started with Julia Cameron's the artist's way. I know it's a beautiful book and I am not taking your beautiful artist's way away from you. Please hear me on that. Who doesn't love the artist's way? Me too, but here's how it went in my life, and I know this is unique to me, but I'd wake up and I'd write down my morning pages, pages and pages. At first I didn't know what to write, right? She's just like, write anything, anything that comes to you.

After a while, I didn't do a really good rhythm and suddenly I'd be writing pages and pages and pages of random thoughts. Suddenly it's mid-morning, I'm on my third cup of coffee. By the way. Not that there's anything wrong with that part because three cups of coffee in the morning is still a regular part of my routine. I really thought that writing down all of those thoughts was required so that I could let them go so that I could clear the path. Right. I think that's, I don't really remember to tell you the truth now it's feels like light years away, but I know that many times it's like this, I know people call it a brain dump. I used to call it my brain blossom, just cause brain dump sounds so icky and I love the blossom idea. Plus, what I think that really is, it's a nod to how much I loved my ideas.

I still love my ideas, frankly. You know that I saw them as this like blossom. Just grow me a garden of all my beautiful ideas. But so I lay them out all out in these journals, in my morning pages. The idea was that if I did that, it would clear the path and then I could move into creativity. But honestly, that's not how it worked. Not at all. That's not how it worked for me. Now I'm not. I have absolutely met people who said it works beautifully for them, so if it worked beautifully for you, perfect, right? Your wisdom knows what works for you, but I didn't know so much about my wisdom. Then I'm going to talk a little bit more about that in a minute. All I did was think some more. It just sort of like, you know how they say sleep begets sleep, like when you sleep more than you actually start to sleep more because your body starts getting attuned with that, like when you start to hydrate, it actually reminds you to hydrate more and you get into a better pattern.

For me, all that thinking just made me think some more and then I would try new strategies to help me stop thinking so much because I knew that all of that thinking well, I wasn't trying to stop thinking. Actually. I loved thinking. I was trying to organize my thinking, do better thinking. I thought if I could corral my thinking and then do it in a way that was productive and useful, I could reframe my thoughts, find the thought that would motivate me. Here's the thing, here's what never occurred to me at that time. What if I just stopped looking at my thoughts so much? What if I simply stopped giving them so much freaking time and attention? Nothing that I read, none of these books. I was looking to none of these outside sources, which is where I thought the answers were. None of them were saying, except for meditation.

By the way, I of course, read about and tried, tried passionately, tried really hard to meditate and tried to not think, and of course I get it. Many people have told me that I was doing it wrong and that's why it wasn't working for me. By the way, now meditation has a totally different feel for me, and I can talk more about that in a minute too, but at the time, even that strategy felt too hard. I had a lot of thinking about it. This idea of stopping the, looking at my thoughts so much, not giving them so much time and attention. This has honestly been the biggest revelation of my life. It has been the most life changing thing that's really ever come into my life because it permeates every single aspect of my life. It has changed the way I am in my marriage.

It's changed the way I parent. It absolutely has changed the way I get on a stage. It's changed me writing books and articles and creating podcasts, all of it because I don't get so caught up in my thinking. But let me talk a little bit more about that cause you're probably like, okay great. How do I do that? So before I go into the how or my version of the how, I know that there's a good chance since you're here listening that you've done some thought work and that maybe it's been life changing for you. I'm bringing that up because that really was also life changing for me. This is not a blast against thought work of any kind. One of the reasons I've been able to see so clearly how little attention I need to give my thoughts is because of my focus on seeing my thoughts for what they really are.

So whether it's Brooke Castillo's Life Coach School, which I love, or Byron Katie's The Work, which also has been so revolutionary at an earlier stage in my seeing my thoughts, I'm so grateful for the window into the world of thought and how my brain works that these beautiful wise teachers have brought me before that I actually did. It was like an unknown thing in my life. I really didn't realize, I didn't separate thought from my experience. I didn't see what it had to do with my own experience. I really see that my thoughts were not me. What Brooke Castillo and the Life Coach School, Byron Katie's The Work, Michael Singer and the Untethered Soul, All the Surrender Project, beautiful self-help and teachers helped me see really clearly how thought was separate from me. How could I know? How could I look at my thoughts if I wasn't separate from them?

That said, I could spend hours writing out my thoughts and then working through them. In fact, I have spent hours and hours, weeks and months doing that and it's probably been an important part of my path because you know how you can't. I mean that's what I did. That was a big part of a section of my life. I didn't get a lot of other great creative stuff done during that time, but what it really showed me is how caught up I could get in my thinking, how much attention I could give it really at the expense of my creation, at the expense of me being out in the world and doing life and business in the way that I was really dreaming of doing at the time. What I see now is that the most valuable thing I can do as I create things I want to create in the world, including talks, books, whatever I'm putting out there in my business is to give my thoughts way less meaning, way less attention.

The thing is my thoughts. What they do is they create feelings in my body. These feelings are simply an indicator of what's happening in my thoughts. It's a little cycle that goes on as part of my experience when I'm feeling stuck, frustrated, angry, uncertain about what to do next in my business. All that that means is that I'm caught up in a bunch of thinking in my head and this is really big, like this is a really powerful thing to see. It means nothing about what I should do next and I really know that now. I needed to see that for myself though because until I saw that I thought that being stuck or frustrated or angry or uncertain meant I had to do a bunch of work on myself. I had to go fix something about me. Probably something that started way back in my past and my am I difficult childhood and I'm not saying that lightly.

I mean it's, I have a good solid story for that. I thought, oh geez, that must mean I have more stuff. I have to go clean up, but now I see that it doesn't mean any of that. It just means I'm caught up in a lot of thinking in my head. Usually it's trying to figure out what will work, so what's going on in my head often is, okay, if I offer this thing or if I say this in my talk or if I tell story in my book, what will people think? How will that land? Will it mess with my credibility if I offer this particular business offering, this program, will people buy it? Oh my gosh. It's so easy to get so caught up and trying to figure out what will work or how I can create plan B, plan C, plan D, which is a lot of what I hear going on right now, both of these things because we genuinely, more than ever, we don't know what will work as far as keeping our businesses afloat.

A lot of people have lost their jobs. A lot of businesses are struggling, some businesses are thriving during all this. I've heard some amazing numbers around how grocery stores are doing. For example, Zoom is hiring because of course everybody's using the video platform to do their distance learning and work from their homes. Not everyone is struggling. Some people, some businesses are really thriving, some people are finally able to stay home, get the rest that they need. They don't have to travel as much. So it's really easy for our brain to make up all these stories and then we try to figure out what's going to work in all these different contexts or whatever story we've made up about what's true right now, which isn't even necessarily the true story. We have no idea what will work in business now more than ever.

We get all caught up in thinking about this and we think if we go in there and we think better, we think more clearly, we think a better thought. We look at our thoughts, we figure out which one is causing the problem and then we go find another one or a different one or we reframe that one or we just notice that that one's not true. Again, not saying that any one of those things hasn't been helpful for me. I never have times it has, but here's what I have found even more powerful. Now, and I'm going to use this analogy, I love this analogy. I want you to imagine with me that you are standing in a river and it's a nice clear river. It's got a muddy bottom, but it's a nice clear river, but it's moving at a good pace and you're standing in this river, maybe you know, mid-calf deep, and you're talking with a friend and as you're talking with your friend, you're fiddling with a ring, a ring you love on your finger, and suddenly the ring, it falls off your hand and it falls into the river.

Now what is your initial instinct? Initial instinct is to reach down and grab it, right? You're hoping you're just going to swoop it up and whew, that was close. Let's say it falls down into the mud still. We want to get down there and find it, right? We want to know that we have that ring. We know it felt down in there, but what happens if you reach down? You don't grab it right away and you have to start looking for it in the mud that's sitting at the bottom of the river. You start moving around in the mud, right? What does that do to the, what does that do to your ability to see through the water to the bottom of the river where your ring is sitting somewhere? It gets real murky, doesn't it? What if you try harder?

You try moving around more. You try to lift up rocks and what happens? It just gets muddier and muddier. The clarity gets more and more distant. What do you need to do standing in that river to give yourself the best chance of seeing that ring that might be sitting there right down there at near your feet or might be just a couple steps over. Maybe it just kind of went with the tide a little bit or went with the flow and then fell to the ground. What do you need to do? You've got to stand still, right? You need to stand still in the river and wait. And when you do, eventually that river will clear again because that's its natural state. It's natural state when it's not being ruffled up. It's natural state is clear water on top of a muddy bottom.

Nothing wrong with it when it gets riled up, right? That's just a river that's got some action going on in it, but it's getting in the way of your clarity. This is how we work to where the exact same when you just wait, when you let those thoughts fall away, when you don't go in there and start ruffling up, start muddying up your brain by trying to dig around in those thoughts, clarity naturally rises because that is your natural state clarity, knowing it's a part of your makeup, it's your architecture. You were built for that clarity and that deep knowing. But everyone's telling us to dig around in the river. You must find the rang. It's essential that you do it right this minute, but it's just not true and it's really not that effective. We've been looking in the wrong place for answers.

That's all we've been trying to go in and reframe everything and we think our thinking has the answers, but that's not where our clarity lives. That's not where our best answers live. The most valuable thing that I've seen in this revelation about not putting my attention on my thoughts is where it does make sense to put my attention in. You're like probably wondering that, okay, if I'm not supposed to go to my thoughts, what am I supposed to do when my thinking falls away? There's this incredible wisdom that rises up and shines so much brighter. These new fresh ideas that I've never had before or I've certainly never seen before. Maybe they were living in there. These new fresh ideas, they show up and sometimes they're really unusual. They're unexpected. I find myself with way more spaciousness to try things because I'm not making such a big deal of how they turn out.

I don't have as much on it. I don't have as much expectation that it go one way or another because I don't have a bunch of thoughts about what it means when it works or doesn't work. This is one of the great gifts of not letting your thoughts mean so much. It's a beautiful cycle. Really letting your thoughts fall away and then letting that clarity rise up, trying these new fresh ideas, not knowing what's going to happen, but not thinking you have to know, right? There's so much freedom in that. So when I talk about this sense of freedom that always lives in you. That's why that's where it lives. Now you may be thinking, cause I've heard people ask me this lots of times, okay, this all just sounds really lovely. Michelle, how do I stop thinking so much? The problem is that it's so simple.

This concept, this idea is so simple that our brains kind of freak out about it, which is sort of ironic, isn't it? Our brains are like, wait, what? No, what? Just stop thinking, but wait, that's my job. That's my job. Really. We have a habit of thinking and at least in my case, I had a habit of overthinking for sure and it worked. Like so many other habits I've had in my life. Like I got a hit around it. It felt like I was doing something right. It felt like I was in motion and I was active towards some kind of a goal. None of that was true, but I had a habit around it. Honestly, once you really see for yourself that all of that analysis and thinking has really done nothing that useful, it stops making sense to do it anymore. You'll naturally stop thinking.

It loses its charm. It's like when you realize, I don't know if anything like this has happened to you, but this has happened in our family. When you realize that eating gluten for example, gives you a really bad headache if you have a gluten sensitivity, when you realize that it's gluten that's been giving you those horrible headaches, it just makes sense to not eat gluten. Even when you really liked it before, like it no longer makes sense to eat it. Well. That's what has happened for me. Even someone who's was in love with my ideas and still I really love a good idea, but I just, it doesn't make sense to me anymore to go in there and start like messing with them and trying to make them better and it just doesn't make sense anymore. So maybe you won't never eat gluten again.

If you realize it, it's giving you headaches, maybe you won't never overthink. I can tell you for sure that's been the case for me, but now you know you're probably going to get a headache and so if you can catch it ahead of time, you might not do it or you're more likely see that it's happening. Oh my gosh, I have a headache. Oh, that's right. I forgot that that Chinese food had gluten in it or that beer has gluten too. Here's the thing about our beautiful brain, about your beautiful brain, my beautiful brain. They are so awesome. What a gift they are. I mean, let's be honest. They do critically important things like keep us breathing. They keep us alive. They also help us process really important steps. They bring forth knowledge that you have in your, from your experience. They help us reach a goal process, an important mathematical equation.

Okay. Honestly, I avoid those. My brain doesn't have a lot of experience in that domain, but I want to give our brains the celebration that they deserve. Beautiful, wonderful. They're so important of course, but let's keep our brains focused on what it's meant to do, which is assist you and your wisdom. Once you tap that so that you can get into action around that so you to let your brain calm so you can tap that wisdom and then call forth your brain to do its good work. Falling out of our thinking is one of my favorite ways to think about what I'm describing. I really do think of it like, I feel like it's like raindrops. I'd like to listen to the rain sound when I'm falling asleep, so it's almost like rain falling like the or falling off our back. Just letting the thoughts fall away.

There's nothing you have to do. It's just kind of a seeing. I wonder how that might look and feel for you the next time you get caught up. This idea of falling out, of thinking, letting the thinking fall away. Maybe you want to try it. I'd love to hear how it goes for you. So maybe when you notice that you're especially caught up around something, you can remember the river. Imagine yourself in that river and standing there and waiting and sometimes it's really hard, right? You're like, I don't want to wait. I want to know the answer. I want to know where my ring went but try it. Try it because that's where clarity lives. What if you just hung, hung there for a minute, let those thoughts fall away. See what rises up because you have so much incredible work to do in our world.

So many lives to tach stories, to tell knowledge and experience to share. Yes, through that beautiful brain of yours and I want you out there sharing it far and wide and often because this is your call, you know, that's why you're here. It's your call to serve with your leadership, with your wisdom, with your lessons learned. You really were designed for this. You were made for this, and you know how I know that, right? You know that. Now, get out there and share whatever is rising up in you to share. I can't wait to hear what comes to you from this conversation.

Send me a note or just get in touch. We have all the different ways you can contact me and the show notes. I want to hear from you on this one. All right, and as usual, I already can't wait to be here with you next week. Take care. Thank you so much for being here with me on the Brilliance at Work podcast. If you want to know how to tap your own most natural charisma as a leader and a speaker, you can download a free copy of Lead with Your Natural Charisma, Inspire and Motivate Your Team and Beyond with Ease at http://brillianceatwork.com/naturalcharisma.


Enjoy The Show?