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If you’ve ever been told that you think too much, but not in a good way, there’s a reason for that.  Your female brain is significantly more active than a male brain, especially in the areas involved in impulse control, focus, mood and anxiety.

So it’s not just your roles as an accountant and a mom that causes you to overthink; your female brain is wired for it.  This can make it difficult to recognize when you are spiraling, because your brain may convince you that worrying and ruminating is helpful.

In this age of information overload, it can seem normal, and even necessary, to overthink.  Plus, the field of accounting demands thoroughness, thinking through all possibilities and avoiding mistakes.

While everyone overthinks in certain situations, chronic overthinking may be hurting you and your accounting career more than you realize.  Here’s a simple equation for how:

Overthinking -> Pressure -> Stress -> Mistakes/Anxiety/Thought Loops/Unhappiness

This week I’m going to discuss what it means to overthink, symptoms of overthinking and how to get control over it. 

What it means to overthink

Overthinking is taking in and processing way more information than is necessary to complete a given task, to figure out a problem or to just be fully present in the moment.  It’s like a hurricane of thoughts swirling around in your mind, making even the simplest task, or the most benign situation, into a bigger issue.

For example, my 24 year old son just went on a ski trip to Colorado with a friend, and my overthinking mom-brain went into high gear.  Instead of appreciating the fact that he was taking a trip with a friend, my thoughts were “What if he loses control skiing and hits a tree” and “What if they’re driving in a blizzard and get into an accident and I’m too far away to help”.

Instead of slowing down and getting clear about the avalanche (pun intended) of thoughts gaining speed in my mind, overthinking took over and created momentum.  Before I knew it, I had completely lost focus at work, I was feeling more confused and worried and there didn’t seem to be a solution.

Overthinking is particularly difficult for accountants because we are surrounded by problems at work all day long. One minute we are dealing with a client who isn’t happy with their tax projection, and the next minute we are ruminating about whether other clients are unhappy, as well as the comment our spouse made last night at dinner, and how our daughter has been spending more time in her room.      

Once you start wearing a distorted lens of overthinking, you begin seeing what is wrong and bad about situations more often than not.  This is when overthinking can lead to making bad decisions and can cloud your judgment in a way that can be detrimental to your career. 

If you haven’t been aware that you are overthinking or you’ve normalized it, there are symptoms you can be on the lookout for. 

Symptoms of overthinking 

If your life seems harder, your problems seem bigger and your relationships seem worse, you might be suffering with overthinking.  If you find yourself drinking more, eating more or spending more, this may also indicate the need for relief from overthinking.

In the book, Women Who Think Too Much author Susan-Nolen Hoeksema offers the following test to determine if you overthink:

1. I think about how alone I feel.

2. I think about my feelings of fatigue or achiness.

3. I think about how hard it is to concentrate.

4. I think about how passive and unmotivated I feel.

5. I think, “Why can’t I get going?”

6. I go over and over a recent situation, wishing it had gone better.

7. I think about how sad or anxious I feel.

8. I think about all my shortcomings, failings, faults, and mistakes.

9. I think about how I don’t feel up to doing anything.

10. I think, “Why can’t I handle things better?”

She explains that if you answered “often” or “always” to more than a few, then you are prone to overthinking.

Overthinking makes things seem more difficult, and makes life seem more overwhelming.  For example, even if you have a husband that helps around the house, or a boss that is supportive and kind, you can still get caught in the spiral of overthinking.

There is a tremendous cost to overthinking in your accounting job – it makes it difficult to focus and be productive, and it wastes a good deal of energy and time. I don’t know any accounting mom who wouldn’t love more energy and time in their lives. 

To be clear, when it’s not addressed, overthinking can cause neuroses, obsession and the inability to make a decision.  To become unburdened from a perpetual state of uncertainty, you need to break free from the habit of overthinking.

Next, I’m going to explain how to take back control and stop overthinking.

How to stop overthinking

The first step in making any change is acknowledging it.  You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge, so start by declaring that overthinking isn’t working for you.

Once you’ve acknowledged that you overthink and that it’s a problem, then you can follow these steps to freedom:

Step One – Thought Download

To get your overthinking under control, you need to know the thoughts you’re having.  A thought download is a simple process of writing down your thoughts on paper, one sentence at a time.

The process of writing them down, as opposed to typing them on your phone or computer, is important.  It forces your brain to mentally engage in the information and to slow down.

One of the culprits adding to overthinking is the fast-paced, technology based world you work and live in, so it’s imperative that you slow things down by writing by hand.  Set aside 5 minutes, first thing in the morning, to write down your thoughts without judging them.

Putting your thoughts down on paper also gives you a sense of control.  By seeing them on paper, instead of wildly swirling in your mind, you can corral your thoughts.

This gives you the ability to use your rational, higher brain to address each thought, allowing an aerial view.

Step Two – Declutter Your Mind

Now that you have your thoughts on paper, it’s time to declutter your mind the way you would declutter a closet.  By addressing what’s useful and wanted, versus what’s not, you can begin to unravel the tangled web in your mind.

Imagine one of those giant Lottery ball machines, with all the balls floating around in the clear bubble.  When the Lottery official presses a button, one ball is sucked into a tube and available for the person to pick up.

That’s what you will do to declutter your mind – take one thought at a time, from all the thoughts floating around in your mind-bubble.  Then ask the following:

  • Is this thought useful?
  • How does it make me feel?
  • When I feel this way, what do I do?  

You will be amazed at how powerful it is to just ask whether a thought is useful.  When you are prone to overthinking, your mind is so cluttered that you can become immobilized.

Addressing each thought, and choosing what’s useful for you, your work and your career, will provide the “white space” that you need to take action.  Better decisions, more productivity and more energy are just some of the benefits of an uncluttered mind.

Step Three – Maintenance

Just like decluttering your closet, you cannot keep it neat and uncluttered unless you routinely address what created the clutter in the first place.  When you change the cause, you change the effect.

In this step, I suggest you continue to do a daily 5 minute thought download first thing every morning to maintain your uncluttered mind.  Just like a clean, organized closet can become a hot mess if you don’t pay attention, so can your mind.

Write down, again, on paper, each sentence that your brain offers before you start your day, and ask the above questions.  By doing daily maintenance, you can show up at work with more confidence, mental clarity and an increased ability to focus. 

With a better grasp of the thoughts that are useful and daily maintenance to keep less balls banging around in your mind-bubble, your accounting career will naturally improve.  

Summary

  • In this age of information overload, it can seem normal, and even necessary, to overthink.  
  • Overthinking is taking in and processing way more information than is necessary to complete a given task, to figure out a problem or to just be fully present in the moment.
  • Overthinking makes things seem more difficult, and makes life seem more overwhelming.
  • Set aside 5 minutes, first thing in the morning, to write down your thoughts without judging them.
  • Now that you have your thoughts on paper, it’s time to declutter your mind the way you would declutter a closet. 
  • Just like a clean, organized closet can become a hot mess if you don’t pay attention, so can your mind.