When I was in the fourth grade, I saw the movie, “Jaws” on Edgewood Drive in Hudson, Massachusetts. I remember sitting downstairs in our small Cape Cod style house on the couch, watching the most terrifying movie I’d ever seen.
During one of the scarier moments, I decided that I should probably take my feet off the ground. The thick, brown carpet didn’t look exactly like the water surrounding Amity, Long Island but best not to take any chances. As long as I kept my feet up, sharks couldn’t get me.
That was solid little kid logic at the time. Who hasn’t played, “The ground is lava” on the playground with friends? Lava, ocean, what’s the difference? I pulled my feet up onto the couch, tucked them safely beneath me and proceeded to see how Chief Brody was going to get himself out of this aquatic mess.
I started doing that in the fourth grade and then proceeded to do that for decades. Wait, what? It’s true. One day in my 40s, I caught myself unconsciously raising my legs off a sticky theater floor when the movie I was watching got suspenseful.
“That’s odd,” I thought as I invented a new yoga position there at the AMC 12, “Why am I doing this?”
“Because the ground is the ocean and the only way to save yourself from losing a limb is by raising your feet. Duh.”
“That seems a little bit silly. There’s not even a shark in this movie. This is ‘John Wick 3.’ We’ve got a general sense of what is going to happen and it doesn’t involve a single shark.”
“True, but let me ask you this, in 33 years of strategic foot elevation, has this trick failed once?”
“Well, no, but…”
“Then pipe down and get into position. Keanu Reeves only shot that guy in the head three times. He could still get up and try to stab him with a pencil or something. Get your feet off the ground!”
In movie theaters, at friend’s houses, at my desk right now if I watched a trailer for a horror film, I raise my feet because of sharks. The time or place doesn’t matter. Something inside tells me the ground is dangerous and this is the only way to save myself.
When I first did that in the fourth grade, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d still be doing it in my 40s. Over time it moved from a silly lie, the ground is dangerous water, to something I believed, to an ingrained, automatic action. Simply put, my thoughts were impacting my actions. I was overthinking.
The Consequences of Overthinking
I wish my biggest issue with overthinking was it makes my legs a little sore in scary movies, but that’s not the case. Sometimes, my overthinking is so voluminous that I can barely move forward.
In other situations, my overthinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I overthink that some project is going to fail so often that I talk myself out of doing any of the work it would take to ensure the project succeeds.
Overthinking causes chaos at home, too. I overthink something my wife didn’t even say so many times that then we finally sit down to talk, I’ve come for an argument, not a conversation.
That’s what overthinking is—when what you think gets in the way of what you want.
Has that ever happened to you? You needed to make a decision but you couldn’t because you kept overthinking about how much you needed to make a decision? You wanted to request a raise this year at work but kept overthinking how you’d approach your boss until this year turned into next year and next year turned into you never asking?
Overthinking is loud in hindsight, too. You’re still overthinking something you said to a friend 4 months ago, working through countless scenarios of what you should have said instead.
Does any of that sound familiar?
Overthinking runs on soundtracks. A soundtrack is a thought you have so often that it plays automatically. You don’t even have to think about thinking about it, it spins on its own. “The floor is covered with sharks.” “If you ask for a raise you’ll be labeled as greedy.” “You don’t have what it takes to run this department.”
Like a film score you barely notice, everyone has soundtracks running at all times in the background.
Much like a movie, the soundtracks you listen to can change an entire scene. Play something ominous and a quiet summer day suddenly seems “too quiet.” Play something cheerful and unlocking the front door of a darkened house doesn’t seem that frightening.
If the soundtracks you listen to are positive, your thoughts can be your best friend, propelling you on new adventures with creativity and hope.
If the soundtracks you listen to are negative, they do just the opposite and hold you back with fear and doubt.
They’re also greedy because they gobble up time, creativity, and energy. Broken soundtracks steal books, businesses, diets, and hope. Broken soundtracks are the most expensive things companies unknowingly invest in every year without understanding the damage they do to culture, productivity, and performance.
Broken soundtracks are one of the most persuasive forms of fear because every time you listen to one it gets easier to believe it the next time. A common broken soundtrack is, “I can rest when I’m done with all my work.” That’s more believable than the ground is the ocean, but it’s equally ridiculous. We’ve never lived in a “done world.” If you believe that you can only rest when you complete all your work, you’ll never stop because you’ll never answer every email, return every phone call, follow up every opportunity and put out every fire.
CEOs never go home and think, “I did every single thing I needed to do today,” any more than teachers go home and think, “I helped every kid that needed help today.”
I work with 50 different corporations around the world each year in my role as a professional public speaker. I once spent the day with a leadership group at a multi-billion-dollar healthcare company. I asked the leaders in the room to answer the question, “How do you rest?” I overheard someone mutter, “I rest when I get sick.”
You know you’ve got a dangerous soundtrack about hustle when you’re looking forward to getting ill. “Once you get beyond the vomiting and hallucination stage, malaria is actually very peaceful. It’s the only time I can catch up on my shows.”
No one would ever say that, but right now there are a lot of stressed-out people nodding along because they’ve been overthinking whether they deserve to take a break.
But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if overthinking could work for us, not against us? What if we could transform overthinking from a super problem into a superpower?
You can. How? The short answer is you do three things:
Retire your broken soundtracks.
Replace them with new soundtracks.
Repeat the new ones so often they become automatic.
Your thoughts turn into your actions. Your actions turn into your results. Want great results? Start with great thoughts.