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10 Things Only Over-Thinkers Can Relate To

10 Things Only Over-Thinkers Can Relate To

When I was in high school, I had a crazy mad crush on a dreamy guy one year older, who didn’t even know I existed. Imagine my shock, then, when he stopped me in the hall one day and asked me to go out on Saturday night.

The rest of the week was spent going through every outfit in my closet, getting advice from friends on hair and makeup, and practicing conversations and quick little humorous sound bites to impress. Five outfits and three different hairstyles later, I was finally ready for the big night. The date was a total bust, but not because of me. He was the most egocentric, narcissistic person I had ever met, and I couldn’t wait to get the night over with.

How much time and energy had I wasted for nothing?

I am one of those people who over-thinks everything, so this has always been “normal” for me. If you are an over-thinker,”you will definitely relate to these other ten scenarios.

1. You fret each exam day

If you have the over-thinker disease, you know how this played out when it came time to take a test. The exam sat before you on your desk or on your computer. You knew you were prepared; you had studied and knew the material. As you looked at each question and the four possible answers, however, the disease kicked in and you began to second-guess your answers. Out came the eraser, as you changed the answer two or three times, still ruminating on it as you went on to the next question and did the same thing. After the test was over, it still didn’t stop. You continued to think about the questions and the answers you chose, still trying to re-think yourself.

2. You hate job interviews

Over-thinkers prepare for a job interview in much the same way I prepared for that bust of a date.

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We change outfits multiple times times. We try to anticipate every question that might be asked and ruminate over the answers we might give. We spend days practicing how to sound smart, enthusiastic, witty and clever, and, at the same time, really serious about our desire for the job. We practice our smiles and facial expressions in front of the mirror and our handshakes with any friend who will tolerate us. We go back over those questions and our prepared answers, tweaking them again–maybe three or four or more times.

Then we walk into an interview that is so casual and “lightweight” that we sail through it, not having had to use any of those answers we spent days preparing.

3. You get carried away with personal finance and budgeting

Every month, without fail, and even several times during the month, we insist upon sitting down at the kitchen table and listing, all over again, our bills and expenses, just to make sure we did not make a mistake, to see if there is any way we can tweak it any more. Our income hasn’t changed in the last two weeks, nor has our mortgage or car payments. But still, we go at it again, getting those numbers down on paper and punching them into our calculators. Nothing has changed in the last week or two, but here we are, just checking it again.

4. You question every parenting decision

Over-thinkers have plenty to ruminate on as parents.

Are we too strict? Are we too lenient? Did I handle that situation right? What should I have done better? Am I a horrible parent because I won’t let my 10-year-old wear lipstick? Am I stifling my child’s search for self-identity by refusing to sign for a tattoo at age 15? When is the right time to allow my child to shop for their own clothes? And how much allowance is right?

Whenever we make a parenting decision, we agonize first over making the decision and, once it is made and implemented, we continue to second-guess ourselves. It’s grueling.

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5. You become neurotic about your pet

Pets have a tendency to become our other children, and we over-thinkers become just as neurotic about them as we do the real thing. We have to continually re-think a million questions and decisions when we get a new puppy. Are they getting enough exercise? Do we have the most nutritious puppy food to be found? We didn’t call the vet about the little discharge from his eye. Should we call about it now? Should we go to the dog park more so he can be socialized? Are we damaging him emotionally by leaving him in his cage all day while we go to work? Maybe we should take him to doggie day care during the day.

6. You are too familiar with social anxiety

We are invited to a party hosted by a friend, and the other guests form a group of people we do not know well. In fact, we have little in common with them. There’s plenty to think about here.

Why did they invite me? Is it just being done out of obligation and they really doesn’t want me to come? If I do go, will I be uncomfortable all evening because I really don’t know anyone? Maybe I should just get sick the day of the party. No, I can’t do that. Maybe I could just go for an hour and come up with an excuse to leave early. But then what will my friend think if I do that? Even though we know it will not matter a year from now whether we attended that party or not, we can’t turn off the scenarios running in our heads.

7. You always have that project at work

It’s important that the deadline is met. It’s important that the boss be impressed. So we set to work on the big project. Every step of the way, however, we stop and ask ourselves how it could be better. Will the boss like it? Can I change the graphs and charts I made into something better? Can I re-write this section and make it better? In fact, we are often in danger of missing deadlines, because we over-think our every step.

8. You are terrible at gift-giving

While most people enjoy the holiday season, we have to gird ourselves for what we know is coming. Whether we shop online or in brick and mortar stores, we have decisions to make about gifts.

We have a great joke gift idea for a relative that we think will just be hilarious. So we order or buy it. As soon as the purchase is finalized, however, we begin to re-think what we have done. Suppose they don’t find it as hilarious as I do? Is it really all that funny or is it just dumb? And that piece of costume jewelry we bought for Aunt Marge? Is it really her style? Will she think it looks too cheap?

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The Christmas season can be pure agony for over-thinkers.

9. You have a special attitude towards home remodeling projects

The house needs a facelift. We are going to put in new flooring, new baseboards, paint every room, and get new kitchen countertops and cabinets. It’s a big project but we are looking forward to an updated “look.”

We choose the flooring, the countertop and the cabinets.  We bring home paint swatches for every room, decide on colors and buy gallons of paint. We make preliminary decisions, and then it begins. The disease has struck again.

Maybe that flooring should be a darker color? Perhaps the kitchen cabinets need to be darker too? And if we make them darker will the countertop still match? We begin to over-think all of the choices we made until we are simply stalled. And then we begin all over again, from scratch. It is amazing that over-thinkers are ever really able to make all of final decisions about home remodeling.

10. You can’t stand the idea of giving a speech

True story. A couple of years ago, I was asked to give a presentation at a content marketing workshop. This was exciting for me, because it meant that I was becoming recognized in the industry as someone with expertise.

With great gusto, I set about getting ready. I determined that, in order to gain and keep audience engagement, I needed to be creative. So I prepared a presentation that, when practiced in front of my friends, drew great laughter and total engagement. They thought it was a “hoot” and yet contained some great information–just given in the hysterical format of some of the most ridiculous errors that had been made over the past few years, and then some advice relative to how to avoid the same errors. I had great slides of these errors too. I was ready and excited.

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The day before the speech, the disease came creeping in. What if some of my audience members had made similar mistakes? Would they think I was ridiculing them? What if what my friends found to be funny they would not?

The entire speech could just bomb, and I would be embarrassed and never invited back. So, the day before that event, I changed the entire presentation. I made it straightforward, a bit academic, and certainly provided great, actionable information, but in a serious way. That is the presentation I ultimately gave.

Within 30 minutes, it was evident that I had lost my audience. Part of it may have been that they were out late the night before, but it was definitely a bomb. The second day, when I was to make the same presentation again, I went back to the original. A hit was on my hands!

We over-thinkers will probably not change our ways. It’s natural for us to constantly question ourselves and our choices. But we can learn to laugh at ourselves, and that’s a good thing.

By the way, the research also says we’re more creative!

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

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