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.
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.
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?
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.
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!