Here’s How To Break Up With Overthinking

Do you find yourself working diligently for hours but, at the end of the day, feel like you’ve accomplished nothing? Or perhaps you accomplished several things, but none of them were important? Even with the best of intentions, are you lagging behind on the due date for an essential project? If so, you may be the latest victim of a global business problem: analysis paralysis.

Overthinking is a problem that affects us all at one time or another. Not only does it rob us of creativity, but it also destroys performance and the implementation of objectives. Add to that the fact that overanalyzing makes us indecisive and mires us in the minutia of the project at hand. If you’re eager to break out of this cycle of indecision, there are several things you can do.

1. Practice making small choices quickly.

It doesn’t pay to ponder the little things. It’s simply a waste of your valuable time. How long did it take you to decide where to go for lunch and what to eat? How long did it take for you to pick something to wear? Eliminate those time drains. Lay out your clothes the night before, and don’t rethink the decision the next morning. Pack a lunch the night before, or quickly choose where you’ll order lunch from tomorrow. It sounds simplistic, but making routine or relatively unimportant choices swiftly will free up hours of time in the long run. It also saves you from decision fatigue.

2. Let go of perfectionism.

You are not perfect — no one is. Once you let go of the notion that there is ultimately one flawless solution, you free yourself up to discover the practical solution or the creative one or the best solution possible with the data currently on hand.

In his book The Perfection Paradox: Accept Your Addiction, Overcome Your Obsession and Escape to Excellence, author Jeffry A. Kramer explains, “Self-imposed perfectionistic tendencies come from a burning internal desire to excel at what we do. The experts call this self-oriented perfection, but I saw it as wanting to do my best. I had one problem though—it never was. No matter how well I did, I always thought I could have done better.”

Stop worrying that you’ll make the wrong decision. If your decision turns out to be a little off base, you can make course corrections as you go along.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of intuition.

There are times when your head is full of possibilities, your stress level is through the roof and you’re absolutely stuck going around and around in circles. Stop the cycle by doing something completely different. Go for a walk. Eat a snack. Stare out the window. Now that the mental spinning has stopped, come back to the decision you were trying to make. What is the first thing that comes to mind? What does your gut tell you? Trust your instincts and do what you feel is right whether you’re ready or not.

4. Put things in perspective.

Are you making the problem more important than it really is? Don’t let the progression of analysis paralysis blow things out of proportion. Be assertive. If someone else came to you with the same problem, and you weren’t personally involved, what advice would you give that individual?

Sebastian O’Brien notes in his book Stop Overthinking: The Complete Guide to Declutter Your Mind, Ease Anxiety and Turn off Your Intensive Thoughts, “Overthinking contributes to severe depression and anxiety and interferes with problem-solving abilities.”

That’s reason enough to take control of the problem before it takes control of you. Once you disconnect yourself from the problem, you may realize you’ve been making a mountain out of a molehill.

5. Work on your self-confidence and practice acceptance.

Learn to not let decision-making consume you and your time. To minimize your stress and overthinking, it’s helpful to make peace with uncertainty. Take some time to search inside yourself for the possible causes of your overthinking. Have you spent too much time around people who are overly critical? People who find fault with every part of every project because they didn’t get to make the decisions can push you into overanalyzing every step of your plan for no reason at all.

6. Build helpful habits.

Teach yourself to recognize the signs that you are sliding down the slippery slope of overthinking. Because it’s a downward spiral that sucks the emotional and creative energy out of you, the sooner you recognize it is happening, the sooner you can rein it in. Create a constructive way to discipline your thinking patterns. You may find it helpful to speak to a mentor, therapist or coach. You’re not the first person to deal with analysis paralysis and seek the advice of someone who deals with it on a professional basis.

Surround yourself with a filter so only the most important decisions fill up your day. If possible, delegate anything else. Do the most important thing first without procrastinating.

At the end of the day, if you waste your time putting out tiny fires around the workplace and don’t protect your own mental space, you’ll find it’s your office that burns to the ground.

This article has previously been featured on  Forbes.

Are You Unconsciously Buying Into The Model Minority Stereotype?

In the workplace, understanding the importance of embracing diversity has been the subject of many company directives, managerial workshops and mission statements. However, even if you have done your homework, made your efforts to be fair and impartial and have consciously confronted your own internalized prejudices (that you may have initially not even believed you had) you may still be buying into a pervasive notion.

The background history of the term ‘Model Minority.’

That perception is that the “Model Minority” actually exists. The term was first popularized by William Petersen, a University of California, Berkley sociologist. In 1966, he penned a story for the New York Times about Asian-Americans entitled “Success Story, Japanese-American Style.” The article portrayed them as rule-abiding, intelligent and law-abiding.

An article for Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession explains the concept. “Since its introduction in popular media more than half a century ago, the term ‘model minority’ has often been used to refer to a minority group perceived as particularly successful, especially in a manner that contrasts with other minority groups.” It continues, “In particular, the model minority designation is often applied to Asian Americans, who, as a group, are often praised for apparent success across academic, economic and cultural domains — successes typically offered in contrast to the perceived achievements of other racial groups.”

How ‘Model Minority’ status pits racial minorities against one another.

On the outside, it sounds like a compliment, but it was unfortunately a backhanded compliment. This view stood in direct contrast to another minority — African Americans, who had a history rooted in slavery and were still struggling against poverty, bigotry and huge socioeconomic inequalities. The article touted Asian Americans as being raised by intact two-parent families who were hardworking and honest and insisted on academic excellence from their children. Not very subtle.

Part of the irony is the amount of prejudice the United States originally heaped on Asian Americans. In 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act was a response to the Chinese workers who were brought to the U.S. to serve as cheap labor. Additionally, during World War II, Japanese Americans were rounded up and put in internment camps because they “might” be spies for the Japanese government, who the U.S. was at war with at the time.

The gist of the theory was that Asian Americans were “well behaved” (in the opinion of white middle-class Americans). In contrast, why couldn’t other minority groups emulate them and comport themselves accordingly?

Present-day ‘Model Minority’ stereotypes.

The next question is: Are you as a manager, director, VP or C-suite executive still buying into this 55-year-old generalization? Do you believe that Asian Americans are hard-working, industrious and naturally more intelligent to the exclusion of other minorities? Do you think that by virtue of race alone a person can excel at math, science, medicine or technology?

In an article for NBC News, Kimmy Yam describes yet another problem stemming from our categorizing others as a member of the model minority and having such exceptionally high expectations simply because of race, “The group is roughly three times less likely than whites to seek mental health help. While Asian Americans report fewer mental health conditions than their white counterparts, there are Asian Americans are much under-represented in management positions.” Their societal-induced inclination toward politeness, excellence and diligence may cause upper management to overlook them for upwardly mobile positions because there can be a lack of self-promotion and perceived assertiveness.

There is also a prevalent inability by business people to recognize the difference between disparate Asian cultures and ethnicities. This failing can cause tensions in the workplace. Lumping all Asians together in the white mind results in not understanding the specific cultural differences between Asians. It makes them feel marginalized and not seen for who they are as individuals.

In her book Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians, Jane Hyun notes, “Who are Asian Americans? Far from being homogenous, we are of varied Asian ancestry. We represent multiple nationalities and languages as well as many social and political viewpoints. At last count, there were over 80 distinct Asian languages spoken in the United States. Even within each specific Asian group, there is considerable variability in education, class and acculturation level.” She adds, “What further complicates matters is that non-Asian Americans often think of Asians as a homogenous group of people.”

Address your own biases around minority stereotypes.

Take a bit of time to reflect on your perception of the model minority myth. If you’re of a certain age, you may have internalized it without even realizing it. Consider how it has affected many of your colleagues, especially those of Asian American descent. Open the discussion, ask the difficult questions. It can only bring you closer to the societal truth.

Recognize what brought it into being — consider the white man who first invented the term. Obviously, he was a product of his time. He actually might have thought he was doing something helpful for Asians.

If you think you’ve never been in contact with or subject to the idea of the model minority, give it some thought. You might find biases you never even knew you had.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.

 

Direct Or Blunt: What’s The Difference?

Have you had a spate of recent interactions that have left you wondering if many of the employees and peers you work with on a daily basis are simply not paying attention? If you have traditionally employed a direct communication style, you might have unknowingly slipped into an offshoot that encompasses a more aggressive and blunt characteristic.

If longtime colleagues you have historically put your faith in are expressing their concern with your effect (or lack of effect) on the team’s morale, it should concern you enough to contemplate the possibility.

Have you noticed your comments and explanations becoming more and more abrupt? For many personality types, this can come across as anger directed at them. Do you find yourself tuning out valuable theories or helpful suggestions, only to discover, when you truly study it, that you have just been waiting for your chance to speak?

If you’re not even listening to your trusted advisors, you need to take an honest look at yourself and your behaviors and consider that you’re bullying people without even realizing it. If even your friends tell you you’ve been acting pushy and hardheaded, you’ve probably crossed the line from straightforward into uncompromising, brusque territory.

In their book Words That Work in Business: A Practical Guide to Effective Communication in the Workplace, Ike Lasater and Julie Stiles point out, “We believe the people around us expect us to act a certain way, and often we react to this by confining our behavior and communication within the narrow bounds of our beliefs about their expectations.”

If this is the case, it’s possible that you haven’t even initiated the behavior change. Are you experiencing an especially challenging situation, such as the serious illness of a family member or a loss of income in these tough times? Have you recently acquired a new boss who is herself harsh and uncompromising and pushing you to mimic her behavior to get the “troops” to fall in line? Are there recent additions to the board of directors who are setting new company goals that are impossible to meet? Any of these situations or something similar can throw off your leadership style and disrupt your otherwise orderly life.

What steps can you take to get back to your formerly successful direct form of management? If you were previously prone to prompt but orderly action and found decision making a quick and easy process, it stands to reason you’re longing to return to normal. If you’re willing to make the effort to get out of your recent rut, you might as well go the extra mile and actually improve your leadership method.

One change you can make, although it will likely take effort on your part, is learning how to actively listen when communicating with your team and your co-workers. To accomplish this, you will have to learn to control your tone and your nonverbal cues. Don’t be inattentive, don’t let your mind wander and most of all, really listen. Don’t just be planning the next thing you’re going to say. Do not interrupt the other party even if your mind has already raced to the speaker’s conclusion and you’re ready for a constructive rebuttal.

As Jay Sullivan explains in his book Simply Said: Communicating Better at Work and Beyond, “If we put the focus on what the other person is trying to gain from the exchange, we will do a better job communicating, because we will select more pertinent information, drill down to the desired level of detail, and make the information we are sharing more accessible to our audience.”

Consider that not everyone is like you. Even though you say what you mean without any added fluff, other people may actually need at least a modicum of common pleasantries to be effective in the workplace. With something as painless as a “good morning,” you will gain more of their attention — which is a big part of effective communication.

You’ll need to find some common ground when interacting with another individual or even a group. Don’t show your impatience with allowing them to veer off topic slightly. However, feel free to redirect their conversation after a couple of minutes to the problem at hand.

Another suggestion for more effective communication for people with a direct style of interaction is to not just point out the issues to your team members without offering some solutions for a better, more efficient resolution. No one wants to work diligently on a plan only to be told they’re completely wrong.

When you’re offering constructive feedback to an employee, ensure that you are directing your comments and suggestions to the situation at hand and the work that was done. Don’t direct the criticism to the employee because it will come off as a personal attack.

If you decide it’s worth your while to attempt even a few of these suggestions, I believe it will ultimately be to your advantage. In my career, I have worked with many executives who had a direct communication style, and I can tell you that the majority of them who made the effort were, in the long run, less stressed and more content with their career progression.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.

How To Live The Values Of Your Corporate Culture

Even if you’ve never noticed because the guidance was so slight in your institution, every company has a corporate culture. Whether you’ve experienced it to a greater or lesser degree during your career, it was always there.

I had a few summer jobs during my high school and early college years and their corporate cultures seemed mild at best. But by the time I was at a large corporation, the values of that corporate entity were obvious and well communicated. During orientation, we were indoctrinated into our new tribe. Those of us in the “new” class were given fairly strict and stringent guidelines of performance and behavior. These were expected of us as representatives of the corporation. I was young and excited to be part of the team — I was proud to be part of the “family unit” they promoted.

The more mature I became in my career, which involved some corporate shifting — from company to company to position to position — the more I became aware of the importance of living the values of the corporate culture I was involved with.

As my experience grew, it became easier and easier to discern the slight differences in the stated corporate philosophy and the actual behavior of the main players. Make no mistake — leadership is consistently from the top down; especially emotional/inspirational leadership.

With hindsight, I’m able to acknowledge the difference between the good companies I’ve worked for and the great companies I’ve worked for. Thanks to my experience, I now know how to assist the mediocre corporation to attain greatness. It’s not magic. It’s awareness.

You must lead by example. The leader of the organization is constantly being watched. Not only by his colleagues but also completely scrutinized by the everyday employees. If you are in the top chair, it’s your responsibility to always, always reinforce the company values.

It’s not only important for the leader to promote the company values. It can’t stop at that. The training department, the human resources department, the senior management, the junior management and the employees must all be pulling in the same direction for the corporate culture to be effective.

It is crucial to communicate the company vision and the core values at every turn. The culture and values must be communicated early on. New hires should have already been picked via a hiring process that includes an explanation of the values of the corporation. These persons should be deemed potential proponents of the values the company espouses.

In any successful company, there tend to be rituals and routines thst promote the company values. Most institutions have a similar code of conduct and behavior for their employees. Some of the universally agreed on behaviors for managers and workers in the corporate culture are:

• Commitment to customers and employees

• Integration of ideas and people

• Accountability and honesty from management and staff

• Inspiring others as a means to growing a profitable and successful company

Let’s be brutally honest: If you are in a leadership position and you simply mouth the words instead of living the values, everyone from the C-suite to the mailroom will know the difference. They will lose respect and the company will cease to have a visceral meaning to them.

As Oleg Konovalov describes in his book The Vision Code: How to Create and Execute a Compelling Vision for Your Business, “For visionaries, not being true to oneself is fatal. Vision helps people to connect to their true selves and become better leaders who make a positive difference for others. In other words, vision connects your inner universe with the external world.”

If you are senior management and you have an employee who consistently does not live the values of the corporation, the situation must be dealt with. If you keep people who, although they bring in the money, do not meet the behavioral ethics of your company, you are doing no favor to your organization.

In their book Corporate Culture: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life, Terrence E. Deal and Allan A. Kennedy explain, “Whether weak or strong, culture has a powerful influence throughout an organization; it affects practically everything — from who gets promoted and what decisions are made, to how employees dress and what sports they play.”

In difficult times, living the values of your corporate culture is more important than ever. They cannot be over-communicated. Find a way to weave these values into your conversations, meetings and various communications. As examples, hold up employees who champion those values and embody the corporate culture. Remember a good example is worth much more than a stack of memos and emails.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.

Weighing Your Analytical And Emotional Intelligence Balance

Have you had the experience of working with or for an individual who only seemed capable of operating in an analytical mode? They want facts and figures, details and solutions. It may never even occur to that person to ask you how you are.

On the other hand, you’ve probably also had the experience of working with a colleague who values creativity, compassion and group unity. It would never occur to this person to not ask you how you are.

There isn’t a right or a wrong here, just a dominant use of the individual’s analytical intelligence or emotional intelligence. The point is for leaders to be able to recognize the difference and for them to cycle from one approach to the other depending on the needs of the moment. If your dominant mode is being used too often, you’re missing out on the benefits of your minor mode.

Emotional intelligence can assist you in employee coaching sessions and negotiation and help you be open to new ideas. Developing a social connection with your team or coworkers can build trust and camaraderie. It’s a great way to improve morale. Paying attention to your feelings about your career path, your current projects and your motivation can pay impressive dividends. If you make the time to be self-aware you’ll be able to create the space to consider new ideas or new ways of doing things.

In his book Emotional Intelligence at Work, Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D. explains, “You can maximize the effectiveness of your emotional intelligence by developing good communication skills, interpersonal expertise, and mentoring abilities. Self-awareness is the core of each of these skills because emotional intelligence can only begin when affective information enters the perceptual system.”

Your emotional intelligence can be utilized for very positive results. In his article, “When It Comes To Success In Business, EQ Eats IQ For Breakfast,”Chris Myers offers, “People buy emotions, not products. Teams rally around missions, not directives. Entrepreneurs take on incredible challenges because of passion, not logic.”

Analytical intelligence is a key skill when you need to solve a problem or make a decision. Seeking out concrete facts and being detail-oriented is essential to completing complex tasks. It’s also an invaluable skill for planning projects, timelines and assigning resources.

Most people are capable of flowing back and forth, even if it isn’t natural or comfortable. Some people do tenaciously cling to one mode, refusing to be flexible — usually to the detriment of their long-term career possibilities.

I once worked with an associate who was firmly entrenched in the analytical approach. He was a wonderful resource when data analysis was needed or facts needed checking. He left nothing to chance and was very thorough. I never had to question the quality of his work.

All of these traits served him well, but he was incapable of toggling over to emotional intelligence mode and consequently was constantly being reprimanded for treating customers badly, and he had a stubborn inability to cooperate with his teammates. He wasted so much of his manager’s time by having to be chastised on a regular basis. In the entire time I worked with him, he never advanced in the company.

Obviously, the inverse situation of solely depending on emotional intelligence is equally detrimental. At another company, I worked in the same project team as a coworker who took everything personally and would sulk because of any real or perceived criticism. She also craved personal interaction even during times she was supposed to be working on her assignment. She disrupted the team so frequently that the project manager had to terminate her. It was unfortunate because she was quite good at what she did.

There is scientific proof that people’s brains process emotional and analytical information differently. Research by Anthony Jack and his colleagues has shown that the analytical network of our brains and the empathetic network work mostly independently. When we’re in one mode, the other mode is suppressed, so the ability to cycle between the two is optimal.

In the book Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth by Richard Boyatzis, Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten, the study is discussed in detail. They reflect on how subjects who received a coaching session involving analytic questions and were reminded of it while having their brains scanned had different sections of their brains show activity than the subjects who were given questions based on emotion during their coaching session.

The main takeaway here is to understand when one process is more useful for the situation than the other at any given time. Successful leaders are those who can switch back and forth quickly and with little effort. If that isn’t your strong suit, set aside some time every day to work on it. Like anything else, practice makes perfect.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes.