In the worlds of academia, professional training, and corporate workplaces, a person with an analytical mind is lauded as a hero. The people that are smartest in school and get the highest grades, we assume will also be successful. And that may well become the case. But just because these individuals are the smartest, doesn’t mean they do not suffer from anxiety, self-doubt, and imposter syndrome.
Some research suggests that CEOs may be depressed at double the rate of the general public. And then, there are those that do so well in school, but seem to continuously hold themselves back, not taking the action needed to reach their highest potential.
The common thread is the influence of their minds. How you process feelings has a connection to your happiness and productivity. If you let your mind run rampant, your best friend upstairs can become your worst enemy. As Eckhart Tolle puts it, the mind can become the “[unwelcome] roommate” who never shuts up. Imagine if your mind and all the negative thoughts it feeds you was an actual person sitting next to you. Would you want to be friends with a person like that? For most, the answer would be a resounding “no.”
For most of my life, I have been in competitive environments. Environments, where undoubtedly, many people would be classified as more intelligent than me. I always strove to develop my intellect (and still do), but simultaneously, I have felt a lack of instruction on how to develop and celebrate your gut instinct. Research is starting to reveal the large part intuition plays in productivity and better decision-making.
I’ve lost count of the number of times that I or someone I know or work with, overrode gut instinct because their mind analyzed it to death, successfully talking them into unwanted action or inaction. How many good opportunities have passed over because of analysis paralysis or decision fatigue? And I’ve observed, the greater a person’s brain power, the more they tend to tie themselves up in knots before making a decision. They become obsessed with exploring and understanding the outcomes of all possible avenues before making the call. The reality is that you can never predict every possible outcome, no matter how smart you are.
Here are a few suggestion to better manage your mind.
Understand the connection between trusting your gut and quick decision-making
Intuition is a skill that you can develop that will allow you to act more quickly and effectively. It is honed through experience and practice. If you have ever heard the story of the fireman, he recognized smoke signals in a burning building, and acting on his intuition, he insisted everyone leave that building. Shortly after, the building exploded. He accessed a forgotten, subconsciously buried memory about smoke patterns, trusted it, and acted accordingly. His analytical mind may not have come to the same conclusion. In certain situations, you may not have the time to resort to analysis.
Gut and intuition may not be a substitute for the analytical mind, but they are powerful allies to make you more effective at work. The gut reaction could be more important than you think. The gut, literally, contains many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain; in fact, there are two neural pathways going from the gut to the brain (and only one going the other way). The gut sends information to the brain and you can use gut and intuition to filter the decisions that you send up to the brain for processing. So, rather than analyzing 100 possibilities, you narrow it down to one or two, and analyze those.
Understand the flow state
At work, it’s important to actively seek out the flow state, to be most productive. A state discussed by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, where you lose all track of time and you’re intensely focused on the task at hand, it is characterized by challenge (though not so much that it causes stress), so that your skills are naturally engaged and absorbed. In this state, many people feel their most productive, creative, and happy. It is the ultimate state to be on track to your best performance and output.
Notably, you cannot get into this state by overthinking. The overactive mind interferes with the intense focus and absorption that is required. People who regularly talk about a state of working resembling a flow state have learned to quiet their mind first, whether that is through meditation, walking, or taking a hot bath. These relaxation rituals may seem the opposite of productive, but they are key steps to performing at your peak.
Avoid a routine of ‘think’ replacing ‘do’
Many people are guilty of thinking about doing something for a long period of time, rather than actually doing it. How many people have been “thinking” about leaving their job for years? Or “thinking” about starting that business? Your mind (which is, by evolutionary design, made to keep us safe) tells stories to stop you from acting. If we are absorbed in the thinking and planning stage, we are to a certain extent, safe. If you’re acting within your comfort zone, then you feel you’re “safe.”
In a work environment, this is not helpful, as after you’ve done your due diligence and research, the time comes to bite the bullet and act. At work, you improve and grow through your actions. It is, in the experience of doing something that we learn, and therefore course correct and improve. Often taking no decision and not acting is worse than taking a viewpoint and acting.
Sara Sabin is a coach to executive and entrepreneur leaders. She is a business owner who has started many startups of her own.