The Dangers of Overthinking — and How to Overcome Them

Overthinking commonly causes a decrease in productivity for many of us. Whether it’s fretting over the implications of a new market trend, agonizing about the tone of an email to a major client, or losing sleep over an employee’s reaction to feedback, the opportunities for leaders to get trapped in their own heads are endless.

As we have access to more information and higher demands than ever, it’s no surprise that half to nearly three-quarters of adults confess to overthinking. I’ve observed a familiar pattern: Some people who appear outwardly successful tend to overcomplicate everything, layering unnecessary complexity into their decisions and deliberating far longer than needed. This tendency is particularly pronounced among those of us who are hardwired to process the world around us more deeply and are often their harshest critics.

Constantly churning thoughts can be exhausting, and if left unchecked, overthinking can contribute to anxiety and burnout. There are far-reaching consequences for organizations, too. When individuals — or entire teams — habitually overthink, it creates a bottleneck. Decision-making slows, opportunities are missed, and a culture of risk aversion can take hold, stifling business growth.

Clearly, there’s a pressing need for more effective solutions to reduce overthinking in the workplace. But to truly tackle this issue, it’s important to first acknowledge and understand that there are three forms of overthinking: rumination, future tripping, and overanalyzing. With this knowledge, it’s possible to develop targeted strategies that lead to meaningful and lasting change for workers and the organizations that employ them.

Here’s how to spot and handle the three types of overthinking.


Rumination is best described as a mental loop where you dwell on past events, particularly adverse or distressing ones. Those who ruminate are often caught in a whirlpool of regret, guilt, and “woulda, shoulda, coulda” scenarios. They review what went wrong, often blaming themselves. A key aspect of rumination is its orientation towards the past — and getting stuck there.

Signs to watch out for:

  • You fixate on negative feedback.
  • You often discuss past failures, setbacks, or slip-ups with others.
  • You’re overly cautious, perhaps double or triple-checking your work because you want to avoid mistakes.

How to address it:

Counterintuitively, it can be helpful to schedule “worry time.” Instead of letting rumination overrun your entire day, confine it to a manageable slot — usually no more than 15 to 30 minutes. Choose a time of day that works for you (just not right before bed), and pick a specific place for your worry time. It could be a particular chair, room, or even a spot in a park. Divide your worries into two categories: those you can control and those you can’t. For worries within your control, brainstorm possible actions or solutions. For example, if you’re worried about meeting a deadline, your action steps could include saying no to another commitment. Each time an uncontrollable worry arises, try visualization. Imagine placing the fear in a balloon and releasing it into the sky.

By setting aside a designated time to address these thoughts, you’re not in a constant battle to push them away. You’re simply postponing them to a more convenient time. If rumination crops up outside your designated worry time, gently remind yourself, “Not now, I’ll tackle this later,” which helps bring greater awareness and control to your thought patterns.

Future Tripping

Instead of being trapped in the past, future-tripping people are concerned about what lies ahead. While some degree of anticipation is beneficial, future tripping can escalate to the point where it holds you back. The uncertainty of what might happen, the potential for failure, and the fear of the unknown can make it a challenging form of overthinking.

Signs to watch out for:

  • You spend excessive energy planning for every possible scenario to feel prepared for any eventuality.
  • You find it hard to celebrate your successes because you’re always thinking about what’s next.
  • You often feel restless or agitated, driven by thoughts of outstanding to-do items.

How to address it:

Use your ability to look forward to your advantage. Mentally projecting yourself into the future, beyond the point of your current worries.

For example, if you’re overwhelmed with the launch of a new product – the deadline is tight, expectations are high, and your team is under significant pressure. You’re concerned about the campaign strategy, the team’s workload, and potential customer reactions.

Find a quiet place during your lunch break. Close your eyes and picture yourself five years from now. You’re in a more senior role, reflecting on your career path. From this future perspective, you realize that the product launch was just one of many projects you handled. You’ll be able to put it in perspective. While important, it’s not a defining moment of your career. You recall how some aspects didn’t go as planned but also how the team adapted and learned from the experience.

This strategy, known as temporal distancing, can reduce the immediacy and intensity of your concerns, helping you focus on the present with a calmer, more balanced mindset.

You can also practice “selective ignorance” by reducing your exposure to unnecessary stressors. Be intentional about the information you consume, especially from news sources and social media. Identify triggers that escalate your future tripping, such as updates about constant market fluctuations and industry predictions or constant checking of KPI dashboards or financial accounts. Specific updates or data might not be necessary if they do not impact your day-to-day work or decision-making. Prioritize information that you can act upon.


While rumination and future tripping are bound by time — one looking back and the other looking forward — overanalyzing is centred on depth. It involves diving incredibly deep into a topic, thought, or situation, often to the point of excess. While this can sometimes lead to profound insights, it often results in getting bogged down in details that might not be particularly relevant.

Signs to watch out for:

  • You procrastinate or delay taking action to research further.
  • You frequently seek others’ approval or confirmation because you lack confidence in your own analysis.
  • You have difficulty distinguishing between high-priority and low-priority tasks, leading to a backlog of decisions.

How to address it:

When making decisions, it’s better to aim for one that is “good enough” rather than strive for perfection. This approach is called satisficing. Once you find a satisfactory decision that meets your criteria and is acceptable, don’t hesitate to go for it, even if there might be a better option. On the other hand, maximizers tend to examine every option and search for better alternatives, which can lead to overthinking and dissatisfaction with their decisions.

A few final words…

To help make decisions, establish critical criteria or guidelines that will help you prioritize the most essential variables. These criteria can be either professional or personal, depending on the situation. For instance, if you’re trying to decide whether or not to offer a new feature for your product, your criteria could include factors like cost, profitability, effort, risk level, or impact. If you’re making a personal decision, such as moving for a new job, consider criteria such as how well the role fits your strengths, the salary, or whether the role aligns with your aspirations. Choose no more than three criteria, with one more important than the others. If you’re making a group decision, brainstorm and agree on the requirements together.

It’s important to note that the goal isn’t to eliminate all deep thinking but rather to prevent it from becoming unproductive. Identifying the type of overthinking you or your team is dealing with is the first step in breaking free from its grasp. This is especially important when there’s a high demand for quick yet thoughtful decision-making.