So many women preface their questions, their stories, their ideas with, “I might be over-thinking things, but…”
It’s a short little phrase that implicitly says, “Don’t attribute too much power to this idea” or “This idea might be way, way too outlandish so I’m okay if you dilute it,” because after all, “I might just be a silly little woman over-thinking things, again!”
What I see most women call “over-thinking things,” is really a set of complex skills: careful consideration, evaluation of all the possibilities, taking the temperature of all the different perspectives from different participants so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings, assessing the nuances that are often not readily identifiable, think several steps into the future, contemplating options.
What I see is that most women have been conditioned into this “over-thinking things” as a way of staying safe. We are tasked with it, in fact, in scenarios from what to wear and how to behave on a date, to making sure other women don’t think we’re “a bitch,” to the day that we have children and become household managers by default.
If a woman is assaulted, she’ll get some kind of message about how she didn’t consider things carefully enough, didn’t evaluate all the possibilities, didn’t notice the possibility of danger, didn’t think several steps into the future to see what she should have seen as inevitable.
If a woman is called a bitch by other women or is dismissed as not being liked, she’ll be told she didn’t do enough to notice other people’s perspectives, didn’t think ahead enough to how that comment or opinion was going to be received by the group or how it would hurt other people’s feelings.
When women become mothers and are “asked-without-being-asked” to assume the roles of mother and household manager, it’s part of the job to constantly assess and consider, think ahead, think of what everyone else needs, contemplate all the options.
Basically, women are taught to do something and then scolded for doing the thing that they were taught to do. Women are taught from an early age to “over-think things” as a way of both keeping the peace for others at the expense of themselves, and as a way of staying safe (because if you don’t “over-think things,” it’s your own fault if you get hurt).
Then, when they dare to use such skills powerfully in other arenas that require decision-making, women are expected to use phrases such as, “I might be over-thinking things, but…” as a way of diminishing their own power and ideas.
It’s another concession to others so that we don’t appear too forward, too opinionated, too bossy, or “too much.”
Concessions like these are tiny little paper cuts to our ideas and our vision, to stepping into our full sense of personal power. In the moment, it might feel easy to toss off such phrases in order to keep the peace, all while forgetting that it is not our job to keep the peace. It’s not our job to make sure everyone else is comfortable, before we can put forth our vision. It’s not our job to spend our lives taking the temperature of others in the room before we can let ourselves show up, fully.
Of course there is always a need for empathy and for interdependence, but “I’m probably just over-thinking things…” is not a cue for empathy or interdependence. It’s a way of being first in line to undermine our own ideas.
Some women have told me that when they say, “I’m over-thinking things,” what they mean is, “I’m feeling anxious and am having some trouble settling on a decision.”
My encouragement? Say that, at least to yourself if not to others. Denying feelings of anxiety when making a tough decision is a patriarchal idea that prioritizes only the final outcome—the decision—while denying any space for the process that lead up to that decision. Deal with the anxiety (the fear). It’s coming up for a reason. Face what’s coming up and allow yourself the room to have a process with that. Decisions end up coming much faster, that way.
I’d like to sound the call for everyone to notice where we use this “over-thinking things” phrase and choose something different. Here are a few swaps:
Instead of “I’m probably just over-thinking things…”
“I have an idea that I’d like to share with the group, for consideration.”
“I’ve noticed fear has been really loud as I work through this issue, and I’m not ready to commit yet to a specific decision—but I will share the specific things that have been coming up for me.”
“When thinking about this, I tried to envision several scenarios, and I notice that they all have pros and cons.”
“I’ve been contemplating several possibilities, and here’s my biggest concern. I’d like to run through that with you.”
“As I think about the options, I notice I’m torn between a few of them—and here’s why.”
“My idea is _______________. If I’m making it more complicated than it needs to be, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can simplify this.”
“I’ve got a big idea, one that I don’t want to dilute. Hear me out, and I’d love your feedback.”
You can speak into the fact that the decision-making process has been challenging, that you’re unsure of which option you want to go with, and you can own the fact that you have a fear/concern/worry with a particular option. You can still solicit other people’s feedback or thoughts.
You can do all of that, without diminishing the power of your words or ideas, first.
You’re not over-thinking things. You’re executing a complex skill-set of weighing options, rather than barreling through a scenario without a plan.
You are allowed to have bold vision. You are allowed to have fear at the same time. You can honor both, without apologizing for yourself or for the fact that you have a process.