Overthinking part 2: Being in the now and radical acceptance to become better leaders

Last week I finished the post about overthinking by saying that being in the NOW is the key to stopping overthinking. I still stand behind that, BUT being in the now comes with a small warning:


…being in the now doesn’t mean we don’t have problems…


By always being in the present moment, we consolidate different parts of our thinking – the future and the past don’t matter much; what is essential is what is now, and in the now, we don’t have problems. Or so many spiritual teachers try to convince us, but this leads to ignoring our problems and living in ignorant bliss. The problem, however, is that we can only ignore our problems until they catch up with us.

So it’s not just about being in the now but about giving up on adding judgment (value) to events, emotions, experiences… Something is bad, or something is good transforms into something is, and this leads us to a concept called radical acceptance.

Neutrality or “something is” and its radical acceptance

When something is, it means that we acknowledge its existence, can approach it with curiosity, and learn from it.

Where Tolle focuses on letting go of negative emotions (approach of the cognitive reframing), Radical Emotional Acceptance (a concept populated by Dr. Tara Brach) focuses on pausing and stepping back from our thoughts and feelings, observing them with curiosity and compassion, and acknowledging them without judgment or resistance.

Which is better?

Let’s now forget Tolle and instead focus on Cognitive reframing and Radical emotional acceptance (REA). Both approaches bring value and can be complementary, but at the same time, we can choose to use one or the other based on the situation.

For example, COGNITIVE REFRAMING is better when our emotions are based on cognitive distortions – aka twisted thoughts. These are (Casabianca, 2022):

    • filtering
    • polarization
    • overgeneralization
    • discounting the positive
    • jumping to conclusions
    • catastrophizing
    • personalization
    • control fallacies
    • fallacy of fairness
    • blaming
    • shoulds
    • emotional reasoning
    • fallacy of change
    • global labeling
    • always being right
  • the emotions aren’t overpowering
  • we have the power to change the situation

On the other hand, RADICAL EMOTIONAL ACCEPTANCE works best when,

  • we cannot change the situation
  • the emotions are too strong to be able to change them just by changing our thinking
  • cognitive reframing isn’t believable
  • we face similar situations over and over again, all the while pushing our emotions to the side and avoiding dealing with the core problem.

Can I work on overthinking at home, or do I need a professional to help me?

It depends.

Sometimes issues at hand (in our case today, overthinking) can be tackled with simple exercises, but sometimes we really need that one person to guide us through and ask us questions that we are sometimes too afraid to ask ourselves. I’ve also experienced that it’s helpful when someone reflects back to us what we’ve been saying to really stop and think.

That said, if you ever feel that all of this is too much for you or if you experience any physical symptoms like irritability, high stress, insomnia, digestive issues, excessive worrying, etc., your best bet will be to find a trained professional that can help you navigate through the challenging times.

But if you do want to address the overthinking at home, you can use the two tools I’ve prepared for you:

How exactly this helps me be a better leader?

I suggest you return to Part one of this two-part series on overthinking. That should give you first insights, but additionally, I found interesting research done by the Stanford GSB  that looked into overthinking in relation to leaders’ influence.

Their results suggested that individuals who calibrate their thought process to the demands of the situation are better liked, more influential, and viewed as making better decisions. Normatively speaking, difficult decisions require more thought than easy ones. We found that thoughtfulness (relative to thoughtlessness) was rewarded when there was a difficult decision to be made, and penalized when there was an easy one.

In general, people seem to be less drawn to and less open to being influenced by individuals who overthink small decisions or “underthink” big ones (MacBride, 2014).

Therefore, I hypothesize that mindfulness helps us be less stressed and more clear-headed, which can help us better calibrate our thought process to the demands of the situation and, with that,  we can foster trust and influence.

Can I use these tools when working with my team?

Yes, absolutely. As long as you’re open about what they are, and people want your help, feel free to use the tools with your team members. But be mindful to refer them to a professional if they need more help than talk with you. Also, refrain from suggesting any solutions. This is where you bring up your inner coach. Trust that people in your team are resourceful and that they will choose the best solution for themselves at that moment.


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