Are you an over thinker? Good. Overthinking is not exactly the problem that everyone likes to say it is. Yes, overthinking can distract you. Yes, overthinking can hurt your confidence. Yes, overthinking can make you mentally tired. It can take you out of what is important. It can even confuse you. Or, you can think deeply about things that really do matter and find simple answers that help you. It depends on what you “overthink”, or just think, about. 

Personal story

I have spent years overthinking every aspect of my performance on the ice. I had to not only have the right amount of training, but also the perfect diet, mindset, recovery work, relationship with the coach, respect of my teammates and more. That’s what I thought at least. Really, I was overthinking some things that were not that influential on the results. I was overthinking, but under learning. 

Thinking is learning

Useful thinking is about learning. It is about strategizing what moves are useful to you. You can improve that strategy over time. For your game play, that simply means learning what is most effective then building your play style around it. The idea of becoming an excellent athlete is that you are effective in many different areas of the game. To do this requires a lot of work and some thought about what your strengths are.  

If you are an over thinker, it helps to overthink about what is most useful. For example, overthink your studying your own game film. Watch it closely and ask questions. What if I didn’t skate up the wall but instead skated directly at the defender? Then you will have something to apply in practice. Then you can be at an advantage because of the work you have done. 

That means that when you play, you can under think because you have been building up your own instincts for the types of plays you need to make to be successful. You build up these instincts by thoughtfully watching. Being analytical is a ‘C’ behavior in the AthleteDISC. Some athletes are more analytical than others. Analytical athletes, however, may have a problem focusing their minds on analyzing useful things. 

The other benefit of overthinking useful things… you are too busy to think about stuff that does not matter. If you can decide first what is useful then you can think more deeply about those useful things. Here is a good decision tree to simplify your thinking if you feel that you are overthinking. 

Performance & well-being

There are so many parts to performing well in sports. It is complicated, yes. But at the end of the day success is when you have done a large amount of good work on your game and it shows up as results. Well-being comes down to whether you have done a good amount of work on yourself and feel good because of it. 

The athlete who is better will win one time. The athlete who is better at the right few things will win over and over. If you are more sure about a few truly useful things, you will be happier. A good example is gratitude. If you can consistently find things you are grateful for, you will be happier. This is so obvious the research doesn’t need to support it (it still does). 

Overthinking the right things

For you, if you are going to overthink anything, make sure it is that you are thinking on the right things. 

Don’t overthink things like:

  • What the coach thinks of me
  • Where I will fit in the lineup
  • How I make plays during the game
  • How can I develop all the skills required
  • Why other people have what I don’t

Do think about things like:

  • What can I do today that is in my control
  • What can I do today that will give me some results
  • What can I learn from what I just did today (in my game or practice)
  • What are the most important skills I need
  • How can I get better at these skills
  • What I do have that I am grateful for

If I were to answer the five good questions above when I was 18 years old (I’d answer them the same way now as a pro athlete), I would say:

  1. I can put myself in a good mindset to make sure I have the chance to do something useful/perform well.
  2. I can make sure I show up to training and do some extra work on what I think is most important.
  3. (From the game I just played…) I can learn that I need to move the puck quickly to be successful and that means having a vision for the play before I get the puck. 
  4. The most important skills I need are skating, puck-handling, passing, and decision making. Of these, making fast decisions is the most important. 
  5. I have a great opportunity to play the sport I love and I can make a living playing it. 

These are simple answers. Simple answers are often the ones to live by. And maybe the answer takes more thought. You might not feel like you have what you want and don’t know what you are grateful for. But that is a good question to overthink.

Written by Kyle Johnson
Kyle is a Founding Partner at My Mental Game. He is a professional hockey player in France and a graduate of Yale University. His key areas of interest are behavior and psychology. Read more about Kyle.