Applied EQ #24: Stuck in a Rut; Dealing with Dwelling and Obsessing

In the last few posts, we have been talking about Emotional Breakdowns and the emotional triggers that lead to them.  This post is focused on dwelling and obsessing.

Dwelling and obsessing is when we become fixated on one particular thought, remark, event, injury, or outcome. Our minds obsess and that thought, remark, or injury becomes the focus of all our attention. We become stuck.  This dramatically impacts our performance and leaves us vulnerable to emotional breakdown. 

Meter99_v2Have you ever found yourself dwelling or obsessing over something?  If you have, you know that you cannot perform well as a project manager.  It reminds me of the behavior of my computer when it is busy doing something else in the background when I am trying to use it.  Even the most simple task can be slow.  The computer is unresponsive and will sometimes crash.  That is probably how you appear to your stakeholders when you are dwelling and obsessing and they need something from you.

I have fallen prey to dwelling and obsessing on a minor scale.  My mind would get stuck on something and then just churn away.  It was not enough to prevent me from being effective, but it did keep me awake at night on several occasions.

I have also had people who worked for me become so obsessed and stuck on things that they are unable to perform at acceptable levels.  In one particular case, it began to affect their interpretation of events.  They begin to hear things that did not occur, to interpret everything as a personal slight, and to become overwhelmed.  No matter what was said, they seemed to hear "you are a failure".  This was not actually the case and it caused them to become ineffective. 

Let’s hope that you do not suffer from dwelling and obsessing on that same scale.  As a PM, we can easily become obsessed with the performance of ourselves and our team, as well as on the success of the project.  Here are some ideas for dealing with this behavior if you find yourself falling into that trap on your project:

  1. See it for what it is.  Be aware of the behavior.   Sometimes it is enough to acknowledge it in order to break the cycle.  If you have a tendency to do it, become alert to signs that you are getting sucked in.
  2. Take action to be clear or to get over it.  Whatever the hurt, it probably tracks back to some injury caused by someone else.  What do you need to do or say that would help you feel OK?  This might mean having a difficult conversation with someone about their behavior.  It is amazing how often something taking a simple but courageous step can relieve us from the obsession.
  3. Recharge.  Evaluate whether you are getting enough rest and downtime away from the project.  Invest in hobbies; in particular those that involve other people.  Take regular vacations of more than just a day or two off.
  4. Break the link.  If there is a particular person who is the root of your obsessions, try to get as far away from that person as possible.  While not effective as getting clear, it may help to eliminate the obsessive behavior.
  5. Don’t try to NOT to think about it.  Sometimes, if we are consciously trying not to think about something we find we cannot stop.  Instead, dedicate a specific time to dwell, obsess and worry about it.  Limit this time to something reasonable like 10 to 20 minutes at the end of the day.  You might find that having a specific time set aside for dwelling allows us to get our mind back on what is important.
  6. Relax.  Try relaxation techniques such as breathing, prayer or meditation.  This can often break the cycle.
  7. Tease yourself about how silly you are being.  If we take ourselves too seriously we often set up conditions that lead to obsession.  Sometimes you can acknowledge the behavior and poke a little light-hearted fun at yourself. 
  8. Seek professional help.  If you are unable to break the cycle on your own, it might be helpful to enlist the help of a professional.  Your mental health and professional performance is worth whatever it cost to eliminate dwelling and obsessing from your life.

If your mind is not open and available to work on your project, you aren’t going to be much of a project manager or a leader.  Do what you need to do to remove obsessions; this will also protect you against emotional breakdowns.

In our next post, we are going to talk about Hot Words and Hot Buttons and how they can lead to emotional breakdowns.

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