3 Ways to Stop Overthinking with Jon Acuff | Business on the Bright Side
Episode #32

3 Ways to Stop Overthinking with Jon Acuff

Show Notes:

Overthinking can cause so much more stress than any of us need—let's crush those tendencies and stop overthinking.

Jon Acuff joins us in this episode to share three ways you can stop overthinking in every aspect of your life. Listen in as he walks us through these steps and how he's used them in his own life.

When it comes to writing, it’ll be a success or a story. - Jon Acuff

Three Ways to Stop Overthinking (1:03)

1. Retire Your Broken Soundtrack (1:19)

Bright Pages (6:06).     +1:30

2. Replace those thoughts with new, positive ones. (9:40)

Find a broken soundtrack by writing down something you want to do, then listen to what you want to hear.

3. Repeat what you want. (13:01)

Parting Advice (20:16)

Links
acuff.me
instagram.com/jonacuff
Soundtracksbook.com
All It Takes Is A Goal Podcast - acuff.me/podcast

Review the Transcript:

Jess Ekstrom:
"If you listen to any thought long enough, it becomes part of your personal playlist." That is a quote from Soundtracks by Jon Acuff, a book about the surprising solution to overthinking. And I am a serial over thinker. If you've been listening to this podcast for a while, or you follow me, probably already know that. So I was so excited when Jon Acuff emailed me to endorse his book and get an early read of it. It is out now, Soundtracks, and let's listen to Jon Acuff with three ways that you can stop overthinking.

Jess Ekstrom:
What's up, everybody. It is Jess Ekstrom and welcome to Business on the Bright Side, the podcast where you can learn how to make a living and make a difference at the same time. Life is short and so is my attention span. So let's get started.

Jess Ekstrom:
Three ways to stop over thinking, coming straight from the book Soundtracks. So this is actually really easy to remember because they all start with R. So let's start-

Jon:
Yeah, I like alliteration. I'm an alliteration guy. So the first one I tell people is you have to retire your broken soundtracks. And when I say soundtrack, that's just my phrase for a repetitive thought. Some people say a thought is like a leaf on a river or a car on a highway or a cloud in the sky. But for me, it's a soundtrack. It's a repetitive thought that is playing in the background of your life. And so when I say retire broken soundtracks, I'm saying, "What are soundtracks that are holding you back? What are things you're telling yourself? Like the story of yourself that might not be helpful, it might not be moving you forward." So that's a broken soundtrack.

Jess Ekstrom:
So did you have a broken soundtrack? Because from the outside, you look at your Instagram, your Twitter followers and say, "Oh yeah, Jon's got it on lock." Did you have it? Did you have a soundtrack that was playing that kind of led you to think about what our inner dialogue is saying?

Jon:
I have a thousand. I wish it was one and I was like, "Yeah. And then I killed it. And I buried in a shallow grave and I no longer overthink." No, I think we all have a number of soundtracks. I mean, somebody the other day asked me, they said, "How do you get over imposter syndrome?" And I thought, that's a great question. And I would argue the word over as a broken soundtrack because it's a word of perfectionism. It means you climb over a wall one time and it's done.

Jon:
Where I would say trade that. That gets us to our second R, which is a great segue: replace. The second R is replace with a new soundtrack. The new soundtrack there is through. How do you go through imposter syndrome? Because you go through imposter syndrome, you go through fear. I've written seven books, a couple of them, New York Times Best Sellers. And there's still days that I'm like, "I'm not a real writer. Other people are real writers. I don't know if they have a club, but I don't get to go to that club." And so I go through imposter syndrome. If you say "over" you feel like a failure every time you feel fear again, and you're going to.

Jess Ekstrom:
Well, one of the things that you said in your book is that broken soundtracks talk in absolutes and-

Jon:
Always, never, forever.

Jess Ekstrom:
I think I was like, "Oh shoot." That was something that I really thought about because I'll be like, "Oh, well I'm never going to get to this point. Or I'm never going to sell enough books to where I'm this." And I realized some of the soundtracks that I have that are an absolute. So can you tell us what that is? And why that is broken soundtrack?

Jon:
Yeah. Well, I mean, I think the... It's kind of... They're predicting the future. The soundtrack can't predict the future, but if they say, "I'll never be able to do this," they're predicting a future they don't control. So, I'll meet people that are 24 and they'll go, "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," with some and they're putting all this additional pressure and I go, "I sure hope not. Because if you don't do it well, you still have 40 years of work left." And I guess you just look back and go, "I blew it when I was 24." It's not a once... Very few things in life are a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Jess Ekstrom:
Absolutely.

Jon:
And, again, that's one of those, "If I don't do this thing perfectly, I'll never get another shot." And you go, "You have possibly 40, 50, 60 years ahead. And we don't know what's going to happen." So don't listen to that always, never, forever. I think that's really important.

Jess Ekstrom:
Yeah. I'm going through something right now with one of my businesses where it feels so definite where I'm like, "If I choose this, this is going to be my life. And if I choose that, that will be my life." And so it feels like such a heavy decision and I'm like, "It's not, it's what I make it."

Jon:
Yeah. So here's what I say. In moments like that, do a for now decision, not a forever decision. So for instance, I have a friend and we're talking about his logo and I told him just the other day, "I think you need to say, this is my year-one logo." Because logos are one of the stickiest perfectionism overthinking. You're like, "I just have to find a symbol that perfectly captures my soul for the rest of my life." And you're going to find that on Fiverr. That's challenging, putting some pressure. So you're going to grow, you're going to change. So I think it's much better to go, "This is my year-one logo. This is my year-one podcast. This is my..." If you go in... Whenever somebody says they want to write a book and they start talking about it, like, "Well, the book. Like the book." And they're overdramatizing and something that's already difficult.

Jon:
That's why writing is so hard. We have these broken soundtracks to say, "Writing is easy, you just open a vein and bleed on the page." What? Or we go, "Writing is easy. You just go to the coal mine and find your soul." What?

Jess Ekstrom:
Not it.

Jon:
No. That's so difficult. I'd rather you say, "I'm writing the next book. I'm writing the first book." Because if you call it the book, you think you only have one shot to get every single idea in, and you've written books. The second you finish a book, you find 50 other ideas that you didn't know you needed in there, and you have to have the freedom to go, "Yeah, your next book ideas. Awesome. Like this is my first book. This is my second book. This is my next book." It's not the book.

Jess Ekstrom:
Exactly.

Jess Ekstrom:
Hey, real quick. Have you ever felt like you were made for more, but you're just not sure what it is that you want to create? Or maybe you have a ton of ideas bubbling over like champagne, but you just don't even know where to begin. A blank page in front of you can feel daunting and overwhelming. So I wanted to create a guided online journal designed to give people the clarity they need to make the world just a little bit brighter. Bright Pages is a guided online journal for people who do.

Jess Ekstrom:
Here's, how it works. You have your own private journal with a designated log-in and each day you get a daily prompt inside the platform, but it's also emailed to you and you can just reply directly to that email with the prompt and it will save it into your journal. Technology, am I right?

Jess Ekstrom:
One of my favorite Bright Pages features are the prompt pathways. You can pick a pathway based on a goal that you have, whether it's writing a book, crafting a talk, or maybe starting a business, or even just getting out of a creative funk. Then you'll get prompts delivered to you for one week based on that specific pathway that you chose. I mean, sign me up. Business on the Bright Side listeners get a special discount. So head to brightpages.com and enter the code pod to get 20% off the annual plan. That's bright pages.com and enter the code pod, P-O-D.

Jess Ekstrom:
I just watched the college admission scandal on Netflix. Have you seen that yet?

Jon:
Oh, yeah. I saw the trailer. It looked fascinating.

Jess Ekstrom:
So what I found fascinating about it... I mean, first the whole thing is so messed up. But the thing that I felt was more messed up is the pressure that is put on these high school students to get into these schools and feel like this is the deciding factor for the rest of their life. And I actually have young girls.

Jon:
Which is ludicrous, by the way.

Jess Ekstrom:
It's crazy.

Jon:
The idea... I always tell... I don't get to speak to a lot of college students anymore because I'm really focused on corporate audiences. But I used to always tell 18 year olds, 19 year olds, "Any 45 year old who tells you they had their life figured out at your age is a liar."

Jess Ekstrom:
Absolutely.

Jon:
Very few people. Now that's not to say, you might not have said, "At nine I knew I was going to be an ophthalmologist. I was in love with the eyeball." Like great, rock that out, dude. Do that career. But the majority of people... My career... I told my little sister, I've got a sister 15 years younger than me. And I said, "I couldn't have picked what I'm doing as a major because it didn't physically exist."

Jon:
I couldn't have majored in social media because it didn't exist. I didn't get an email address until I was a junior. And I was like, "This is dumb. This will never last." So I could not... A lot of my job right now, social media, influence, platform building, whatever phrase you want to use, didn't physically exist. So imagine me telling my junior year self, "You're so dumb. Why didn't you pick Twitter to do?" Because it won't be invented for another 15 years.

Jess Ekstrom:
It wasn't there.

Jon:
What am I supposed to do? You know? So I think we have to give kids way more grace to kind of figure it out as they go.

Jess Ekstrom:
Absolutely. The president of Headbands of Hope. She was going to be an occupational therapist. And we just happened to room together in college and get it started. And people hear now that I started my company when I was 18 and they're like, "Well, when I was 18, I was doing keg stands and going to parties." And I was like, "So was I. That's exactly what I was doing too. I didn't have it all figured out. I was just kind of testing and like playing with stuff."

Jess Ekstrom:
But okay, so we have retire. Take us back.

Jon:
Yeah. Retire is retire the broken soundtracks. So the soundtracks that are getting in your way, the things that are probably not true. And the easiest way to find a broken soundtrack is write down something you want to do. So write down, "I want to start a company. I want to write a book. I want to ask somebody on a date. I want to ask for a raise." Whatever the thing is, write down to desire. And then listen to the first reaction. Listen to the thing you hear. And what I say is every reaction is an education. And if you'll pay attention, you'll probably be able to pretty easily identify a broken soundtrack.

Jess Ekstrom:
That is fascinating.

Jon:
So I want to write a book. Somebody smarter has already written your book. Who are you to write a book? Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. All you've done is write down I want to do this thing. And you've already got 50, 100 broken soundtracks plain. And once you identify one, then you can retire it.

Jon:
And then the second thing is you replace it. You have to replace it with something that's helpful. And that process doesn't have to be super challenging. I mean, I write books. My job, I consider as to put handles on ideas. We have enough ideas in the world, we don't have handles on them to carry them with us to our Thursday, to our next week, to our next conversation. So I try to put really simple handles on ideas, which is why it's retire, replace, repeat.

Jon:
So with replace, an easy way to do it would say, "Okay, what's the opposite of this? If I find this bad thing, what's the opposite of it?" My example in the book is I realized that I was a terrible boss. I was the worst boss to myself and I would... And it took me a while to notice it. But I have a timer on my phone, which I think is still an amazing productivity app, but if I was doing 90 minutes of writing, I would stop it when I'd go leave to go to the bathroom. If I had a real boss that had a timer on their desk and was like, "You're taking a bathroom break. Okay. Those 90 seconds, go ahead and pause. That's your time. Not my time." That's ridiculous. And so I didn't go on this vision quest to figure that out, and figure out a new one to replace it with. I said, "What would the best boss that...?" Can you imagine if you were the best boss to yourself? Because we've all had good bosses, bad bosses.

Jon:
So what would the best boss do in that moment? And then I was able to go, "Okay, I'm going to be the best boss." Then I just turned that into a soundtrack. I'm the CEO of me. And I'm the boss. The best boss I'm taking personal responsibility. Whether you work at a big company, small company, you're still the CEO of you. Tom Peters talked about that 20 years ago in his book Brand You, which changed my life to think of myself as a brand and think of myself as, "Okay, how do I represent myself inside this company?" But I'm the CEO. And what would the best boss do in this moment? That's what I mean by replace.

Jess Ekstrom:
Got it. That's a really great way to flip the negative into a positive and then just try it on for size. What would someone who is the best boss do? Because sometimes I think too hard about... Almost criticize myself for thinking negatively. And I feel like it's just a downward spiral after that.

Jon:
Exactly. And then the other thing is we have this culture, that's like, you got to be tougher on yourself. You got to... There's so many motivational people that... Like I saw somebody the other day saying you should start each morning with a freezing cold shower because it'll prepare you to do tough things later. And I was like, "Well, why would I start the day with something that sucks?" Can you imagine telling somebody who doesn't have hot water, like "No, I just deliberately freeze myself. To make sure I'm tough." That sounds like... I would be such an angry person

Jess Ekstrom:
Go drink your raw eggs after that.

Jon:
Yeah, exactly. But what I've learned is I've never met somebody... When somebody goes, "I got to get my life together. Got to get my stuff together." I've never met somebody a year later and I go, "Wow. Business is working, your family's healthy, you're healthy. What'd you do?" And they go, "I just shamed myself. I told myself, 'You've got to get your stuff together.' And here I am." That never works. Shame as a propellant to change never sustains you. It's a good little short term. It might give you a little bit of boost, but anger is not a great long-term fuel, shame is not a great long-term fuel. Doing it to show the haters wrong, not a good long-term fuel. All of those empty you out versus fill you up.

Jess Ekstrom:
Yeah. And it just also makes it not fun. I've put fun as a higher priority on any of my business dealings that I'm going into. I'm just like, "Yeah, this could return a profit. This can do that. But am I going to be having a good time? Because if not, then what's really the point of all this."

Jon:
Yeah. I have a friend who he likes to eat dessert first. When he goes to restaurants with people. He orders it first. And he always says, "If somebody won't go along with me on that, then they're not going to be fun the rest of the business project. We probably don't need to work together."

Jess Ekstrom:
Oh, I love that.

Jon:
So it's a really fascinating, small little litmus tests. And if you go, "That's dumb. No. You might not meet my people." That's okay.

Jess Ekstrom:
Right?

Jon:
Where there's a lot of people that be like, "Heck yeah, Yeah, let's start."

Jess Ekstrom:
I'd be like, "Give me the whipped cream." Let's do it.

Jon:
Let's do it.

Jess Ekstrom:
Yeah. That's definitely my style.

Jess Ekstrom:
So the last one is repeat and something that I pulled from your book that I, again, had to highlight and tab was, why is it so easy to repeat negative soundtracks internally and so hard to repeat positive soundtracks externally? That's crazy. It's true.

Jon:
I think part of it is they're familiar. We've done it a thousand times. It's kind of like... I always... When somebody says, "You know what, Jon, I'm trying to exercise more and it's not working. I'm not losing weight." And I'll go, "Well, how long have you been doing it?" And they'll say, "10 days." And I'll go, "How long did it take you to gain the weight?" They'll say, "10 years." I'll go "Well, you're being really unkind to yourself. You gave yourself 10 years to the gain the weight and 10 days to lose it. You need to extend the timeframe." So I think part of it is that they're so familiar. We've listened to them so many times that they play automatically. The minute one of your listeners makes a mistake, all these other mistakes that they've thought about come up and play instantly.

Jon:
And the new one is fresh and it's delicate. And it needs our help to actually stick. So the goal of the book isn't that you have a new thought, the goal is that you take that new thought and turn it into new action that gets you new results. So when I say repeat, I mean, I would like you to have a hundred different ways you repeat it. I'm sitting in my office right now, I can look at notes that are on the wall. I'll grab one, hold on.

Jon:
Like this one says, "Ask for more." And I wrote it on August 27th, 2020 because I was undervaluing my work in negotiations. So I just... It's not memorable, that doesn't rhyme. It's not as good as "Just do it." But I was just like, "You got to remember ask for more." That's a more positive new soundtrack versus... A broken soundtrack in that one might be, "If you ask for too much, they'll think selfish." Or "Who do you think you are to ask that much?" Those are broken soundtracks.

Jess Ekstrom:
Story of my life.

Jon:
"Ask for more." I put it on a note because I'm going to forget it. We have a really hard time remembering the wins and a really easy time remembering the failures. Another way to say it is, "Fear comes free, hope takes work." So fear will find you. You never have to go look for a negative thought. We've all been in the grocery store and a negative thought out of nowhere, something dumb we said three years ago finds us. But on the other hand, you do have to go find positive things. So that's what I mean by repeat is that whether you tie it to symbol.

Jon:
I have this, here's a pine cone that I have on my desk from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, because I remember the soundtrack that I wanted for that was "don't miss it." "Don't miss it." I'm going on spring break. Spring break in the middle of a book launch, it would be very easy for me to physically be there and emotionally absent because my book launch has all these details. So I was like, "No, my soundtrack for that trip is don't miss it. Don't miss it. Don't miss it." I picked up this pine cone on the street, a hundred percent free by the way. They just give them away. They're everywhere. And now it's on my desk and now it's a reminder, "Oh yeah. Don't miss it. Don't miss it." So that's what I mean by repeat is you've got to be deliberate and creative to give that new soundtrack a fighting chance against this old one that's been around for maybe a while.

Jess Ekstrom:
Yeah. And it's not just about thinking and repeating it in your head. What I like that you've shared is finding ways to visually be reminded, whether it's the pine cone or whether it's the post-it now. I mean, I think sometimes I'll get in a groove for 30 minutes, I'm like, "I'm the best. I'm the CEO. Advocate for yourself." And then 45 minutes later, I'm like, "Oh, I can't do it." And so finding things that you can put in front of you.

Jon:
Well, and knowing it's going to happen. And that's okay. And so the way I kind of look at it, I like to teach people to build a motivation portfolio. So we sometimes think we need one form of motivation. Sometimes we misinterpret Simon Sinek, Start with Why, as in there's a true North, a one thing, one thing that forever. And I like to have multiple forms of motivation because on some days five on my list won't even move the needle or some days 10 won't, but I want to have a bunch. So when I decided to do a running goal or a family goal or a spiritual or any type of goal, I try to come up with as many forms of motivation that I can possibly have. So that if my one quits, I don't quit.

Jon:
Because that's what often happens. We go, "I'm doing it for my kids. I'm doing this for my kids." And then there's going to be some days you're like, "My kids can figure out college on their own. I don't need to earn that..." And you feel bad as a parent even admitting that, but that's the truth. And there's some days where the song gets you out of bed. Awesome. That's on your motivation portfolio, song number four. You Eminem yourself right out of bed. You're like, "I'm going to lose myself. Mom's spaghetti." Awesome. But there's other days where the song won't work. The note from a reader who likes you won't work, the I'm doing it for my family won't work. And you want to have as many forms of motivation on that list. And it's the same with repeating it. You want have as many tangible examples versus I just hope this thought I have in my head stays and is able to fight the thought I've had for five years.

Jess Ekstrom:
Yeah.

Jon:
I don't like those odds. I would much rather you stack the odds in your favor.

Jess Ekstrom:
I love that, having that motivation menu. Because yeah, some days the gas in the tank just isn't there.

Jess Ekstrom:
Okay. So to recap, three ways to stop over thinking: retire those old thoughts that aren't serving you anymore, replace them with new ones and repeat. But one of the things that a lot of my listeners are aspiring to do or are doing are writing and publishing books and speaking. So can you give some parting advice to the people who are just wanting to put their words and their thoughts out into the world, whether that's books or speaking, but are getting in their head. Because that's, I mean... It's so hard to feel like everyone needs to listen to what I have to say and they also have to pay for it. You know? It's just, no matter how successful you are at one or the other. I still get like that sometimes. So what do you do?

Jon:
Yeah. Sure. So, I mean, remember everybody's human. An audience isn't full of ideas, it's full of humans. And so when I speak, I try to speak to one person. I look for a handful of people that are smiling. Because I believe every speaker has laser vision for the person who looks furious or disconnected. And what I've learned too is that sometimes they just have a thinking face. I've had so many speeches where they'll come up after and go... The person who I thought hated what I was saying will come and go, "Oh, it was so good, man. I was really thinking through some..." And that's their face. So I have to remember that when it comes to writing, when it comes to really anything in life, one of my soundtracks is it'll be a success or a story.

Jon:
It will be a success or a story. Either I'll win it or I'll get a story that I can share and encourage other people. So, "Hey, I tried this thing. I did a book signing line and nobody came." Okay, well, that's a story. So then I'll share that with other people.

Jon:
And then one that I use to write a specific writing soundtrack is three pages is plenty. There's this lie when you sit down, the broken soundtrack will be like, "You should be able to do 800 pages today. Every other writer writes for nine hours a day. And it's..." And the truth is three pages is plenty. If I get three pages of ideas and not good ideas, then I'm okay.

Jon:
Another one is it always takes multiple drafts. There's no... Everything I've ever written has been better on the fifth draft than the first. But on the first draft, I forget that. I sit down and I'm like, "This is stupid. It's terrible." But I think about it like this, some days I write that first draft as a gift to next week Jon. Next week, Jon is going to open that file and be like, "Oh, it's messy. But there's bones here. I can work with this."

Jess Ekstrom:
It's a starting a point.

Jon:
And the hard work is that first one. And then the other thing I'd say is, a soundtrack I say is, "I don't believe in writer's block, I believe in idea bankruptcy." If you're having a hard time writing, you haven't filled yourself with enough ideas. And so I think whether that's reading, conversations with friends, asking strangers questions, listening to podcasts. I never sit down to a blank piece of paper. I always bring some friends with me, my ideas with me. Because it's much easier to connect a bunch of ideas than it is to sit with a blank piece of paper and go, "Okay heart, try to do this difficult thing."

Jess Ekstrom:
Yeah. Let's do it. For sure.

Jon:
And then the last one Seinfeld says, "Writing is a game of tonnage." And I like that word. And he says-

Jess Ekstrom:
What is that?

Jon:
Tonnage. You just got tons and tons of writing. It's a game of tonnage. And I love that. The idea of like, "Yeah, I probably wrote 180,000 words to create a 50,000 word book." That's what Soundtracks has.

Jess Ekstrom:
Yeah.

Jon:
This book has 50,000 words in it and they're the right words. But I had to write 180,000 to get there. And I don't throw them away, there's other uses. Some, I definitely threw away, but it is a game of tonnage.

Jess Ekstrom:
Yeah, for sure. I got to put all the plates on the table to see what you need to remove. But I love that it's either success or a story. That's amazing. So where can people find Soundtracks and find you?

Jon:
Yeah. If they want to read the first chapter, you just go to soundtracksbook.com. So soundtracksbook.com. And I also have a podcast called All it Takes is a Goal because I'm a huge goal nerd. And I think that starting is fun, but the future belongs to finishers. So I love helping people finish their goals. I've got a shelf of books in my office that people have sent after connecting with my ideas about finishing. And it's so fun to have somebody go, "This was on my laptop for seven years and now it's actually on a shelf."

Jess Ekstrom:
Yeah.

Jon:
So yeah, check out the podcast. And then I'm just Jon Acuff on Instagram. Acuff.me is my website. You can find me all over the internet.

Jess Ekstrom:
Awesome. Thanks for being here.

Jon:
Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Jess Ekstrom:
Thanks for listening to Business on the Bright Side with Jess Ekstrom. I love to send out the episodes every Monday with a quick text and a quote from me. So text me the word podcast to (704) 228-9495. That's (704) 228-9495. And do you want to see what the show notes are from this episode? Head to businessonthebrightside.com hit subscribe here, write a review and I'll see you on Monday.

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