The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast

37 Self Awareness or Overthinking: Navigating the Fine Line, with Andrew Sewell

October 30, 2023 Dr Nia D Thomas Episode 37
The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast
37 Self Awareness or Overthinking: Navigating the Fine Line, with Andrew Sewell
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Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to another episode of The Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast! In today's episode, we are joined by, Andrew Sewell, a leadership coach and the author of "The Overthinker's Guide to Life".  Andrew's expertise lies in 'overthinking', a topic that we frequently discuss on this podcast in relation to self-awareness. Today, we delve deeper into the question of when self-awareness becomes rumination and overthinking. We also explore the definition of self-awareness and its significance in leadership effectiveness.

Andrew is a former advertising creative who made a bold career shift in midlife. Instead of continuing to climb the corporate ladder, he decided to pursue his passion for psychology and inner leadership work. Andrew's experiences as a writer and idea generator in advertising gave him a unique perspective on the power of imagination, but also led to constant overthinking and stress. In his quest to find balance, Andrew shares his journey as a recovering overthinker and how he has changed his relationship with his thoughts. Andrew made the decision to become a leadership coach, combining his professional background with his deep understanding of psychology. With his expertise in both creativity and mental well-being, Andrew now helps individuals navigate their own journeys of self-discovery and personal growth.

Join us as we uncover the importance of self-awareness as a leader and how it can greatly impact personal and professional growth. Stay tuned for an insightful conversation with Andrew Sewell!

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Nia Thomas [00:00:00]:

Hello and welcome to the Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast, the Fortnightly podcast discussing self aware leadership with thinkers from around the globe. Join me, your host, NIA Thomas, as we talk to today's guest listeners. I'm delighted to be joined by Andrew Sewell today. Andrew is a leadership coach and he's currently writing a book, as well as Being A Coach Overthinker's Guide to Life, and Drew's specific area of interest and expertise is in overthinking. And I'm sure, listeners, if you've been listening to the podcast, this is something that we frequently talk about in terms of self awareness. At what point does self awareness become rumination and overthinking? So, hopefully Andrew can help us answer that question today. Andrew, it's lovely to have you here. Please do introduce yourself.

Andrew [00:00:47]:

Thank you. Thanks very much for having me. Yeah, well, my background in slightly different to leadership coaching, so I started in advertising. I was a creative, I was a writer, I was doing ideas for many years and then I had a sort of choice to make in midlife about whether to keep climbing the ladder or whether to do something different. And I chose the road less, travel the different route and ended up in I was going to become a therapist. And then I thought, no better way to sort of combine my professional corporate background with psychology and inner leadership work would be to become a coach. So I made that pivot then. So that's very brief introduction. Obviously, I'd experienced lots of overthinking in my time as a creative and time managing various clients and doing big presentations and pitches. And I think it was almost like my major source of stress. Like, on one side, I had to use my imagination to create ideas, but on the other side, that imagination also led to, as you said, rumination. So I was constantly overthinking everything.

Nia Thomas [00:01:54]:

But Andrew, you describe yourself as a recovering overthinker. How did you get to the point of recovery and are you recovered or is that continuous journey?

Andrew [00:02:04]:

Good question. So it was seven years ago, so almost to the week that we're recording this podcast, it's going to be seven years since I left full time job. So in those seven years, I've definitely done a lot of inner work to help me be a recovering overthinker. Am I a hewitt overthinker? No, I don't think so. I think it's a lifelong journey, but I definitely have more head space, more roundedness, I'm more chilled out, I don't have sleepless nights as much as I used to. I would describe it as I've changed my relationship with my thoughts. So I have a much healthier relationship to my thoughts than I used to do. Yeah, I've definitely made progress.

Nia Thomas [00:02:50]:

So, listeners, if you are an overthinker or somebody who is woken up at 03:00 in the morning overthinking things, stick around and take a listen to what Andrew has to say. How do you define self awareness and really. What does it mean to you, self awareness?

Andrew [00:03:08]:

I mean, very simply, it means knowing yourself. It's a lot more complicated than that though. So it means knowing your strengths, it means knowing your weaknesses. It means knowing what kind of environment you thrive in. It means knowing how you're showing up to people. It means knowing some sense of how you're landing with people, how they're receiving you, especially as a leader. It's about knowing when you need to rest and recover. It's. All of those different elements of your life come into self awareness. I would say the tricky bit is that lots of our self is unconscious. So it's like subconscious thoughts, ingrained behavior, and learning patterns that show up in different ways. And that's where you've got to pay, I would say, special attention to become more self aware. That's where the main gains are. When you work with someone like me as a coach, or even just as within a leadership development base at work, it's usually about trying to get under the surface a bit. How are you showing up? Are you a perfectionist? Are you a people pleaser? Why do you procrastinate? Why can't you make a decision in that situation? Those deeper self awareness questions, I think that's where the real richness comes.

Nia Thomas [00:04:20]:

And I guess that was a question I was thinking of, is that when you start to work with people from a coaching perspective, is self awareness one of the things that you do right at the very, very beginning? And I guess I asked this question because I've spoken to people who are leadership development coaches specifically, and they say they always start from self awareness. I've talked to coaches who work with people who have been perpetrators of bullying, and they say that self awareness comes at the end of their program. And that makes sense to me because you need to work to it. Where does self awareness fit in your coaching conversation?

Andrew [00:04:57]:

That's a super good question. So when I'm working with leadership teams, like helping teams trust each other and galvanize as a team around a common set of values and a vision of purpose, self awareness comes early there. It's like, okay, why are we all showing up? What are our values? Why do we get in our own way? That's the key self awareness question. Why do we get in our own way? And it can be all kinds of things, but that's the question you explore on a one to one level. The self awareness question almost always is what I start with. Because again, people are usually shown up to me. Why do I keep getting in my own way? Or I'm about to start this new role. How can you help me smash it? In the first 90 days in my last role, I've become aware that I'm good at this and I'm sort of not so good at this. How can I take that knowledge and then show up in the present moment. That's a key thing to self awareness. Like you're present, grow as a person and do a better job than I did last time. So the bully question, I've had definitely experience of bullies in my work life and I know what a narcissist is, and that's a tricky coaching assignment, coaching a narcissist. I mean, there's different things. A bully is probably a bully is broader than a narcissist. There could be bullying for all kinds of different reasons, and some bullies might be more open to self awareness or self reflection than others. But I would say if you're a proper narcissist, by definition, self awareness is not on the agenda. That's why they do what they do. So Donald Trump is a narcissist, right? He's not aware, but weirdly, he became President of the United States, which says a lot about what leadership is and hierarchical organizations and all of that stuff.

Nia Thomas [00:06:50]:

Absolutely. And listeners, you'll have probably heard I frequently refer to Donald Trump. So I'm so glad Andrew's mentioned his name as well. It's not just me. What are your thoughts on the relationship between self awareness and leader effectiveness?

Andrew [00:07:07]:

I coach from a whole person approach. So it's not just like your job as a leader. I want leaders to show up authentically with a really good, well developed skill set, with a really committed buy into the vision for the organization. So by definition, self awareness is absolutely crucial to leadership effectiveness in my book. And I would say for myself, the more self aware I've become, the better a leader I've become. Definitely both within my own life and within past, within teams that I managed. But sometimes from my experience of coaching people, it seems like people can get a long way in leadership with a lack of seriously, because people look for confidence, people look for decisive decision making, ambition drive. That can be like self awareness. And that skill set don't necessarily occur in the same person, but usually that person hits a ceiling of stress or a ceiling in the organization where what got them here won't get them there. And that's the best case scenario where there's a moment of reckoning where it's like, okay, this is a kind of a wake up call here. You can either go to the next level, which involves becoming self aware, or you can keep plowing that treadmill, which usually is not a great thing for the team, the business and the person involved.

Nia Thomas [00:08:36]:

What I'm definitely hearing is that these two things are mutually exclusive. That actually you can be a leader without self awareness. And we're often talking about the Elon Musk's of the world and the Trumps of the yeah, I'm more on the.

Andrew [00:08:49]:

Side of Nelson Mandela as the leader of the world. I want that rockley self aware. Absolutely.

Nia Thomas [00:08:59]:

Do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels? And what's your experience that really suggests that they can or they can't.

Andrew [00:09:08]:

Yeah, 100%. A guy I was coaching someone a couple of weeks ago, he was an apprentice. He's, like, 22 years old and he's, like, absolutely a leader already. Totally. There's definitely such a thing as a born leader. Like an e that guy is. He was captain of the football team. He's already showed it. He's captain of the football team. He worked in the local pizza restaurant. He was, like, the manager when he was 18. Some people just have that skill set, an ability to take responsibility really early. And it's admirable because that guy was, like, self aware as well. I'm totally curious about learning. Totally knew that he didn't know much about the world of work. I just thought I would follow you if you were the leader of my team. Like, weirdly. And he's like he's 22 years old, so yeah.

Nia Thomas [00:09:52]:

Interesting. And I think that is fascinating when you see people who can't possibly have built up an experienced bank but still are leaders. And I think this comes back to the question that we're often having about nature versus nurture. And there are so many people who are of the view that leadership can be taught, but like you, I am more of the view that something has to be innately in your character to be able to go to training and build on it. So I think that there is definitely this notion of born leadership and then development. But I think if you don't have any innate leadership traits, you can't take them forward. I don't know what your views are, broadly.

Andrew [00:10:38]:

Yes. I think obviously your parents count, your upbringing counts for a lot. Your values count. I think there is something to that born leader thing. I think some people just have it, and the best ones are doing it from a whole hearted place. I mean, there's always going to be a desire to prove something, but a lot of people I see I don't want to go too negative, but, like, ambition drive is obviously a really healthy trait, but can also be a compensation factor. I'm not enough somewhere in my life. Therefore, the only place I can prove my worth is at work. So I'm just going to go for a big style. I wouldn't class that person as a board leader. I would class that person as your leadership is something that you're doing to avoid the rest of your life and looking at yourself. But yeah, there are leaders, definitely.

Nia Thomas [00:11:25]:

That's really interesting. And when I had a conversation with Amy Gandon in episode five of the podcast, she was talking about young people developing their self awareness so that they can almost hide their flaws on the basis of, if I know my flaws first, then nobody else can take me down because of them. Which is very similar to what you're saying.

Andrew [00:11:49]:

That's interesting. Yeah. Is work competition or a collaboration is the key question. It goes meta immediately because obviously the way our economy is set up is businesses. Organizations compete for customers, for funding, for everything. But I would say the better you are at collaboration, the more likely you are to win the competition. I think you're right. I think some people do overplay the game. That just doesn't vibe with me as a good life strategy.

Nia Thomas [00:12:19]:

Yeah, I would agree. So, Andrew, you are going to join me in the ten word challenge. So we're going to try something new today. We're going to do a word association game. So I'm going to share ten words with Andrew, and I want to know the first word that comes into your mind. So let's start with word number one. Reflection journaling.

Andrew [00:12:40]:

Obviously, I'm a writer by trade, so write it down. Spend ten minutes a day reflecting on your workday, on your values, on what you're grateful for. Anything. Like, that just a way to get it out of your head and onto a piece of paper.

Nia Thomas [00:12:57]:

Word number two authenticity.

Andrew [00:13:02]:

Is it real or is it fake? Authenticity, which I don't even know what that means, but I think, like, that point that you just made about the people who play the game of leadership by covering their flaws, people can be like, oh, yeah, I'm authentic. Yeah, let's just all be ourselves. And yeah, this is fine, but it's not real. It's just they're just talking the talk of what they think. Like, the latest business speak is supposed to reflect. But I think there's a difference between that and genuinely showing up as yourself.

Nia Thomas [00:13:33]:

We're number three feedback.

Andrew [00:13:35]:

Highly valuable, rarely given.

Nia Thomas [00:13:37]:

Well, love it. Number four, mindfulness.

Andrew [00:13:42]:

The difference that makes the difference for me. I mean, 100% in the last seven years, I would say that the most important thing that I've done is meditation. Mindfulness. It's definitely been the sort of route into my recovering from overthinking and becoming more I used to be a very heady person, more embodied, more grounded, taken me down into more bigger questions about what do I want from life? Yeah. So definitely a huge thing for me.

Nia Thomas [00:14:12]:

Five is bullying.

Andrew [00:14:14]:

Personally, absolutely hate bullying. It's one of my biggest. Even since I was a kid, I just absolutely couldn't abide bullies.

Nia Thomas [00:14:24]:

Number six hybrid.

Andrew [00:14:26]:

Hybrid. Interesting word. The future, the present. What does hybrid mean for you? That's kind of is the more space for you to define your own work style, work context, work life balance. I think that's got to be the way things go.

Nia Thomas [00:14:43]:

Number eight, positivity can be a terrible idea.

Andrew [00:14:48]:

So, like, positive thinking, I'm amazing, this is awesome. Come on, guys, let's do this. At worst, pointless. It's just not a very good idea. So if you obviously positivity, optimism, hope, these are really good words and that's what you want your teams to be, but you need to include space for the whole conversation. You can't just make it falsely positive.

Nia Thomas [00:15:13]:

Number nine, is office, miss it sometimes.

Andrew [00:15:17]:

Miss the banter, miss having a laugh with me mates, miss going to the quick drink after work, miss seeing lots of different people. So in some ways I miss it, but in many other ways I don't miss it.

Nia Thomas [00:15:28]:

And our last word, number ten, is happiness.

Andrew [00:15:31]:

Happiness? Yeah. That's funny. I like the word joy, but happiness is momentary. It's what everybody's searching for. It's very context driven. You don't find it in buying a Ferrari. I think you can tap into an innate sense of happiness if you do meditation long enough. I think that feels a bit more like joy than happiness. But, yeah, it's good to laugh. That's what makes me happy. Don't take yourself too seriously. That's what leads happiness.

Nia Thomas [00:16:08]:

Absolutely. Thank you. Andrew, do you think leaders at the most strategic level of organizations have greater self awareness than leaders at other level of organizations? And what experience have you got that informs that view?

Andrew [00:16:24]:

I think it entirely depends on the context. I've experienced both sides of that equation. So in my last job, I think my immediate boss and the one person above that were properly self aware and committed to their own growth. I think in other coaching situations, it felt like the team we were coaching were more self aware than other people at more senior levels from the organization, without sort of breaking any kind of confidentiality. But, yeah, I would say so. Depends on the culture of the business and what it rewards.

Nia Thomas [00:17:04]:

And our final question, and I think this is one of the ones that I really want to explore with you. What do you think is an effective way to develop self awareness? And there is a line on your website, overthinkers co. UK, that I want listeners to hear. I think many of you are suffering in secret. By day you wear professional masks, but at night it's a different story, with racing thoughts that can keep you awake long after dark. So with that in mind and that awareness and knowledge of overthinking, how then do we develop self awareness to help us with our overthinking?

Andrew [00:17:43]:

Big question. What is overthinking? So, I mean, I define overthinking very broadly, but in the sort of standard psychological text, overthinking is either you mentioned it, it's either ruminating about something that's already happened, dwelling on something, going over. What was that conversation like? Did I say something that offended that person? Or you're worrying about the future. I'm like, what if? What if I lose my job? What if that person, that presentation, falls flat on its face? So the present moment is the only place that you can become self aware and it's the only place that you can look at your overthinking. So, again, I would highly recommend some kind of mindfulness meditation practice, but many people who I coach said, I can't do mindfulness meditation, I can't do this, which is fair enough, I totally get that. So what would you do if you didn't develop a mindfulness habit? Look at your patterns. You could talk to somebody who's got your back, who you trust, and you say, look, how do you see me as a person? And you might know yourself already. Like, I'm quite a perfectionist. I'm a bit of a people pleaser. I used to procrastinate about things that I didn't want to do. I mean, it's very common. Most people are all of those things on some level, especially if you've got a decent job, you normally get hired because of your perfectionism on some level. So these are traits that are hired for. You could almost see I wrote something about this the other week. So you could see your strengths become your weaknesses. So your desire to work and achieve high standards becomes perfectionism. And you have a ton of overthinking around your perfectionism. Is that good enough? Which obviously ties much deeper into like, am I good enough? But that gets into a more of a therapy conversation. So notice when those thoughts occur. When am I thinking around? Is that good enough? Are you feeling like a perfectionist? You could do something around people please. When am I overthinking? Around. Have I offended that person? Or how should I be with this person? That's a sign that sort of a part of you, that's a people pleasing part is showing up. That's going to lead to a tunnel of overthinking. So it's almost like overthinking is a big generic, stress induced thing. It's like getting curiosity about it. What's going on for me? What part of me is showing up to do with that piece of overthinking? What's another part of me that can show up? So that sort of people pleasing can also be a massive strength. You want to keep the team happy. You care about what that person thinks. You want to hold everyone together. But just notice when it flips and it becomes like an inner saboteur. This is all a self awareness conversation. If one thing you could do right is notice when you say the word should. So I should call my mother tonight, I should go for a run, I should talk to my team or have more check ins, like, get curious about that word should because usually I mean, not always, because some things are genuinely like, you should do them because they're in your contract. But loads of the time it will be coming from your conditioning, your psychological habitual patterns. And that's where your overthinking comes from. Those parts of yourself that are criticizing you and judging you and saying, why didn't you do this? Why didn't you do that? That's the stuff that keeps us awake at night or keeps me awake at night. It's like, oh, what if? That's like another massive question. What if my business doesn't succeed?

Nia Thomas [00:21:19]:

That is really good advice. So, listeners, if you want to help break down this problem, that you feel is insurmountable. Think about the times you use should and think about the times you use what if and break them down into their compartments, I guess. So you mentioned people pleasing and maybe there's something about achievement and maybe there's something about things that are in your contract and you really should do, but it's breaking it down into achievable sections and maybe action planning against it.

Andrew [00:21:53]:

First step is about awareness to come back to you. So it's like about the keys here. Are you're approaching it from an attitude of curiosity? That's super important, curiosity and compassion for yourself. So, like, usually you're being too hard on yourself and you're not that curious, you're just like, oh my God, that thought's showing up again. Stress, just block it. So it's about giving yourself some space, which comes from curiosity and compassion, which I would say are intrinsic to everybody's authentic self. Like, everybody has the ability to do this. And then once you've got curious about it, then it's about yeah, then you can start figuring out what to do about it. But don't rush too quick into the action planning. The curiosity stage is quite a big part of it, but then it's about creating little tiny actions about moving, which usually is quite scary on some level, like involves feeling uncomfortable, but those small step actions can help manage the discomfort and the fear around that.

Nia Thomas [00:22:58]:

Andrew, thank you so much for joining me on this really interesting conversation. And listeners, if you are worried about your thinking and your ruminating and maybe overthinking, pop over to Andrew's website overthinkers Co UK. You can also link up with Andrew on LinkedIn and if you go to his website, you can sign up for Think Less Thursday, which is his weekly bulletin and newsletter that you can keep up to date and maybe help you move on your journey to become a recovering overthinker like Andrew. Andrew, thank you so much for joining me. It's been a really interesting conversation.

Andrew [00:23:37]:

That's a pleasure. NIA NIA, lovely to meet you.

Nia Thomas [00:23:43]:

Thank you for joining me. Your host, NIA Thomas and my guest on today's episode. Remember to rate and review this podcast on your favourite podcast player and to join me in two weeks time for the next episode. Looking forward to having you on my learning journey. The Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast is available on Apple Podcasts spotify Google Podcasts podcast Index overcast Amazon Music podcast Addict Cat Cast Box Pod Chaser Pocket.

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