Challenge Yourself: 6 Steps to Stop Overthinking
Most have suffered from bouts of overthinking at some point in their life. So the odd overthinking session isn’t a big deal.
But if you find yourself overthinking by default, chances are, it’s having some pretty negative consequences in your life.
Stopping overthinking is a difficult task, and it won’t happen overnight. Still, by using the seven steps in this article, you’ll be well on your way to saying goodbye to constant overthinking.
Why do we overthink?
Overthinking doesn’t really serve any useful purpose, so why do we do it.
It all comes down to evolution. Our ancestors were always on edge, expecting danger to rear its head around every corner.
And although society has stamped out the majority of such threats, our brains haven’t quite caught up yet.
So when we’re stressed and scared, our mind is trying to look for a reason why – aka the “threat.”
Think about it, when you’re overthinking, how often are you spiralling about the best-case scenario? Not often, I’d bet. Instead, we tend to look for the worst-case scenario. It appeases our mind’s theory that there must be real danger imminent.
Common triggers for this response include
- Lack of self-confidence
- Fear of unknown
So, a mechanism that was created to protect us now does us more harm than good.
The downfalls of overthinking
As we mentioned, overthinking is almost always a worst-case scenario fear spiral. This means overthinking often leads to fear, panic, stress, and avoidance.
This can have devastating consequences on your mental health, self-esteem, and general quality of life.
Your mental health suffers because chronic overthinking puts you in a constant state of alertness and fear, which in turn causes stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout.
Your self-esteem takes a hit because the more you avoid things, the more your mind becomes convinced you can’t do it. Over time, this leads to poor self-image, whereby you believe you’re not good enough and will never be able to face your fears because you get stuck in “analysis paralysis” (aka overthinking).
And as a result of both these things, your overall quality of life decreases. You miss out on great opportunities because you talk yourself out of them. You create regret in your life, always wondering what if.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, it’s time to turn the overthinking ship around.
Six steps to stop overthinking
1. Determine your triggers
Not all overthinking was created equally. We all have unique triggers that push us into an overthinking spiral.
So the first step in stopping overthinking is to identify your triggers. What thoughts and emotions cause you to go down the worst-case scenario rabbit hole?
Common examples include:
- Feeling like you’re not good enough
- Fear of failure
- Fear of rejection
- Afraid of being judged by others
- Striving for perfection
- Fear of having your identity challenged
- Inability to relinquish control
These are very vague examples – for each situation, you will have a specific narrative in your head that triggers your overthinking. Still, the above examples are the common themes typically seen.
So, next time you find yourself overthinking, grab your journal and write down the thoughts that came to mind. Then, keep narrowing them down and getting more specific until you pinpoint the exact thoughts and feelings that are triggering these episodes.
For example, imagine you want to audition for a play in your local community. This is outside of your comfort zone, causing overthinking. Specific thoughts you may encounter could include:
- “If I audition, people will laugh at me because I’m not good enough”
- “I’ve never been in a play before. I’m going to be really bad compared to everyone else”
- “I’m going to forget my lines and get laughed at”
As you can see, these are specific thoughts, but they all have a common theme – fear of being judged and rejected.
Write as many thoughts as you need to each time you overthink, and make sure to write them exactly as you think them – no need for the grammar police here!
2. Challenge your thoughts
Now comes arguably the most difficult step – challenging your thoughts.
You’ve written down your specific thoughts, so you know the enemy you are up against. For each thought, write down all the evidence you have to support and contradict it.
For example, if the thought is:
“If I audition, people will laugh at me because I’m not good enough,”
What evidence do you have to support this? According to the scenario above, this person has never been in a play before, so how do they know they won’t be good enough? And how do they know that the casting directors will laugh at them if they have no previous experience of it?
What you’ll realise going through this exercise is that it’s often a lot harder to find evidence that supports your negative beliefs than it is to find contradicting evidence.
This is a great way to gain much-needed perspective and clarity to regain control of your thoughts.
3. Allocate dedicated time for overthinking
Unfortunately, overthinking doesn’t have an on/off switch. Which means we can’t do much to control it. However, what we can do is trick our brains into delaying it.
And the way to do that is by scheduling overthinking time into your schedule.
Overthinking takes a lot of time, and it can be incredibly distracting. By telling your brain you will do it at X o’clock and actually sticking to your word, you’ll satisfy its evolutionary need to analyse potential perceived threats while giving yourself breathing room during the day.
When you do schedule your overthinking time, it can be useful to journal it or record your thoughts aloud as a voice note.
And it’s important to note that just because you have scheduled overthinking time, it doesn’t mean you will necessarily end up using it.
Pushing it until later will often greatly reduce your brain’s need to spiral. Nevertheless, you should still have that period of time scheduled to allow for any overthinking if it comes up.
4. If you can’t control it, let it go
This one’s tricky. Especially if one of your triggers is that lack of control. But at the same time, it can be incredibly empowering.
Understanding what you can and cannot control means you have the power to change what can be changed and know that what cannot be changed is not your fault or burden to bear.
So, if it’s out of your control, do like Elsa and let it goooooooo!
5. Practice mindfulness
When we’re overthinking, we are focusing on potential future complications. This might happen. That could occur.
Focusing on a future that is still unknown only causes unneeded stress and anxiety. That’s why mindfulness is such a powerful tool to combat overthinking.
Mindfulness allows you to stay in the moment and teaches you to let thoughts flow through your mind without having to engage with them. As we said, thoughts are inevitable and can’t be controlled, but it doesn’t mean you have to pay attention to them.
A brilliant mindfulness technique that embodies this principle is the Mindfulness Garden Visualisation.
In your mind, picture a garden full of flowers, plants, and everything that brings you joy. Also, in your garden, just like in real life, you should have weeds.
If you know anything about gardening, you’ll know that the weeds keep coming back no matter how much you remove them. But that doesn’t mean your garden is any less beautiful.
Instead, you focus on watering the plants, allowing them to grow tall and bright while leaving the weeds alone to do their thing. That’s precisely how you should treat your thoughts.
Pay attention to the helpful thoughts (watering the flowers) and ignore the unhelpful thoughts (weeds). The weeds can still exist without taking away from the beauty of your flowers.
6. Record your wins
Every time you manage to overcome your overthinking and complete whatever task you were overthinking about, record it in your journal.
Tell yourself what the negative thoughts were, how you overcame them, what the reality of the situation was when you did it, if your negative thoughts were true etc.
This will help you next time you challenge your thoughts as you now have first-hand, reliable evidence that you gathered yourself.
Take back your mind
You might not be able to eradicate overthinking completely, but you don’t have to in order to quiet the negative thoughts.
By learning how to challenge your thoughts and focus your attention on the positives, you’ll soon find your tendency to spiral into overthinking reduces.
As with most things, it takes time to see results, but stick at it, and we’re confident you’ll be successful.
Let us know if you’re taking the six-step challenge to stop overthinking in the comments below.
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