It’s good to think things through…until it’s not. Unfortunately, overthinking causes so many of us to stay stuck in our heads instead of going out and doing the things that bring us pleasure.
And when overthinking becomes a habit, you may feel stuck in a rut, unable to avoid the inevitable roundabout of constant thoughts that whirl around your mind.
Overthinking is a powerful tool to talk yourself out of doing anything even mildly uncomfortable. Except, most times, that’s exactly what you don’t want!
Whether you overthink the good or the bad, too much of anything is not good. So, it’s about time to nip it in the bud.
Why do we overthink things?
When we worry about our future, we set ourselves up for overthinking. But why?Well, usually, it comes down to two things: fear and feeling a lack of control.
You see, when we think about the future, the possibilities are endless. And no matter what you do, you can’t guarantee any outcomes. So if you are worried about what may happen, you’ll start to overthink it, usually in a negative frame.
For example, let’s say you know you have a meeting with your team next week to discuss a new project, and you are going to pitch your idea that you’re excited to share. You don’t know how the people in your meeting will react or if your project will be accepted. So you start to overthink every possible scenario that could play out. They laugh at you. They tell you your project sucks. This will then cause you to overthink the project you were so excited about. Is it good enough? If I change this part, will they be less likely to laugh at me?
You can’t predict the future, and so through overthinking, in many cases, it can lead to inaction. Because it feels safer than facing uncertainty.
Seven ways to stop overthinking everything
Recognise your fear response
We all have subtle cues in our bodies or minds that alert us to the fact we feel uncomfortable or scared. Butterflies in the stomach, shaky hands, a slight increase in breath…there are always signs. And what usually follows this? An overthinking spiral.
Recognising your triggers is a crucial step in stopping your overthinking in its tracks.
As soon as you notice yourself getting triggered, take a deep breath and distract yourself. Find self-soothing techniques that allow you to calm your body, and divert your thoughts to something else.
Mel Robbins’ Five Second Rule
If you have never heard of The Five-second Rule by Mel Robbins, read closely – it’s going to revolutionise your life.
Mel Robbins has a theory. You can do anything you set your mind to, as long as you don’t start to overthink it and doubt yourself. And she has just the thing to help you do it—her five-second rule.
Before anything that you don’t want to do, for whatever reason, take a breath and count to five. On five, you start doing that thing.
Why five seconds, you might be asking. Well, according to Robbins, you have a five-second window before your fear takes over and the overthinking process begins. So it’s vital anything you do happens in this window.
Try it for yourself. Next time you wake up, and you don’t want to get out of bed, count to five and then just jump out of bed. It works!
And once you see that it works, make it a philosophy every time you overthink. Stop. Count to five. And do the thing.
Often when we overthink, it’s because we’re scared of something terrible happening. This is also known as the “what if” effect. We go through all the scenarios of how something can go wrong and scare ourselves out of doing it.
So, what if you replace those fearful thoughts with exciting ones? Go over all the incredible things that could happen if you take action?
Excitement will help you fuel action and block the negative thoughts before it’s too late.
Be careful, though. If you get too stuck overthinking how exciting something will be, this may also stop you from acting as you get too attached to an idealised version of results. So use this method wisely and sparingly!
Thinking about the future causes us to overthink because of how uncertain it is. So how do you counteract that? You bring your attention to the present, focusing only on what is around you. What you can feel through your five senses.
By doing this, you allow yourself breathing space from your worries and realise that it isn’t worth fretting too much over a future you cannot predict. Instead, you should focus on what feels correct right now. Which should be based on what makes you feel happy and what aligns with you as a person.
Check out some great mindfulness activities here.
Schedule reflection time
Inevitably, we want to go through and dissect events and behaviour in our minds. We’re curious by nature, and it helps us learn. But it’s not helpful to do this all the time. So instead, schedule a time dedicated to reflection and stick to it.
This could look like a 15-minute journaling session at the end of each day, a phone call with a trusted friend, or dedicating your shower time to reflect on the day. Whatever feels most comfortable to you.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable
No matter how much we overthink and plan for the future, we can never be sure to have all the right answers. And that is scary. But it’s also just the way life goes.
The best way you can tackle it is by improving your resilience to discomfort. That means getting comfortable with the fact some situations are uncomfortable and that it’s normal. The most important thing is to remind yourself that you are strong enough to deal with whatever may happen.
Once you realise that no amount of overthinking will make you ready for discomfort, it becomes easier to stop doing it.
Adopt a scientific mind
Facts. That’s the real secret to stopping overthinking. Focusing on facts allows you to get straight to the root cause of your anxiety and prevent you from overthinking.
So how do you do that? You put yourself in positions where you would typically overthink and record what happens. No emotion, only factual evidence.
The point of this exercise isn’t to succeed or fail. The only thing you need to worry about is getting facts. Absolutely no pressure on the outcome.
For example, if you are worried about eating at a restaurant alone because you think you’ll be negatively judged, make it a scientific experiment. Go to the restaurant by yourself and actively look for evidence to support this fact (just be careful not to stare at people or act in a way you wouldn’t usually, it might skew your results!). And in the worst-case scenario that you are right, then hey, you successfully proved your hypothesis! But most likely, you’ll find your fear was based on emotion and self-doubt rather than fact.
It’s normal to overthink things. We don’t know what the future holds, and until it happens, we can only create scenarios in our heads. And with endless possibilities come the risk of overthinking.
But by working on your self-esteem and becoming more present, you’ll find yourself reaching for an overthinking session less and less.
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