Stop Overthinking Everything

by Laura Kronen on June 14, 2012

i overthink everything

If you find yourself spending an unreasonable amount of time thinking through something, twisting it around in your head until you’ve seen it from every angle and possibility, chances are you are an overthinker.

Overthinking is a natural part of life for many of us, even when we’re not aware we’re doing it.  The truth is, it’s a learned habit you form over time, probably as a defense mechanism to the possibility of failure. Research has shown that overthinking is prevalent in young and middle aged adults, with 73% of 25-35 year-olds identified as overthinkers.  More women (57%) find themselves overthinking than men (43%).  Although, maybe if men didn’t give women so much to overthink those numbers would be different. Just a thought.

There are very few benefits to being an overthinker. Taking an unemotional stance to situations and being logical about taking action has a lot of merit and can have positive results, but there’s a difference between thinking about something just enough – and thinking about something to the point of analysis paralysis. Overthinking can occur as a result of a decision that needs to be made, big or small, and is typically exacerbated in stressful situations.  It can also rear it’s ugly head whenever something has the ability to cause any level of anxiety or worry.  It’s the proverbial thing that  “keeps you up at night” and stems from an actual or perceived lack of control over some aspect of life.  With a lack of control comes a feeling of helplessness. Overthinking is frequently the direct result.

The worst overthinkers actually spend time overthinking seemingly meaningless things to the point that they’ve spent more time thinking about the thing than the time it would have taken to address it completely.  What’s more, overthinkers are more prone to sustained sadness and negative thinking.  And though it may seem that thinking through problems to the extreme would result in better decisions, overthinking has actually been shown to impair problem solving and rational thought, and interfere with initiative and motivation.

Most people feel they’re making progress while looping endlessly around a problem, but in fact they’re permeating negative thoughts and fostering a pessimistic view of the situation.  As we know, “we are what we think”, and for those stuck in the cycle of overthinking, they’re reinforcing this adverse thought process and letting it trickle into other areas of thought.

Are you still reading?  Chances are you are an overthinker and now wondering what you can do to change your approach to constant evaluation of situations.  If you were to stop reading right now, you’d probably go off thinking that you have a problem – and then spend the rest of the week wondering how this affects your thinking, what you could do to “fix it”.  And again, you’d be overthinking it!

Here are 8 steps to take to stop the madness~

1. Change the channel in your mind immediately.  Simple, right?  It kind of is.  The caveat here is that while the solution is simple, putting it into action takes ongoing practice.  But just like most things, the more you do this, the better you’ll get at it next time and the time after that.

2. Avoid situations and people that can lead to overthinking.  You can do this based on history – you can probably determine which situations are going to keep you up at night unnecessarily.  Or do this based on how something makes you feel prior to participating.  This takes some self-awareness, but it isn’t unlike what an alcoholic has to do in order to stay sober.  They avoid the people, places, and things that put them into that mental state.

3. Talk to yourself.  When you have something on your mind and you can’t shake it, stay aware of your thought process. You may find it surprising how often the topic pops up.  You may also be surprised to find that overthinking is more likely to occur with negative thoughts, which means you’re fixating on the wrong things to help you overcome the situation.  Every time you find yourself overthinking something, especially when it’s negative, think instead, “This isn’t helping.  What would help is…” and replace it with a positive affirmation.  Do this each and every time.

4. Distract yourself.  Get out, do something, and get your mind off of the thing you can’t stop thinking about.  It’s possible to do this… you just have to be willing to give it a shot, which is probably the trickiest part (convincing yourself to do it).  The best distraction for me is to exercise – for whatever reason it’s hard for me to overthink when I’m sweating – but spending time with your family, watching a movie or reading a book works just as well.

5. Let it all out.  If you’re going to overthink, just commit to it for a short amount of time.  Give yourself permission to overthink, but only for 15 minutes.  Set a timer, grab a pen and paper, and for the entire 15 minutes, write down everything that comes to your mind.  Don’t stop to correct yourself (no one cares about spelling errors or grammar here), and it doesn’t matter what you’re writing.  You’re just letting yourself get it all out.  When the 15 minutes are up, crumple up the paper and throw it out (or burn it for some added drama) and move onto something else.  Something fun.

6. Realize that being perfect isn’t possible. Striving for perfection is a recipe for disaster, and the sooner you give up those perfectionist tendencies, the sooner you’ll move past the thing that’s occupying all your thoughts.  Perfectionism is highly overrated.

7. Work through overcoming fear.  The most important one for overthinkers is to stop projecting the worst of what could happen.  Ask yourself what’s the absolute worst that could possibly happen – and then be OK with that outcome, coming up with appropriate responses if necessary.  This is an amazingly freeing step as almost immediately, a light bulb in your head goes off.  If the worst case scenario isn’t actually that bad, and if you know how you’d deal with it if it came to that, anxiety about that thing may disappear completely.

8. Think about the big picture.  It takes a little experience (i.e. the know-how to realize that it will indeed pass) but if you ask yourself, “Will this matter in a month/6 months/1 year?” and the answer is “No” or “Not really”, then what’s the point in thinking it to death?

Forming positive habits and reinforcing them over time will make a big difference in your tendency to overthink.  Taking these steps will help to make a dent in your thought process.  Now clear your mind and enjoy your day!

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