All humans have patterns to their behaviour. These patterns develop over time based on life experiences. And just as patterns are learned, they can also be unlearned.
What Is Overthinking?
The classic overthinking definition is, “to think about something too much or for too long.” While it’s human nature to think things through when making a decision or evaluating a situation, it becomes overthinking when we can’t get it out of our own head, worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. Overthinking a tough decision that needs to be made can also cause problems. Replaying all the options in the head can lead to “paralysis by analysis”.
Why Do We Overthink?
Often overthinking is a by-product of anxiety or depression. Often overthinking only materializes when we need to make a tough life decision or when we are dealing with insecurities. If overthinking is not a symptom of a deeper emotional issue, it can often be addressed by changing thoughts and mindsets.
How To Stop Overthinking
Know that overthinking and problem solving aren't the same thing:
Constantly ruminating and going over scenarios and possibilities often disguises itself as problem solving. It feels like doing something good and useful. Recognize when we are overthinking something, don't act like it's problem solving, and press fast-forward.
Remember the 90-10 rule:
This is a formula, a ratio, for how to value ourselves, based on 90 percent self-worth, 10 percent assigned worth. Ninety percent should come from self-acceptance and self-appreciation, and just 10 percent from external validation. Overthinkers distort the formula, even reversing it by acting like 90 percent of their worth comes from what others think or say. So, they worry, which takes the form of overthinking.
Reopen the door only when new information knocks:
Overthinking goes into overdrive when we keep revisiting decisions we make, refusing to close the door on a call that has been made. Believe that we have done our due diligence, and revisit something we have already decided only when we are presented with new information.
Assume good intent:
Overthinkers read too much into things. They are assuming something bad lies underneath, something like a bad perception, someone wishing them ill, or an unfavourable outcome. When this happens, switch the assumption to what is well-intended, or at least neutral.
Embrace informed ignorance and uncertainty:
We can't read the future, we can't read minds, and we can't know everything. When we don't know something, we tend to fill in the blanks, often with worthless assumptions. One of human tendencies is that we would rather be unhappy than uncertain. These assumptions can take many forms, all infusing themselves into the inner monologue of the overthinker. Try to replace "what if" with "we'll see." Another way to handle uncertainty could be the OAR:
- Observe uncertainty, don't overreact to it.
- Acknowledge the presence of uncertainty and accept that impermanence is inevitable.
- Realize that uncertainty brings benefits, like unleashing creativity and resilience.
Finding clarity in this way usually only takes a few minutes and bit of energy and it can save you a lot of time and suffering.
Stop framing the unremarkable as catastrophic:
This means stopping taking small details and turning them into questionable conclusions. We often feel the need to overthink because we simply fear being wrong. Stop making a mountain out of a molehill. Ask yourself in such moments what the realistic cost of being wrong is. When you can lower the stakes, you raise your ability to get mentally unstuck.
Put things into a wider perspective.
It's very easy to fall into the trap of overthinking minor things in life. So when you are thinking and thinking about something ask yourself: Will this matter in 5 years? Or even in 5 weeks? Widening the perspective by using this simple question can quickly snap us out of overthinking and help to let go of that situation. Get outside it and switch gears to connect with what's going on around you so you can take joy in it.
Set short time-limits for decisions.
If we do not have a time-limit for when we must make a decision and take action then it can just keep turning our thoughts around and around for a very long time. Setting deadlines for when to complete the decision and spring into action can help to work around this.
Realize that you cannot control everything:
Trying to think things through 50 times can be a way to try to control everything. To cover every eventuality so you don't risk making a mistake, failing or looking like a fool. But those things are a part of living a life where we truly stretch our comfort zone. Stop trying to control everything. Trying to do so simply doesn’t work because no one can see all possible scenarios in advance. This is of course easier said than done. So do it in small steps if you like.
Spend more of your time in the present moment:
By being in the present moment in our everyday life rather than in the past or a possible future in our mind we can replace more and more of the time we usually spend on overthinking things with just being here right now instead. Some ways that can help to reconnect with the present moment are:
- Slow down how you do whatever you are doing right now. Move slower, talk slower or ride your bicycle more slowly for example.
- Disrupt and reconnect. If you feel you are getting lost in overthinking then disrupt that thought (for example, by – in your mind – shouting this to yourself: STOP), then reconnect with the present moment by taking just 1-2 minutes to focus fully on what is going on around you.
Spend more of your time with people who do not overthink things.
Our social environment plays a big part. And not just the people and groups close to us in real life, but also what you read, listen to and watch. The blogs, books, forums, movies, podcasts and music in our life. So, think about the sources in life that encourage and tend to create more overthinking in your mind. And think about what people or sources that have the opposite effect on you. Find ways to spend more time and attention with the people and input that have a positive effect on our thinking and less on the influences that tend to strengthen your overthinking habit.