Overthinking in the simplest terms 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 turns into overthinking when you can’t get out of your own head. It happens to almost everyone at some point in our lives – we all experience events that cause us worry or stress!
At times, a lot of us aren't able to turn off these concerns and end up worrying about the future and thinking about negative extremes. The constant tape that plays during these thoughts is a series of “What if’s?” - “What if I had chosen the first option …?”. This makes us constantly think about the past and beat ourselves up, leading to negative self-talk building up in our minds and negative perspective about ourselves.
Overthinking is tough and frankly, quite exhausting. Replaying all the options in your head can lead to “paralysis by analysis” – you’re afraid to take the wrong action, so you take no action at all - and end up feeling stuck! Or you take action and end up second guessing everything that has been done.
There is an overthinking monster, let's call it George, who is constantly reminding you about all the things you could have done differently, second-guessing every decision you make, and imagining all the worst-case scenarios in life. But, overthinking is a hard habit to break.
You might even convince yourself that thinking about something for a really long time is the key to developing the best solution, but that’s usually not the case. In fact, the longer you think about something, the less time and energy you might have to take productive action. Yet, most of the time overthinking is not considered a problem.
What most self-help advice says is to scrap the negative thoughts and double down on the positive thoughts. On paper, this sounds like good advice. But the truth is that a thought cannot be put into a category of being positive or negative, it’s just a...thought. When you overuse your brain, it can get clogged just like a drain leading to foggy thinking, which in turn leads to non-optimal decision making.
You Most Likely Are Overthinking If:
- You feel like you are not aware of the thoughts.
- You look for a deeper meaning or personal significance of your thoughts constantly.
- You feel it’s important to have strict control over your thoughts.
- You often struggle to control your thoughts.
Living in the present moment is a key factor that helps with overthinking. Saying this is easy but implementing it is the hard part. So how does one live in the present moment?
Thinking is a tool that needs to be used only when necessary. Here is a process that can be used to help reduce overthinking:
- Try and remind yourself to raise your awareness throughout the day. Remember that too much thinking leads you away from your goals, not towards them.
- Start observing your thoughts. Every time you begin a thought, don’t follow through on it. Instead, simply notice that you started thinking. When you do that, your brain won’t get carried away and it seems less overwhelming.
- Notice your triggers. There could be certain thoughts or issues that are more likely to trigger overthinking.
- Talk to someone about the problem and gain a new perspective. Just beware of extensively discussing and revisiting problems, speculating about problems, or focusing on negative feelings, which can only worsen the issue.
- Practise self compassion. Note down a stressful thought and pay attention to the bodily responses it makes you feel. Acknowledge that your feelings are true for you at the moment. Use a phrase to remind yourself that you are good enough.
- Sometimes just say what you are thinking because we may have built up the situation more than what it is by constantly thinking about it.
“Thinking too much leads to paralysis by analysis. It's important to think things through, but many use thinking as a means of avoiding action.”
– Robert Herjavek