As a personal transformation Coach, the question I am always looking to answer for my clients is ‘What is holding them back from the life that they truly want to live?’
I’d say that one very common and destructive thing is that they don’t know how to stop overthinking.
We are all guilty of it, we overthink every little problem until it becomes bigger and scarier than it actually is. We even overthink positive things until they don’t look so positive anymore.
Or over analyse and deconstruct things so that the happiness that comes from just enjoying something in the moment disappears.
Don’t get me wrong, thinking things through can be a great thing of course. But getting lost in a sort of overthinking disorder – where you too often draw up worst-case scenarios in your mind or try to see all the possible outcomes – can result in you becoming someone who stands still in life.
I know. I used to spend too much time overthinking things and it held me back in ways that weren’t fun at all.
But I’ve now learned how to make this issue so small that it very rarely pops up anymore. And if it does I immediately recognise I am falling into that trap and I know what to do to overcome it.
In this article, I’d like to share some tips that have helped me in a big way to become a simpler and smarter thinker and to live a happier and less fearful life. I have also been able to pass this knowledge on to my clients.
I hope it will be of help for any other chronic overthinkers out there too to spend less time on those repetitive thoughts.
Put things into a wider perspective
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of overthinking minor things in life. DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF!
So when you are thinking and thinking about something the first step is to ask yourself:
Will this matter in 5 years? Or even in 5 weeks? If not, why waste your precious time thinking and worrying about it; put it to one side and move on. It allows me to finally stop thinking about something and focus my time and energy on something else that actually does matter to me.
Set a short time limit for a decision
If you do not have a time limit for when you must make a decision and take action then you can just keep turning your thoughts around and around and view them from all angles in your mind for a very long time. This can result in ever-increasing anxiety and worry. So learn to become better at making decisions and spring into action by setting deadlines in your daily life. No matter if it’s a small or bigger decision.
Here’s what has worked for me:
- For small decisions like if should go and do the dishes, respond to an email or work out I usually give myself 30 seconds or less to make a decision. Go with your gut, trust yourself and get up and go do it (or not depending on your decision!)
- For a somewhat larger or difficult decision that would have taken me days or weeks to think through in the past, I use a deadline of 30 minutes or the end of the workday. Again trust your gut, use the available info you have and be decisive.
Stop setting your day up for stress and overthinking
You can’t totally avoid overwhelming or very stressful days and anyone who says you can be this zen-like God who can is fibbing! But you can minimise the number of them in your month and year by getting a good start to your day and by not setting yourself up for unnecessary stress, overthinking and suffering.
Three things that help me with that are:
Get a good start – This is perhaps the best way to influence your day. Because how you start your day tends to set the tone for your day. A stressed morning leads to a stressful day. The main one for me is to get up a little earlier and enjoy some quiet time to just sit quietly and have a cup of tea/coffee. Chat with your partner/do a bit of jigsaw/dance like a person possessed – whatever does it for you.
Single-task and take regular breaks – This will help you to keep a sharp focus during your day and to get what’s most important done while also allowing you to rest and recharge so you don’t start to run on fumes. Take a break every 40 minutes, just stand up, have a cuppa, quick chat with a colleague etc and you will find you are actually more productive not less.
Minimize your daily input – Too much information, too many times of just taking a few minutes to check your inbox, Facebook or Twitter account leads to more input and clutter in your mind as your day progresses. Therefore, it becomes harder to think in a simple and clear way and easier to lapse back into that familiar overthinking habit.
Become a person of action
When you know how to get started with taking action consistently each day then you’ll procrastinate less by overthinking. Setting deadlines and a good tone for the day are two things that have helped me to become much more of a person of action.
Taking small steps forward and only focusing on getting one small step done at a time is another habit that has worked really well. It works well because you do not feel overwhelmed and so you do not want to flee into procrastination or inaction. Even though you may be afraid, taking this step is such a small thing that you won’t get paralysed in fear
Realise 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, fail or looking like a fool. But those things are a part of living a life where you truly stretch your comfort zone. Everyone who you may admire and have lived a life that inspires you has failed at some time in their life. Probably more than once. They have made mistakes.
Realising this and knowing that getting outside of your comfort zone and taking risks is a massive part of my New Life, New Love, New You programme. Doing something that scares you every day makes you feel alive, stops you from stagnating and keeps you moving forward towards your goals. As your coach, I am there to support you through this process and be there during the inevitable times when things aren’t quite as successful as you hoped they would be. We discuss, analyse, and go again after learning from any mistakes. Scary? Yes, but also exciting and life-affirming.
WELL MAYBE NOT THIS MUCH RISK 🙂
So 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 or engage a coach to assist and support you.
Say ‘stop’ in a situation where you know you cannot think straight
Sometimes when I’m tired or when I’m lying in bed and am about to go to sleep, negative emotions and thoughts start buzzing around in my mind. In the past, they could do quite a bit of damage. Nowadays I’ve become good at catching them quickly and saying to myself: ‘Nooooooo, we are not going to think about this now!’
It took a bit of practice to get this to work but I’ve gotten pretty good at postponing thinking in this way. You are not putting off the decision out of weakness but out of strength; knowing when is best for you to revisit it. And I know from experience that when I revisit a situation with some level-headed thinking then in 80% of the cases the issue is very small to non-existent and I wonder why I got so ‘het up’ about it. If it is a real issue then my mind is prepared to deal with it in a much better and more constructive way.
Free tool – Should you not feel able to do this it can be helpful to have a visual representation of the issue and it slipping away. Should you wish me to send you this free tool please contact me at email@example.com and I will gladly send it to you.
Don’t get lost in vague fears
Another trap I’ve fallen into many times in relation to overthinking is that I’ve gotten lost in vague fears about a situation in my life. My mind running wild has created disaster scenarios about what could happen if I do something. So, I’ve learned a better way to break out of such a vicious cycle and that is to first ask myself; ‘honestly, what is the worst that could happen?’ And when I’ve figured out what the worst that could happen actually is, then I can also spend a little time to think about what I can do if that often pretty unlikely thing happens.
I’ve found that the worst that could realistically happen is usually something that is not as scary as my overactive mind imagines. Finding a different perspective and clarity in this way usually only takes a few minutes and a bit of energy and it can save you a lot of time and suffering.
Get plenty of good quality sleep
I think this is one of the most commonly neglected factors when it comes to keeping a positive mindset and not get lost in negative thought habits. Because when you haven’t slept enough then you start to worry and slip into pessimism. Here are a few tips from my daily routine that help me to sleep better:
Keep it cool – It can feel nice at first to get into a warm bedroom. But I’ve found that I sleep better and more calmly with fewer scary or negative dreams if I keep the bedroom cool.
Keep the earplugs nearby – If you, like me, are easily awoken by noises then a pair of simple earplugs can be a lifesaver.
These inexpensive items have helped me to get a good night’s sleep and sleep through snorers, noisy cats and other disturbances more times than I can remember.
Don’t try to force yourself to go to sleep – If you don’t feel sleepy then don’t get into bed and try to force yourself to go to sleep. That, at least in my experience, only leads to tossing and turning in my bed for an hour or more.
A better solution in these situations is to wind down for an extra 20-30 minutes on the couch with, for example, some reading. This helps me to go to sleep faster and, in the end, get more sleep.
Spend more of your time in the present moment
By being in the present moment in your everyday life, rather than in past mistakes and life experiences or possible futures in your mind you can ensure your mind is uncluttered, clear and calm. Everyone talks about ‘Mindfulness’ and many never try it as they assume you need to be in Lycra, on a yoga mat cross-legged and humming! By all means, if this floats your boat, crack on! However below are some less time-consuming options:
Slow down – Slow down how you do whatever you are doing right now. Move slower, talk slower or ride your bicycle more slowly. Take slow and deep breaths. By doing so you become more aware of how you use your body and what is happening all around you right now. Include this when you are eating and you will get the benefit of shedding a few pounds as you are giving your stomach more time to realise you have eaten enough and you are full.
Disrupt and reconnect – If you feel you are getting lost in overthinking then one of my favourite mindfulness practices is to disrupt that thought 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. Take it all in with all your senses. Feel it, hear it, smell it, see it and sense it on your skin.
Be aware of the issue (and remind yourself throughout your day)
Being aware of your challenge is important to break the habit of overthinking. But if you’re thinking that you’ll just remember to stop overthinking during your normal day – and in stressful situations such as an upcoming date or job interview – then you’re likely just fooling yourself; however with a few reminders, you can massively improve the situation. My main one was a note on the whiteboard I had on one of my walls at the time. It said, “Keep things extremely simple”. Seeing this many times during my day helped me to snap out of overthinking faster and to over time greatly minimize this negative habit.
Two other kinds of reminders that you can use are:
A small written note – Simply use a Post-it note or something similar and write down my whiteboard phrase, a question like “Am I overcomplicating this?” or some other reminder that appeals to you.
Put that note where you cannot avoid seeing it like for example on your bedside table, your bathroom mirror or beside your computer screen.
A reminder on your smartphone
Write down one of the phrases above or one of your own choosing in a reminder app on your phone.
Release the stress and calm your mind and body down by fully focusing on your breathing. Close your eyes. Breathe with your belly for 2 minutes and focus only on the air you’re breathing in and out. Nothing else.
This is one of the most fast-acting tips in this article.
Set a time during your day to focus on solutions
One thing that kept me in the overthinking trap was that I believed that if I thought a lot about an issue then I could avoid mistakes and pain and come up with perfect solutions. But thinking and thinking in an unstructured way just made me more anxious and worried and so I took very little action. It didn’t help in the way I thought it would.
So, these days when I start to overthink a challenge I say: “Stop, we’re not going down that road again! What we are going to do is to set off 20 minutes tomorrow morning to work on this challenge in a structured way.” And then the next morning I sit down with a pen and paper or my laptop and focus on this situation in my life. Depending on the challenge I ask myself questions like:
- How can I remove this challenge from my life? Or how can I at least reduce the impact it has on my life?
- How can I turn this challenge into something positive or what can I learn from it?
- What is the worst that could realistically happen in this situation? How can I prevent that from happening? And, if it still happens then what can I do to quickly bounce back from that?
Making a plan for how to deal with this situation in my life and spending 20 minutes on that and on problem-solving helps a lot more than randomly thinking about it throughout my day and week. When I’ve got at least the start of a plan for how to deal with it then I stop worrying so much and most of my overthinking about the situation simply goes away. Because now I know what to likely expect and what I can do to improve upon this part of my life.
Reduce the screen time and scrolling
If I use my phone too much and scroll various websites and social media channels for too long then my mind can easily become overactive. If I read a lot of news or check for example Twitter too frequently then it’s easy to get dragged into the fear or doom that is often used to get more clicks. Research shows that too much screen time can worsen poor mental health.
So how do you scroll less in a day or week and stop triggering your own overthinking so often?
I’ve found that the most effective way is the simplest one. Keep the phone far away from yourself. Put it at the other side of the room – or in another room – and keep it in silent mode while working or having dinner. Set it to show no notifications (or as few as possible). Then check the phone from time to time. Or keep the sound and notifications on for just phone calls and text messages but off for everything else.
Put some downtime into your schedule
If you’re always on and don’t take any or few breaks then your mind keeps going far into the evening about all kinds of things and it can be difficult to go to sleep or get a good night’s rest. So scheduling some downtime where you may just watch some TV, play a video game, go out for a walk or read a mystery novel is essential to keep your mind from going into overdrive.
If you have a busy life, then don’t ignore this part. Schedule one to a few hours in, just like anything else during your day and week to make sure you actually take the time to recharge.
Go out in nature
Few things are so relaxing as just being out in nature. So go for a walk in the woods, take a stroll on the beach if you live near the ocean or go out camping or fishing for a day or two during the weekend. This can help you to reset your headspace, reduce stress and slow down from the tempo of your daily life and get a drastic change in scenery.
Be kind and patient with yourself
Know that you will fall and have setbacks and may not always reach your perhaps unrealistic goals about overthinking sometimes. That’s OK. It’s normal. Progress is a straight line only in movies and myths. Real life is messier. Know that. Don’t let that mess dissuade you. Because then you won’t make any progress towards healthier thought habits.
Seek professional help
If these tips don’t work as well as is needed for you, then consider finding professional help. If it is just support and guidance you need a coach can be helpful but if you feel it is really damaging your mental health you may need to get help from a therapist or someone who specialises in mental health conditions.
One-on-one help, either from a coach or a mental health specialist, over time may be what is needed to learn how to handle negative and anxious thoughts and sometimes incessant worrying in a better and healthier way.
Here’s the next step…
Now, you may think to yourself; “This is really helpful information. But what’s the easiest way to put this into practice and actually make a real change with my overthinking?”.
Simple….use the contact details on this website to contact me and book a completely free 30-minute call and we can dig a little deeper.
Jayne Brand BSc