More often than not, you just need to make a decision. Obviously you want to think things through but you don’t want to overthink situations. That’s when judgements getting clouded and time is wasted. Every situation won’t have a clear cut decision, but if you go in with a clear head and stay focused, you’ll be able to keep moving forward. Here are 9 ways you can stop yourself from overthinking.
1. 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.
2. Talk to yourself. Rather, don’t talk to yourself in the way you’ve been talking to yourself; “level up” your self-talk. 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.
3. Commit to a project that maps to your goals. Find a happy person and chances are you’ll find at least one active project that aligns with their core values. If you’re able to focus your energy on something that matters to you instead of on the repetitive monotony of unhelpfulness, you may find yourself thinking less and less about the thing you want to avoid.
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 way I’ve found to distract myself is to exercise – for whatever reason it’s hard for me to overthink when I’m sweating – but spending time with your family, going on a drive, or just sitting still and breathing work as well. The best distractions are ones in which you can find the flow state. Find your favorite distraction and do it!
5. Enforce a time limit to your thinking and document your thoughts. 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 (pretend there’s no eraser or backspace key), 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 safely burn it) and move onto something else. Something fun.
6. Turn overthinking into a next action in a project plan. One big reason for overthinking is not knowing what comes next in order to make forward progress. When you consider that overthinking is usually endless unstructured thinking on something, the key is to turn that energy into structured thinking. Determining what the next possible action is you could take in order to push the boulder another inch up the mountain could free you from thinking about everything else at once. Crystallize your thoughts into a list of next actions and take the first step. Add the next to your calendar or to-do list, and know that you’re making progress.
7. 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, and this post lists the 11 reasons why!
8. Work through the 5 keys to overcome 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.
9. Think about the big picture. This is the one that has worked the best for me over the past few years. 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? If you do, in fact, determine that it will matter in a year, you can use this opportunity to leverage post-traumatic growth. How has this experience changed you? What have you learned from it, or how will you approach it differently next time?