Overthinking is like cancer to the mind. Thoughts that should be fleeting become stuck. Growing in size and severity. Seemingly multiplying and being played on repeat, circling the mind again and again. Starving the brain of time, energy and space to think of anything else. Or to not think at all.
The major problem with overthinking is that it deprives you of the opportunity to be you. Or to become the person you want to be. It robs you of creativity. Passion. Happiness. Drive. Dreaming. Emotional wellbeing. Mindfulness. Peace. Rest. Leaving you in a state of constant stress. Self-criticism. Depression. Demotivation. And self-doubt. Slowly killing you from the inside out.
Although many don’t realise it, thinking is addictive. It’s a coping strategy to help people live in an uncertain world. “As long as I keep thinking about me – I’ll survive.”
The good news is, with a little time and effort, overthinking is a habit that you can break. Here are 9 ways you can start to get out of your head and enjoy a more engaged and fulfilling life.
1) Understand why you’re overthinking
Overthinking is normally a response to a perception of uncertainty. It stems from fear. A fear of failure. A fear of not being loved or respected. A fear of being ridiculed. A fear of being rejected. Although it doesn’t serve you on a conscious level, it does on a subconscious level. Otherwise you wouldn’t keep doing it. Your subconscious believes thinking about something again and again is protecting you or helping you in some way.
Ask yourself – if the overthinking had a positive intention – what would it be? What is it trying to protect you from or motivate you to do? How could you keep the positive intention, but achieve it in a much more positive, healthy and sustainable way?
2) Focus on other people
When we overthink, we focus on ‘me’. But if you can shift the focus onto others, and how you can help them – this can alleviate much of the emotional distress that comes with overthinking. Write down a list of everyone you know and ask yourself: how can I help and support them in what they want to achieve? Also, look at ways you can contribute and give back to either your local community, to a charity or a good cause. Contribution is not only good for society, it’s good for the soul.
3) Ask yourself better questions
Questions beginning with “Why?” provide very little resolution and can be painful. But asking yourself questions that begin with “How?” or “What?” can help you find an answer to your problem. “Why am I such a failure?” will leave you feeling depressed and demotivated with no way out of your problem. “How can I achieve even more success than I have already?” – much better question. Overthinking about something can be a sign that you’re focusing on the problem, not the solution. The moment you can shift your focus to finding the solution, the overthinking will decrease.
4) Be more mindful
Mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword right now. It’s simply defined as: maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
Now this doesn’t mean grabbing on to every thought and analysing it to death. That would defeat the purpose.
Mindfulness is more about separating yourself from your thoughts. To appreciate they are just habitual phrases that pass through your mind like buses. And you get to choose which buses you want to jump on. And which ones you want to let pass you by. Choosing buses that will take you to a much better place.
If you would like to know more, Headspace is a great app that teaches you how to be more mindful and how to practice it daily.
5) Challenge your thinking
I wrote an article on the “10 Most Harmful Thoughts to Your Happiness and Success”. It was viewed over 30,000 times: a reflection of how many people are aware their thoughts are a significant source of pain in their lives.
The point of the article was that most of these thoughts are unfounded. We’ve just said them over and over again in our minds to the point where we have believed them. But that doesn’t make them true.
Whatever thoughts you have in your head, ask yourself, “Is that really true? Is that 100%, absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt true?”. Then challenge it. Look for pieces of evidence in your history that show the opposite. Start with one piece. And then another. And another. Keep going until you are satisfied this story you have sold yourself is just that – a story.
6) Take up a “mindless” activity
Here I’m talking about activities that require focus but stop you thinking about you and what’s going on in your life. Painting. Dancing. Reading. Meditation. Pottery. Calligraphy. Photography. Meditation. Yoga. Pilates. Doodling. Colouring in. Learning how to play a musical instrument or a new language. So many options to choose from. Just pick one you think you would find most relaxing or enjoyable and go from there.
7) Practice better self-care
If you’re overthinking, you’re most likely in “survival mode”. It’s a misguided act of self-preservation. By taking care of yourself on a conscious level, you can start to teach your subconscious that self-care is a much healthier and more sustainable path to self-preservation. Self-care meaning respecting your mind, body and soul. What better habits can you implement in each of these areas starting today?
8) Do a brain-dump each day
Trying to stop thinking about something doesn’t work. What you resist persists. So spend 20 minutes first thing in the morning getting all of your thoughts down on paper. Seeing them written down can help you to perceive them differently. They’re just words after all. A string of letters that have come together to form a sentence. It’s only the meaning that you give to them – how you perceive them – that determines how you feel about them. Change the perception and the meaning – change the feeling.
9) Focus on what you can control
Inner peace comes when we fully accept we live in a world of uncertainty. When we accept that we have very little control over the events in our lives or the actions of others. In this position, we get our certainty from within ourselves. Knowing that no matter what happens out there, we’ll be OK. We’ll still be breathing. We will still have people who love us and will give us shelter if we ever need it. We’ll be OK.
Instead of focusing on everything you can’t control, focus on the things you can. Remembering, the main thing you can control is how you respond to the events in your life. Also, focus on the things you can be certain of in that moment. Retrain your brain to look for the certainty in every moment instead of the uncertainty, and you’ll calm your overactive mind in no time.
What do you do when you find yourself overthinking something? Please leave your thoughts and comments below!
If you’d like to find out more about how to manage your thoughts for greater happiness and success, please visit www.zetayarwood.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Zeta Yarwood is recognised as a leading Career Coach and NLP Life Coach in Dubai, helping individuals across the world to achieve success in all areas of their lives. With a degree in Psychology and over 10 years’ experience in coaching, management and recruitment – working for multinational companies and award-winning recruitment firms – Zeta is an expert in unlocking human potential. Passionate about helping people discover their strengths, talents and motivation, Zeta lives to inspire others to dream big and create the life and career they really want.