Overthinking doesn't sound so bad on the surface--thinking is good, right?
But overthinking can cause problems.
When you overthink, your judgments get cloudy and your stress gets elevated. You spend too much time in the negative. It can become difficult to act.
If this feels like familiar territory to you, here are 10 simple ideas to free yourself from overthinking.
1. Awareness is the beginning of change.
Before you can begin to address or cope with your habit of overthinking, you need to learn to be aware of it when it's happening. Any time you find yourself doubting or feeling stressed or anxious, step back and look at the situation and how you're responding. In that moment of awareness is the seed of the change you want to make.
2. Don't think of what can go wrong, but what can go right.
In many cases, overthinking is caused by a single emotion: fear. When you focus on all the negative things that might happen, it's easy to become paralyzed. Next time you sense that you starting to spiral in that direction, stop. Visualize all the things that can go right and keep those thoughts present and up front.
3. Distract yourself into happiness.
Sometimes it's helpful to have a way to distract yourself with happy, positive, healthy alternatives. Things like mediation, dancing, exercise, learning an instrument, knitting, drawing, and painting can distance you from the issues enough to shut down the overanalysis.
4. Put things into perspective.
It's always easy to make things bigger and more negative than they need to be. The next time you catch yourself making a mountain out of a molehill, ask yourself how much it will matter in five years. Or, for that matter, next month. Just this simple question, changing up the time frame, can help shut down overthinking.
5. Stop waiting for perfection.
This is a big one. For all of us who are waiting for perfection, we can stop waiting right now. Being ambitious is great but aiming for perfection is unrealistic, impractical, and debilitating. The moment you start thinking "This needs to be perfect" is the moment you need to remind yourself, "Waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress."
6. Change your view of fear.
Whether you're afraid because you've failed in the past, or you're fearful of trying or overgeneralizing some other failure, remember that just because things did not work out before does not mean that has to be the outcome every time. Remember, every opportunity is a new beginning, a place to start again.
7. Put a timer to work.
Give yourself a boundary. Set a timer for five minutes and give yourself that time to think, worry, and analyze. Once the timer goes off, spend 10 minutes with a pen and paper, writing down all the things that are worrying you, stressing you, or giving you anxiety. Let it rip. When the 10 minutes is up, throw the paper out and move on--preferably to something fun.
8. Realize you can't predict the future.
No one can predict the future; all we have is now. If you spend the present moment worrying about the future, you are robbing yourself of your time now. Spending time on the future is simply not productive. Spend that time instead on things that give you joy.
9. Accept your best.
The fear that grounds overthinking is often based in feeling that you aren't good enough--not smart enough or hardworking enough or dedicated enough. Once you've given an effort your best, accept it as such and know that, while success may depend in part on some things you can't control, you've done what you could do.
10. Be grateful.
You can't have a regretful thought and a grateful thought at the same time, so why not spend the time positively? Every morning and every evening, make a list of what you are grateful for. Get a gratitude buddy and exchange lists so you have a witness to the good things that are around you.
Overthinking is something that can happen to anyone. But if you have a great system for dealing with it you can at least ward off some of the negative, anxious, stressful thinking and turn it into something useful, productive, and effective.
Published on: Jan 4, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.
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