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. 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 normally arises when we feel unsafe or uncertain. 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 which comes with overthinking. Look at ways you can contribute and give back to your friends, family, colleagues, community or a charity. Contribution is not only good for society, it’s good for the soul.
3) Ask yourself better questions
Questions beginning with “Why?” do not provide an opportunity to find a solution 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.
4) Be more mindful
Mindfulness is 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.
5) Challenge your thinking
I wrote an article on the “10 Most Harmful Thoughts to Your Happiness and Success”. It went viral. Why? Because everyone is a victim to negative thinking.
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 are all examples.
7) Practice better self-care
If you’re overthinking, you’re most likely in “survival mode”. A misguided act of self-preservation. By taking care of yourself on a conscious level, you can start to teach your subconscious self-care is a much healthier and more sustainable path to self-preservation. Self-care meaning respecting your mind, body and soul.
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. It’s only the meaning that you give to them that determines how you feel about them. Change 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. We have very little control over the events in our lives or the actions of others. We must get out certainty from ourselves. Knowing that no matter what happens out there, we’ll be OK. We’ll still be breathing. And we will always have people who love us and will give us shelter if we ever need it.
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.