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Do you spend time wondering if someone is mad at you? Do you worry about things that you can’t control (what your husband may say at a party or what your son may do at a social event?) Do you replay something you said or did in your head? Do you spend time wondering what someone thinks about something you did? Do you beat yourself up over something you said or did? Do you believe you’re to blame if something goes wrong in your kids life? Do you think you’re responsible for your spouse or co-worker’s bad mood? These are all signs you’re overthinking.
Overthinking creates suffering. Overthinking causes stress. Overthinking creates indecision. It causes anxiety. It causes physical ailments. It causes interrupts sleep. It goes hand in hand with procrastination. I might go so far as saying that it is what’s standing in the way of you and the life you love.
What is Overthinking?
Google tells us: “Overthinking is to think about something too much, in a way that is not useful.”
Yep: that was me for a good 35+ years of my life! Thinking too much about something in an unhelpful way. I thought about things I did or things I said. I thought about things I could have done or things I wish I had done. I worried about things I might do, things that might happen, and even things that might not happen. Basically, I was always somewhere else in my head.
Overthinking takes us out of our present moment to time travel to two areas of our life: Our future or our past. You’ve time traveled to your future If you’re worrying or feeling anxious. You’ve time traveled back in time, to your past, if you’re feeling guilty, ruminating, or regretful.
I’m a mindfulness-Based Cognitive Coach so am passionate about teaching tools so we pay attention to the thoughts in our head. Why? This is where freedom lies There is nothing more important than thinking about our thinking. What we think about drives the lives we live. The thoughts we focus on, create how we feel which controls the actions we take. This is the backbone of the thought model: think, feel, act. When we can cut back on the time we spend over thinking, we are free to live lives we love.
3 Steps to Stop
Notice you’re doing it. The first step to change anything is being aware that it’s happening. Think of yourself as a watcher of your mind. What are you thinking? What are you telling yourself? How is thinking that thought making you feel? What do you do when you feel that way? Notice what you’re thinking. Change starts with awareness.
Dig deeper into the watching of your mind and put on your detective hat. Ask yourself about the thoughts you’re noticing. Here are some examples of how you might question your thoughts:
- Is this thought helpful?
- How do I act when I think that thought?
- What’s something else I could think?
- Who would I be without this thought?
- How would I act if I thought something else?
- How is this thought holding me back or keeping me stuck?
- What am I accomplishing by thinking about this?
Questioning our thoughts as a kind observer of our brain is such powerful work. We remind ourselves that our thoughts are not necessarily true. Even saying something as simple as: “I notice I’m thinking the thought” can jolt you out of the habit of overthinking. Take your power back. Your thoughts are merely sentences in your head. You get to decide how much attention you give them.
If you’ve noticed you’re overthinking and you want to stop, interrupt your brain. There are several things you can do to stop your brain’s neural programming. Here are some things that help me and my clients:
-Count Something: Get up and do 14 jumping jacks. Look around and count how many people are wearing red or how many people are wearing crewneck sweaters. Look outside and count how many birds you see. Find something and count it. The act of counting gets your brain to focus on something else and that small disruption can be enough to shift your cognitive pattern.
-Listen to something: Put on a song playlist with words, a podcast, or an audio book. Direct your mind to pay attention to someone else’s words. Your mind may still try to think about what you were thinking about but with focus you can direct it to whatever input you’ve chosen (podcast, music, etc.)
-Set a Timer: Set a timer and dig in: allow yourself to overthink. Permission to think away. The only caveat is you have to write it down. Sit down and write what you’re thinking about. Get it all out: Your deepest fears and worries. What are you worrying about? What are you telling yourself went wrong? Instead of spending all this time worrying in your head, write out what your brain is telling you. Get those thoughts out of your head to see if they’re helpful or harmful. This leads right into the next suggestion:
-Answer the “What ifs”: You know what I’m talking about. All those worst case scenarios we so creatively dream up. We are so good at thinking about “what if….the worst thing happened” yet how often do you allow yourself to answer that question? Great news: I’m allowing you to answer it. Better news? Answering it helps you stop worrying, stop ruminating, stop overthinking. So answer your what ifs: What if your son doesn’t get into that college? What if no one sits with your daughter at lunch? What if your boss doesn’t like your presentation? Ask yourself the What if and then answer: What will you do? You are far more resilient than you give yourself credit for. Stop wasting tine worrying about what might happen and go live your life. You are more than capable of figuring things out along the way. Overthinking goes hand in hand with perfectionism and procrastination. We put off doing things because of these what ifs….What if your proposal sucks? What if your boss says no? What if your husband disagrees? Stop reading people’s minds, stop wasting your mental power dreaming up worst case scenarios and GO! DO! Answer your what ifs and remind yourself you can do hard things.
Warriors, you are here on earth for a reason. We spend far too much time in our heads beating ourselves up for things we did (that we can’t change!) or thinking of what may go wrong in the future. I know that the less time I spend overthinking the happier I am. Does that mean I never screw up or think of the future. No way. You know what’s different? If it’s something from the past, I no longer re-play the 14 different things I could’ve done. Rather I clean up my mess and move on. I apologize when needed, learn what I could’ve done differently, and move the heck on. If I’m overthinking because of something in the future, instead of worrying about things I can’t control, I direct my brain to ask more powerful What if’s (see this post). I also remind myself of what I’ve done to insure the best possible outcome and then use my mental muscle (developed from meditating) to stay in the present moment.
Where do you spend time overthinking? I encourage you to try these 3 steps the next tine it happens. You are here for a reason. The more time we spend thinking of the past or future, the less we take action towards the life we’re meant to live. Let’s show up warriors. You’ve got this.
Please share this episode with one other person who may resonate with this message. If everyone who read this did that, we’d double the reach of this message!! The more people who go around taking steps to live a happier life, the better off we all are.
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