Our powerful human brains can be our ticket to true success and happiness. But they can also be our absolute worst enemy. The fact that we are able to fill our minds with almost unlimited thoughts is both a boon and a curse. We have the ability to complete any intellectual task we set our minds to, but this assumes we are actually able to set our minds to a specific goal without letting them wander or worry about extraneous factors that will end up holding us back. It assumes we’re able to quit overthinking.
As intelligent beings, we ironically sometimes need to stop our brains from thinking too much in order to focus on the task at hand. While it’s not easy, it certainly is doable. By tweaking the way we approach the difficult tasks in our lives, we’ll find it easier and easier to work through them without becoming overwhelmed and getting lost in the labyrinth of overthinking. Here are 5 ways of doing so.
1) Check Your Premises.
Chances are, most of the worries that run through your mind when you face a problem or obstacle are at least somewhat irrational. But it’s all too easy to miss that initial irrational thought, leaving us with a steadily speeding train into realms rumination. In other words, you end up in an endless, cyclical thought process that is largely negative and often full of despair.
I’m sure many of you have experienced something similar to the following scenario: You go to work and instantly get a knot in your stomach because you just know your boss is going to have something negative to say about the project you turned in yesterday, and you’ll have to spend the first two hours of your day fixing your mistakes, which means you’ll have to stay late to catch up on the other work you have to do, and you’ll miss dinner with your wife and kids, and end up getting to sleep later than you want to, meaning you’ll wake up groggy and unprepared tomorrow… I could go on.
But take a second and realize this entire train of thought began with the an assumption that your boss would have some criticism of your work. And it most likely played itself out in a manner of seconds, bringing a dark cloud in to hang over your mood and increase your level of anxiety all at once. This is just one type of cognitive distortion that changes the way you see the world. And it is a direct result of not understanding how to quit overthinking. In reality, the situation is much less severe or dire than your mind has made it out to be.
Though it’s not easy to manage perfectly, practicing cognitive restructuring allows you to pinpoint the exact moment your thoughts start to spiral out of control and decide whether or not your worries are warranted.
Using the previous situation as an example, you’ll begin to realize that, while the given scenario is certainly plausible, it’s not the only one possible. In fact, you could even take a step further back, and realize that, if you had put your all into the work you handed in, the given scenario would be far less likely to occur, reducing the chances of your mind moving off in such a direction to begin with. So before you let your thoughts spiral out of control, check your premises.
2) Set Limits.
As intelligent beings, we’ve been gifted with the ability to analyze every situation we face. Whereas animals act on instinct, humans can take a step back and think about the possible scenarios that will occur based on our future actions. Again, this can be both an advantage and disadvantage, depending on how we go about the situation.
Whenever we face a major decision in life, we tend to think of the pros and cons of each possible outcome. Obviously, this can be incredibly beneficial to our well-being: by weighing the positives and negatives of each decision we make, we allow ourselves to make what we consider the best decision possible each and every time we face a major event.
On the other hand, the list of pros and cons we make can be completely inexhaustible. We must, at some point, realize that no matter what decision we make, there absolutely will be positive and negative consequences to follow. No decision will ever be 100% correct — there will always be “what ifs?”.
However, you can combat this endless analysis of possible outcomes by setting limits on the amount of pros and cons you list. By doing so, you focus less on the quantity of possible positive and negative outcomes, and more on the quality of the argument. This type of ‘mental monitoring’ is a key aspect in learning how to quit overthinking, and it takes a bit of effort. Once you get it down, though (once you’ve practiced it enough that the technique becomes second nature) it will make it much easier for you to understand the impact of the choices you make without overthinking them.
3) Take Action.
I mentioned the fact that what separates us from the animals is our ability to step back and analyze our situation before we take action. However, sometimes it’s best to just trust our instincts, make a decision, and stick to it. Rather than going through the endless list of possible scenarios you’ve manufactured in your mind, be confident in your ability to weather any storm that comes your way, and go with the decision you feel would be most beneficial in the future.
The worst that can happen is you’ll realize you made the wrong decision, and learn something in the process. This learning experience will ultimately benefit you in the long run, as you’ll know not to make the same mistake ever again. In essence, life is nothing but one learning experience after another; no one can fault you for taking a misstep — as long as you grow from the decisions you’ve made.
4) Don’t Allow Misery To Take Over.
Whether you’re stuck in the analytical stage of the decision-making process, or you’ve made a decision that didn’t turn out so well, don’t waste time wallowing in sorrow. This is one of the biggest traps that can keep you from learning how to quit overthinking. Depressive, negative thoughts have a much stronger ‘gravity’, it seems, than many other types of thought. If you allow the heavy emotion of these thoughts to pull you in, you’ll only dig yourself deeper into a detrimentally cyclical way of thinking.
All this does is take away from time that could be spent moving forward, or past your mistakes. Not only that, but In the grand scheme of things, the decision you made likely isn’t that earth-shattering, but if you allow yourself to think too much about it, it will definitely seem that way. You’ve gotten the lesson. It’s over. Time to quit overthinking and move on.
5) Ground Yourself
One of the best ways I’ve found to break a negative train of thought and quit overthinking is to ground myself, literally and figuratively. Try it. Whenever you start to feel your mind taking over in a way you don’t want it to, sit down or grab onto a table or chair. Do something physically to remind yourself that you exist in the real world, not the imaginary one your brain has created. Consciously make an effort to think of anything but the problem that’s bothering you.
This will help remind you that this one aspect (check that: ONE aspect) of your life does not define you, and there is much more to your being than the mistake your brain won’t stop harping on.
Remember: you can either let your thoughts overcome you, or you can overcome your thoughts. You can accomplish nothing but the misery that results from endless overthinking. Or you can follow these steps and learn how to QUIT overthinking. Which would you rather allow to happen?