I was always so jealous of those people who seemed to float through life worry free. It felt to me like some people were just immune to stress. Meanwhile I sat up for hours and hours night after night just contemplating my feelings and decisions, both past and future. My thoughts were usually along the lines of: “Maybe I was overreacting” or “I should have handled that situation better” which led to deeper thoughts like “I wonder if this has changed our relationship?” and “maybe I’ve made him feel undervalued” or “I bet he’s feeling angry at me” – when in actual fact “he” was sleeping peacefully without a second thought of the tiff we’d had (and reconciled) 4 hours earlier.
How many nights have your thoughts got the better of you? How many unproductive hours have you wasted just sitting mulling over your thoughts with no resolution or outcome to be found?
Over the past few years overthinking has been a hot topic for many psychologists. Studies have shown overthinking to be strongly linked to depression, anxiety, binge eating, binge drinking, and self-harm. And I completely agree… I can’t think of a single time overthinking has led me to a positive outcome.
I know I’m not alone, it happens to the best of us and overcoming this harmful habit takes a lot of practice and conscious thinking, but you’ll live a more fulfilling and simple life once you have your crazy over thinking under control.
In order to break any habit, you have to be aware of the trigger points. I’ve documented some of the common thought processes which have caused me to overthink, and some useful strategies I’ve adopted to control it.
1. The 15-minute thought indulgence
Obviously we still need to make time to reflect, think and plan but studies have shown that if you spend more than 15mins thinking about a certain topic you’re likely to fall down the “rabbit hole”. Next minute you’re 4 hours deep into a helpless life examination. So, give yourself a 15-minute window to address the thoughts and once that 15 minutes is up – move on with your day… Your productivity will thank me!
2. Trust your gut
Three years ago I had a good stable job that I loved, lived in the most beautiful place in the world (Perth, in my opinion), had amazing people surrounding me and yet I had this niggle in my gut. I knew I wanted to travel, but I had a good life and no one to go with. So I listened to my head which kept saying “things are good in Perth” and I stayed. I stayed for another 6 months before I finally trusted the niggle in my gut jumped on a plane to Central America and spent the best year of my life exploring the world. How many times have you been in a situation where you’ve had to make a decision and you’ve wasted a day/week/year thinking about it only to go with your first thought? I’ve done it more times than I can count! We only use approximately 20% of our brains at any one time, but our brains record it all; every meeting, interaction, feeling, and decision. Sometimes we aren’t able to conjure the exact thought up that’s making us so sure/unsure… but our “gut” knows. Its pulling from that sub conscious bank of memories and urging you to make the right choice. That’s why it’s worth trusting. Think of all the time and mental energy that can be conserved by trusting that first instinct instead of wasting hours deliberating and coming back to the original thought. Side note: How many people do you hear say “I regret going with my gut” – stop wasting time and start trusting yourself and your instincts !
3. Ignoring societal norms
I’ve heard people say it a thousand times “I should read more books” or “I should start running” – what I’m going to ask you is: according to who? Who told you that you should read more books (when you don’t like to read), who told you that you should start running even though you have bad knees? Don’t let others define the way you live your life. Be true to yourself… if you want to start running then take away the “should” and change it to “I’m going to start running”. The next time you hear yourself say “I should” I want you to stop and think about who thinks you should, is it you? Or your partner/parent/society? Let this be your compass to guide you into making faster and more genuine decisions.
It all comes down to this: When your final years are approaching, you will not worry about how well you thought through your decisions, or how thoroughly and accurately you approached life’s forks in the road. You will rest happily knowing you lived true to yourself, acted with confidence and purpose, and stood up for what you believed in. So, don’t worry about the perfection of your decisions. Keep moving forward, even if it is in the wrong direction. Boldness is respectable; carefulness has never changed the world.