Have you ever been faced with a major decision in life (or one not-so-major), and spent way too much time going through potential outcomes in your mind?
I know I have.
Sometimes this makes us feel productive because we are actively trying to find a solution or the best way forward. But this overthinking can also trap us in a cycle of doubt, anxiety and fear that not only prevents us from taking action, but also prevents us from making healthy decisions.
Of course, major decisions about big life changes warrants thoughtful, thorough consideration. But sometimes you might find it hard to stop turning certain thoughts over and over in your mind. You may dwell on even tiny choices and wonder about what-ifs so much that you become frozen with inaction.
While it’s normal to get caught up in over-analyzing things or being too much "in your head", chronic overthinking can interrupt your work, relationships, sleep, health, and other aspects of your everyday life. Instead of being productive, it can have the opposite effect. It can put you into analysis paralysis. This might keep you for making any kind of decision at all––or even worse––it can backfire and cause you to take the easy way out and make the wrong choice all together.
Do you suspect that you might be an overthinker? Here’s what you should know.
Let’s start by talking about why we overthink.
Sometimes, we do it to avoid making decisions or taking action. We fear the unknown and convince ourselves that we need to think things through before we act. Other times, we overthink because we’re perfectionists who want everything to be just right. We obsess over every detail, analyzing and critiquing until we’re paralyzed with indecision.
No matter the cause, overthinking leads to negative consequences. It can zap our energy and leave us feeling drained, stressed, and anxious. It can also cause us to second-guess ourselves and our abilities, leading to a lack of confidence, missed opportunities, and regret. Who wants any of those things in their life? Not me!
So how do we break free from the overthinking trap?
The first step is to recognize when we’re overthinking. Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that are holding you back, and identify the patterns that are keeping you stuck.
Identify the Source of your Overthinking
One of the first steps in overcoming overthinking is identifying where it comes from. Do you find yourself obsessing over something you did wrong in the past? Are you constantly worrying about what might go wrong in the future? Once you identify the source of your overthinking, you can start to address it head-on.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment and paying attention to your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for overcoming overthinking because it helps you to stay focused on the present moment, rather than getting lost in thoughts about the past or future.
Challenge your Thoughts
Ask yourself if your fears and doubts are based on evidence or speculation. Are you catastrophizing a situation, imagining the worst-case scenario without considering the likelihood of it happening? Often, overthinking is based on irrational or unfounded fears that have no basis in reality. By challenging your thoughts and separating fact from fiction, you can start to overcome your overthinking.
Once you have identified and challenged your thoughts, take action. This is one of the most effective ways to overcome overthinking. When you’re stuck in your head, it can be hard to take action, but doing so can help you break the cycle of overthinking. Start with small actions, like going for a walk or tackling a small task on your to-do list. Taking action will give you a sense of accomplishment and help you build momentum.
Finally, don’t be afraid to seek support when you’re trying to overcome overthinking. Whether it’s talking to a friend, joining a support group, or talking to a therapist or coach, there are many resources available to help you break the cycle of overthinking.
The good news is that by recognizing our patterns of overthinking, challenging our thoughts, and taking action, we can overcome this trap and move forward with confidence. Remember that overthinking is just a habit, and habits can be broken with practice and persistence.