5 Powerful Steps to Overcome Overthinking
About 6 minutes to read
Forty-eight days ago, I broke my right ankle and last week I received the go ahead from my doctor to start walking again. This was not a walk upon the water moment but rather a struggle as I worked with the physiotherapist to place one foot in front of the other. I immediately felt so blessed that when learning to walk as a toddler I couldn’t really think; otherwise I know that I would never have learnt how to walk due to overthinking.
Now, I’m not talking about the danger of thinking. I think many people actually don’t think enough and therefore we have so much shit in the world. I’m talking about the danger of overthinking. As I was trying to learn how to walk again, I realised that I was just thinking too much. My mind was screaming, “How do I do this? What if? How do I put one foot in front of the other?” I know that sounds crazy because I’ve been walking most of my life but there I was falling into the great overthink trap!
So what does it mean to overthink? The urban dictionary describes overthinking as “Excessive thinking about a problem, while losing focus on the big picture. The result is an overly complicated analysis, and any solution coming out of this will also be complicated. And probably a fruitless waste of time.” Another definition is “A great way to fuck everything up” which is most likely the truest definition of them all.
From my personal experience, I would describe overthinking as the times I over analyse something. When I know something to be true and yet still look for different ways to look at it. Many times, I am looking for validation or worrying that something will or won’t happen. I become fearful and worry about the consequences and so forth.
Psychologists have proven that overthinking can be detrimental to human performance and and can lead to anxiety and depression, especially in women, who are more likely to ruminate on stress and disappointments than men are.
From the simple example I am sharing with you here, I can fully understand how this can happen if left unchecked. You see overthinking does not travel alone. Oh no! It has travelling companions in the form of fear, uncertainty, insecurity, anger, judgment to name a few of the frequent travellers.
With the great overthink, that clutters our minds we become stuck in analysis paralysis even though we often know what we should be doing. For me personally, and perhaps for you too, the worst consequence of overthinking is that feeling of being struck, trapped, helpless. My mind clamours for a way out, even though it is that very mind that has brought me into that situation.
So what to do you may ask? I am going to suggest five simple steps to overcome overthinking and let me be very clear about this, they are all easier said than done, but should that stop us from trying? Hell no!
1. Stop what you are doing!
Yes! I did say these steps are easier said than done!
When you become aware that your mind has raced off into overthink mode and that you are quickly following it into a hole, stop what you’re doing. I am not suggesting that you stop overthinking, I mean quite literally, stop what you are doing. Take a moment to collect yourself, notice that you’ve rushed off into overthink mode.
2. Practice Mindfulness
Use the moment to practice mindfulness, a form of meditation in which you observe the current moment without judging it. It could be that you want to beat yourself up, get into another debate with yourself, or start analysing why you always analyse. This is not the time. Simply be aware of the moment in which you have stopped and do not judge it or yourself.
As I was overthinking why I could not walk and how it was so difficult, I literally stopped what I was trying to do. I stopped trying to walk and I took a moment. I became the observer and noticed that I was a woman trying to walk, in pain and fear, beating herself up and in that moment, I followed the third step.
3. Simply allow yourself to be
I like to think of the state of allowing myself to be as one in which I am in acceptance with and giving myself love and compassion. Let’s get real and honest here. If you are a habitual over thinker, you probably experience a high amount of self-loathing around this topic. Mainly because the overthinking can be so debilitating at times, so the cycle begins where you beat yourself up for overthinking, overthink why you beat yourself up and so it goes. When you allow yourself to be you practice compassion towards yourself, you give yourself tools that will build you up and not break you down.
4. Challenge your thought processes and beliefs
As I mentioned earlier, overthinking has travelling companions who clutter your mind so completely that it is often difficult to see a way out of the complex maze you have constructed for yourself. Fear, doubt, worry, insecurity, immobilization, helplessness – all of the thoughts associated with these emotions – need to be challenged. Are they true, are the scenarios that are forming likely to happen, are you honestly not able to create a solution and find a way out?
The truth is most of the thoughts that are cluttering your mind are pure madness. The probability of any of the wild imaginations occurring is very low and all of your energy is consumed on vain and pointless dead end thought processes. So challenge your thoughts and beliefs, are they true and adding any value to your current situation?
In my case, I started asking myself, if I would never be able to walk again. Was I so sure that I couldn’t do it? Why would I suddenly tumble to the ground and not be able to move? I reminded myself that I had a lifetime of walking experience. That I quite literally have walked and run millions of steps in my life. I clicked the overthinking switch to off and moved on.
5. Get into action
The fact is excessive deliberation results in debilitation. The exact opposite of this is movement and action. To arrest the over thinker you have to take action and move in the direction that you want to go. You see what has most likely occurred depending on how long you have been ruminating on a topic, is that you have become quite fearful of what could happen, or you cannot see a clear outcome or solution. The truth is most things do not always go to plan or happen as we expect them to, but if we stand on the side lines overthinking everything we will never accomplish anything meaningful in our lives.
Therefore, the final step is get into action. Even if the action plan is incomplete, or the possible outcomes unclear, life has an amazing way of presenting opportunities to us as we move along. It is when we remain stagnant that we feel like we are drowning or disappearing in a quagmire of thoughts and doubts.
Currently I am not running through the daffodil and tulip fields celebrating a healed ankle and the onset of spring. My mind still defaults to overthink mode and I sometimes cannot move from wondering if I can descend the steps without an air boot or crutches. Is it safe to stand in the shower, why does it hurt so much after I have walked a few steps, will I ever be able to do a long hike without pain – and so it goes, but you know what? I cannot allow my thoughts to stop me from living a full and productive life, life is happening in my body and outside of my head; this is where the action and fun is.
I encourage you to practice these five steps when you find yourself dragged into overthink mode. They are not easy, but with practice, you will experience mastery.
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