Overthinking can be a barrier to so many good things in life. It can trap you in your head and stop you enjoying the present moment. It can be a form of procrastination that means you don’t move forward on projects you care about. It can provide an endless inner commentary that drowns out a richer experience of people and experiences. So it’s a question worth asking: Are you an overthinker?
How do I know if I’m overthinking?
Not all thinking is overthinking. You could even make the argument (and I’d agree with you) that many people don’t think enough. Our world is a nuanced place – deeper consideration of the issues we face could improve life for us all.
However, it’s unlikely under-thinkers worry about their under-thinking – oh, the irony! – so let’s turn our attention to the other extreme.
The other end of the spectrum is the person who thinks too much. They move past the point of constructive reasoning, of optimal evaluation, and land in a quagmire of re-hashing, self-doubt, and rumination.
You may be well acquainted with this sensation of mental swampiness and already know you’re an overthinker. But what if you’re not sure? I mean, you may be overthinking, but on the other hand, you may not be. Okay I’m teasing now. 😉
If in doubt, here are some hints that suggest you overthink.
1. If you can’t make a decision… you may be overthinking
Effective thinking evaluates options and makes a choice. It reaches a destination: this is a reasonable option. In contrast, overthinking won’t stop jumping around. It gets stuck testing options and can’t move beyond the assessment phase. It prefers this option; no wait – this one!
If you are habitually indecisive, then you may be an overthinker.
2. If you ask for advice about trivial things… you may be overthinking
For some decisions, it’s helpful to get the input of people whose opinions we respect. Especially with significant matters, it can enhance our reasoning to have additional perspectives to consider.
But if you need others to weigh in on every minor issue, then maybe you outsource your problems because, if left to your own devices, you end up overthinking.
3. If you re-hash situations… you may be overthinking
A classic sign of overthinking is ruminating on past events and conversations. You lie awake wondering what she meant by that comment. You mutter to yourself in the shower, going over and over what happened in the meeting. You are still pondering your mental transcript of a dinner party you attended in early 2012.
This can be a kind of torture, because there’s no new information, there’s no off ramp – you just go round and round and round, revisiting the past and finding no peace.
Okay, then. If you are an overthinker, how do you stop? As an inveterate overthinker who has made peace with this mental dragon, I have some suggestions.
How to stop overthinking
1. Don’t ‘try’ to stop overthinking
The mind is a most perverse little thing. Whatever you don’t want it to do, it will do. Okay, mind, don’t think about chocolate. Argh now I must have a Ferrero Rocher! So my first suggestion is that you abandon all hope that you can curb overthinking with an act of will. Just let that idea go… poof!
Instead, notice when you catch yourself overthinking.
- Hmmm, I seem to go back and forth with the options instead of making a choice.
- I feel a powerful urge to ask a 37th person for advice on my love life.
- I’m replaying the dinner party of 2012, again…
Just the act of noticing is powerful. And, because our minds are so delightfully contrary, noticing without trying can often give us what we want after all – relief from overthinking. You may find that simply noticing without judging calms your mind and stops you overthinking. Not always, but sometimes. And even if not, noticing will bring you greater awareness, a sense of detachment, and more peace.
2. Be okay with imperfect decisions
Take the pressure off yourself to get things perfectly right. Make a decision, and then if you need to, make a correction. Assume that whatever the outcome, it will be manageable.
Start with inconsequential matters and get used to making quick decisions. If things go wrong, great. Notice that life doesn’t end, that you can course-correct. This is what resilience feels like.
Very little in life is all or nothing, so stop holding yourself and your decisions to impossible standards.
3. Accept what you dread
This is a difficult one! But honestly, so freeing.
If you regularly re-hash situations, then ask yourself what it is you dread in the scenario you keep returning to.
At the heart of overthinking is often an attempt to forestall something you don’t want to be true. You’re resisting an uncomfortable emotion: sadness that someone dislikes something about you; fear your boss is mad at you. That kind of thing.
Now, as long as you resist the possibility, your mind has fodder for re-hashing and overthinking. It will keep analyzing the evidence.
But as soon as you say, yep, that could totally happen; aha, that may well be true… well, then there’s nothing for your mind to fight. No forensics to pore over.
Try this and see for yourself. Feel the feeling your mind is trying so hard to protect you from, and you might both be able to relax.
Uncomfortable feelings are obviously no fun, but they do pass. Unlike the endless re-hashing of the overthinking mind.
So there we have it. Signs you may be overthinking, and suggestions for overcoming the problem.
Will you try my tips? Or share some of your own?