Overthinking is an age-old problem, yet it’s fair to say that this global pandemic we find ourselves in is taking it to a whole new level. The uncertainty and chaos brought on by COVID-19 have tapped into almost every insecurity and fear factor known to mankind, dialling up both the positive and negative effects of our over-stimulated minds. If you were an occasional bad sleeper pre-pandemic, then chances are you might now be cursed with minor insomnia. If you were an optimist before, you might be one of those opportunistic innovators doing great things in the midst of all this madness. And if you were an overthinker of small things in the past, you might now be a chronic overthinker of all the things, big and small.
Put simply, overthinking is when you think about something too much for too long. When you can’t get something out of your head and can’t distract yourself away from the thoughts. It can relate to almost anything and can be quite debilitating. You may have even heard the term ‘analysis paralysis’, whereby the more you think about a problem, the worse you feel, and less able you are to make a decision or take action. It can stem from simple things relating to regret – like “Why did I say that?” – through to “Should I do it or not?”.
There seems to be a stigma that goes with overthinking. We tend to value and respect people who can make decisions on their feet, trust their instincts and don’t look back. One study found that we even judge others when they spend too much time making ‘easy’ decisions, but not enough time making tough ones – and that when people appropriately calibrate their thought process according to the demands of the situation, they are better liked, more influential and are seen to make better decisions.
Yet such skills aren’t necessarily the hallmarks of greatness. In fact, some of the most successful people in the world – Isaac Newton, Vincent Van Gogh and John Lennon, to name a few – were known for their neuroticism, or tendency to brood over problems. A team of researchers even suggest that neurotic people tend to be highly creative and adept at coming up with solutions (probably because they spend so much time thinking up, and then trying to fix, the problems of the world).
That said, overthinking can be detrimental to wellbeing and is sometimes associated with mental health challenges like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. So, how do you switch off when your brain goes into overdrive? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as telling yourself to stop (which, let’s face it, is about as useful as telling someone with anxiety to relax). Instead, as coaches, we often have conversations with clients about ‘why’ they are overthinking – trying to get to the root cause of the matter, so we can develop strategies to help them move past those worries that are holding them back.
Here are five ways to change your overthinking habits:
- Reframe – Invest the time to create a new way to think about the situation. Frame it up in a more constructive way.
- Train your brain – That 1.5kg machine in your skull is really smart and it can learn new habits. Teach your brain the discipline to stop and rest, using techniques like Vedic meditation.
- Acknowledge the thoughts – Sometimes you need to actually stop and do more thinking. Pay attention to what the constant thoughts are and see what most needs prioritising.
- Triage the problem – How important is the issue that’s consuming your thoughts and energy? Consider the impact your decision will have next week, next month and next year to put things in perspective.
- Leverage the skill – Overthinking is not the same as being considered, thoughtful and wanting more information. It’s a skill to be able to see both the big picture and the detail. Don’t let those instinct-based people tell you you’re an overthinker, if you’re really someone who just takes time to assess.
If you’re looking for more on the topic of overthinking, there are so many great books available, with tips and tricks to help calm your mind. Try The Worry Trick: How Your Brain Tricks You into Expecting the Worst and What You Can Do About It or Clear Your Mind: Stop Overthinking, Tune Out Mental Chatter And Worry Less.
- The Coach Place Global.
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