Original Link : https://medium.com/swlh/how-to-quit-overthinking-19ebcc55769c
If you’re a person who routinely gets stuck in their thoughts, this piece is for you. You might be a person who regularly plays through multiple scenarios in your head and tries to analyze the meaning of every action. Alternatively, you might be someone who feels stuck and helpless regarding a problem you are facing, seemingly unable to escape the loop of negative thoughts going through your mind endlessly.
Becoming stuck in your head is dangerous. There is a surprising amount of scientific research that adds significant credibility to this view. A 2008 paper in Perspectives on Psychological Science correlated rumination with a variety of adverse conditions such as hopelessness, pessimism, self-criticism, dependency, neediness, and neuroticism.
Moreover, Yale Professor Susan Nolen-Hoeksema notes that are three significant side effects from this habit:
- Increased frequency of negative thoughts
- Decreased ability to solve problems
- Reduced motivation and energy
When we become engulfed by our thoughts, not only do we become disassociated from reality, we also neglect to take action. We become immobilized by our infinite stream of consciousness, which let’s face it, is rarely positive and does nothing to solve our problems.
Taking action is the only way to move forward. Excessive thinking can be so damaging because it creates the illusion of progress — we can decide that we have worked out a scenario and clarified information, even though it’s all been conducted within our silo. Nothing happens until the moment you start doing, and every second you waste having discussions with your inner-self is time that could have been spent executing.
Remember our thoughts are nothing more than an interpretation of the world around us — not reality. The more you succumb to conversations with yourself, the more you risk becoming distant from the truth, regardless of how intelligent or perceptive you think we are.
Keeping Busy Helps But Isn’t Enough
The standard approach recommended within the field of psychology is finding a positive distraction — something to take your mind off your thoughts and elevate your mood. Disciplines such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming recommend participating in activities that engage as many of your senses as possible. The logic here is that you are stuck in a 1st person perspective primarily listening to your internal voice. Any activity or task that takes you outside of this realm will be incredibly beneficial to widen your perspective, e.g., sport, seeing friends, or indulging in creativity such as music and art.
Studies have shown this to be an effective short-term approach; however, this doesn’t address the route of the thinking (Lyubormisky, 2008). Rather than distracting yourself from the problems in your life, what you need to do is engage in finding solutions for the subject of your overthinking.
The Four Step Process To Get Out Of Your Head
Before you start this process, it’s always worth engaging in a positive distraction first. Think of it as temporarily cleaning your internal slate and allowing yourself a fresh start.
Once you’ve done that, follow the simple steps below:
- Ask — “What is the outcome I want?”
- Ask — “What is my next step towards that outcome?”
- Take action
Let’s explore each component in more detail.
What Is The Outcome I Want? (Or Don’t Want)
We often forget to ask this in many areas of life, from our career to relationships, and beyond. How many times do you hear people complain about their job without having an answer as to what they want? Knowing what you want makes life a lot easier because it provides purpose and direction — two qualities that are sadly lacking in many people.
The goal of this question is to provoke positive thought, gain clarity, and escape the negative loop of a problem state. Many times when we are facing an issue that plagues our thoughts, we obsess over the specifics of a situation, why it has happened, and what it means. All of this is mostly irrelevant noise that can be canceled out by clarifying your desired outcome.
I highly recommend writing down your answers. Not only is this therapeutic, but it’s cathartic to take ideas from your mind and inscribe them into reality. Physically writing helps refine jumbled thoughts, and provides an opportunity to read them back at a later date.
Example: You hate your job
You have two choices here: get stuck in an infinite loop of misery within your head, or take action to do something about it.
Let’s say your job is stressful, demeaning and draining. You can choose to trap yourself within your thoughts, becoming consumed by misery and how much you don’t want to be there. Over time your performance decreases alongside your motivation and energy.
Alternatively, you can follow the process set out above starting with one question:
What is the outcome you want?
Sometimes you might struggle to know the answer. When you face this dilemma, instead of falling victim to your usual plan of overthinking and obsession, ask the reverse — “What don’t I want”? as your starting point. You can then inch your way to answering the original question.
In many cases, we generate answers in response to what we don’t want faster and more precisely. The beauty is that it still provides us with excellent feedback and allows us to move forward. We rule out options and gain clarity on the direction that needs to be taken.
You might want a job that is less stressful, better paid, and more meaningful to you. What you don’t want is to be considered lazy and unproductive — something that will happen if you don’t perform well in your current role. Answering that first question makes us realize that doing well now is a prerequisite to getting to where we need to go — not bathing in our negativity.
What Is My Next Step Towards That Outcome?
Once you have identified what you want, you need to figure out what is the next step you can take towards that outcome.
Be sure to note down precisely what actionable step you can do to move towards your outcome.
Continuing the case study of hating your job, our next step might be to identify roles that fit our criteria. As part of that identification, we might then look at what we need to do to be considered qualified for that job or even start applying for vacancies.
Take Action And Repeat
When you’re stuck in your head, you aren’t taking action. If you followed the steps above, you know the outcome you want and exactly what you have to do. Now you have to execute.
I’ve talked at length about the importance of becoming a doer, not a talker. You want to be the kind of person who has integrity. That means your actions match your words, and you follow through on what you say.
In our case study, we were obsessed with how much we hated our job. We identified what we wanted, and found the next logical step to reaching that desired state. Once we take that step, we repeat the process. What this does is create a positive feedback loop:
What do I want? → What do I need to do? → Execution → Repeat
Creating repeatable positive processes is the key to changing your life and making things happen. It ensures we consistently review what we want, what the next steps are, and then do them. Loops build in fail-safes that prevent us from becoming complacent and neglecting the basics.
Life Is Not About What Happens, But How You Respond
Everyone will face times at which they feel overwhelmed and confined to a mental prison of overthinking and overanalyzing. The difference that separates people who make progress from those who stagnate is simply who is willing to confront reality, take action, and move forward anyway.
You have the process — there is no excuse. You are 100% in control of your destiny — take responsibility and own it.
Make it happen.