Overthinking is a thought pattern where you become excessively preoccupied with an issue or problem to the point of distraction. It involves extensive analysis, rumination and self-doubt, often leading to inaction and poor decision-making.
In simple terms, overthinking is the act of thinking about or analyzing something too much or too long in a way that is more harmful than helpful.
It is often characterized by constant repetitive unproductive thoughts and an inability to develop new perspectives.
Overthinking is the biggest cause of our unhappiness. While it is normal to contemplate decisions and reflect on experiences, excessive rumination can lead to a cascade of negative consequences.
Overthinking can stem from various sources, such as dwelling on past mistakes, worrying about things beyond your control or scrolling on social media.
For instance, an innocent day can begin with a cup of coffee and a casual scroll through social media. Big mistake! Within seconds, you find yourself drowning in a tsunami of perfectly curated vacation photos, happy couple photos, workout selfies and people seemingly living their dreams.
By the time you reach the 5th picture of someone’s perfectly sculpted abs or office on the beach, you are convinced your life is a crumpled napkin compared to their immaculately folded existence.
Naturally, the overthinking spiral commenced. Did I choose the wrong career path? Did I marry the right man/woman? Is my apartment secretly judging me for its mismatched furniture? Etc.
Overthinking is the silent thief of life’s vitality, productivity, draining your energy from the pursuit of progress and leaving behind the residue of indecision.
Overthinking breeds doubt, drains confidence, hampers efficient collaboration and weighs you down more than the problems themselves.
Overthinking becomes a subtle saboteur, casting shadows on your personal well-being. It transforms decision-making into a maze, obstructing the path to progress. Mental exhaustion sets in impacting your overall vitality.
The pursuit of perfection often leads to procrastination, missed opportunities, a reluctance to embrace new challenges and impacting project timelines. Interpersonal relationships may bear the brunt and suffer as communication gets muddled in the web of overanalysis.
The more you overthink, the more you create problems that weren’t there!
Breaking free from this cycle of overthinking involves acknowledging its presence, practising mindfulness and allowing space for clarity, enabling a more balanced and fulfilling life journey.
In no particular order, here are 13 steps to beat overthinking and manage your mind and hold it accountable:
1. Focus on Action, Not Obsession
Instead of ruminating on past mistakes or future anxieties, turn those thoughts into actionable steps. Did you mess up a presentation? Analyze what went wrong and plan how to improve next time. Are you worried about an upcoming big meeting? Plan your talking points and visualize a successful outcome. Action is the antidote to overthinking — it gives your brain something productive to do instead of spinning in circles.
2. Celebrate Small Wins
Overthinking thrives on negativity. Combat it by acknowledging and celebrating your achievements, no matter how small. Aced a work task? Painted a decent watercolor? Cooked a meal that didn’t involve smoke detectors? Give yourself a mental high five! Learn to recognize your progress, however minor it may be. This will build confidence and reduce the space for doubt and worry.
3. Fact-check your Thoughts
Your thoughts will create scenarios in your mind that reflect your insecurities, fears and worries. So, it’s important to always fact-check your own thoughts before accenting them. Because in highly emotional situations, your thoughts will tell you stories that aren’t true. So, fact-check yourself.
4. Avoid Self Rejection
Self-rejection refers to the act of rejecting yourself to avoid others rejecting you. It is often driven by feelings of inadequacy or the belief you are not enough. Never overthink yourself into self-rejection:
- If you feel like you don’t deserve an opportunity — apply anyway
- If you feel like your writing is not good enough — publish it anyway
- If you feel like they won’t reply to your email — send it anyway
You don’t have to overthink every outcome. You just have to do your best and let the rest fall into place.
5. Talk it Out
Sometimes, the best way to untangle a mental knot is to externalize it. Grab a friend, therapist or even your pet (I heard pets are surprisingly good listeners) and spew out your worries like a malfunctioning popcorn machine. Bonus points if you do it in dramatic interpretive dance. Who knows, maybe they’ll have a fresh perspective that can put your anxieties back in their proper tiny box.
6. The Problem is Rarely the Problem
Overthinking is the art of creating problems that weren’t even there. 99% of the harm is caused in your head by you and your thoughts. 1% of the harm is caused by the reality, what actually happened and the outcome.
7. An Important Question
Whenever you start criticizing yourself for past mistakes or seeing disaster on every corner, ask yourself:
“Is there anything I can do right now to change the past or positively influence the future?”
- If the answer is yes, do it — take action
- If the answer is no, be at peace — let it go
Anything outside these two options is self-harm.
8. Acceptance is Peace
No amount of anxiety will change your future and no amount of anxiety will change your past.
- Accept imperfections
- Accept uncertainty
- Accept failure
- Accept change
- Accept an ungiven apology
- Accept unanswered questions
- Accept the uncontrollable
You don’t have to accept or tolerate anything but if you want peace, you must accept it. Peace is found in acceptance!
9. Health Starts in your Mind
Your thoughts, emotions and attitudes have an impact on your overall well-being and physical health. Having a positive and healthy mindset can lead to better immune function, healthier habits and a more resilient body.
You can go to the gym, eat healthy, do yoga, drink water and take vitamins… but if you don’t directly confront the negative committee in your head, you will never truly be healthy.
Your health isn’t measured on scales, by the size of your muscles or by the with of your waste.
True health is measured by the quality of your thoughts and the peacefulness of your mind.
10. The Power of Now
You are not going to overthink your way into a better future nor are you going to overthink your way into a better past. What’s done is done. All you have is now!
And what you can do with the now can right the wrongs of the past and make good of your future. So, make peace with the past, let go of tomorrow and grab hold of now.
11. Silence and Time
The truth is problems aren’t solved by overthinking. You’ll find most of the answers you’re looking for in silence, in time and with a clear mind. If you can’t solve a problem, stop trying to.
12. Nature is your friend
Get out there and immerse yourself in the natural world. Go for a walk in the park, hike in the woods, or even just sit in your backyard and soak up the sun. Studies show that spending time in nature can significantly reduce stress and anxiety, giving your overthinking brain a much-needed respite.
13. Practice Mindfulness
Meditation and mindfulness exercises are like mental gyms for your overthinking muscles. Learn to anchor your attention to the present moment, whether it’s the sound of your breath, the feeling of your feet on the ground, or the taste of your coffee. This disrupts the overthinking flow and helps you reclaim control of your thoughts.