29th Jan 2021
Read time: 6 mins
Do you replay mistakes in your head over and over, or dwell on outcomes so much that you emotionally feel like they’ve already happened? You might be an overthinker.
January has been full of information on just how we all need to think more positive thoughts, tame our anxiety, manage our mental health and focus on our mindset. In truth, this happens every year but there’s no denying that it has felt heightened this year.
When I think about my thinking habits, I don’t necessarily see them as either positive or negative, I find my greatest challenge is stopping myself from simply allowing too many of them in. Overthinking is my personal scourge.
My ability (I refuse to see it as a weakness!) is that I can go from zero to one hundred in an instant. I think of something, I visualise it in my mind and before I know it I’ve played it out fully in mind and inevitably find myself stressing with the fallout from the inevitable worst-case scenario. If there are other people involved in this picture, the chances are that I’ve also added their contributions to the conversation. I become a join the dotter of professional proportions.
If you do this too, then you know how it feels to inhabit the mind of an over-thinker.
In order for us to stop our overthinking ways, we must first acknowledge why we do it, so that we can go on to try and prevent it from recurring. When we start to become more aware of our tendency to overthink things and are willing to accept that it’s actually causing us more harm than good, then we can prepare ourselves for change.
Am I an overthinking this?
Overthinking usually shows up in our everyday lives in one of two ways – either we find ourselves either constantly mulling over the past or we engage in excessive worrying about the future.
Interestingly, we get really clever at justifying our own behaviour. We can convince ourselves that our tendency to overthink is in fact our own version of problem-solving.
The big difference here though, is that problem-solving involves thinking about a solution, whereas overthinking involves repeatedly dwelling un-necessarily on the problem.
It is also worlds apart from being introspective. When we go inwards and engage in some healthy self-reflection, it’s usually with the aim of learning something about ourselves or gaining a new perspective on a given situation. It’s purposeful.
Overthinking, however, involves ruminating on just how bad we’re feeling and thinking about all the things we simply have no control over. This will not help us to develop new insight about ourselves or our own situation.
The final difference between problem-solving, self-reflection, and overthinking, is about time. The time we spend problem-solving and self-reflecting is time well-spent. Conclusions help us move forward, either with new ideas or armed with more knowledge about how we move through the world.
The time we spend overthinking, however, doesn’t bring any added value to our lives and most likely will have the opposite effect, as we recurringly cringe at past mistakes, punishing ourselves over and over, or fret about future possibilities.
7 signs you’re an overthinker
- You spend time worrying about things you simply have no control over.
- You read into the hidden meaning of things people say to you.
- You relive awkward moments and replay your mistakes in your head over and over.
- You’ve trouble sleeping, you feel like your brain just won’t switch off
- You replay the conversations you‘ve had in your mind and think about all the things you wished you had or hadn’t said.
- You make decisions from a place where you feel others won’t or can’t judge you?
- You decide what the outcome will look, you see it in your mind and you feel as you might feel if it actually happened.
Do you recognise yourself in this? If you do then don’t despair.
You’re on your way to realising this is what you do, so now you can start to change it.
- Identify what you do by recording it in your journal. By doing this you will recognise it and what triggers it when it happens the next time.
- When you’re feeling calmer and more in control of your feelings gather the evidence you know to be factually true. What do you know to be true that contradicts your thoughts?
- Ask for help. Sharing with someone close and trustworthy that you have a tendency to do this can be a great way to lightening the load. When it recurs you can speak with them and simply say I’m doing it again – can you remind me why I need to release these thoughts? The best way to gain fresh perspective is to talk with someone else and put the problem outside of you.
- Remove yourself from where you are in that moment when your mind is working overtime. Get out for a walk, go make a coffee, light a candle, turn on some music – something that will get you into a different headspace; even just for a few short minutes. If you’re in bed overthinking, get up walk around – anything that will just shift your focus. Journaling when you’re overthinking can be a really good outlet as it will prove to be helpful when observing your future habits.
- Habits are stubborn, and in many cases, people have behaved the same way for years, perhaps decades so the changes won’t appear overnight. Our minds are clever because we are clever- don’t forget that!
Once you allow yourself to see how rewarding it is to focus on the truth and the facts, the more you’ll begin to connect with the experience and freedom you can feel when you finally stop letting your thoughts control you. Remember worrying about how things could go wrong never helps things to go right!
Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Change & Transformation Coach and Founder of The RESET for Change 3 Month 1:1 Private Coaching Programme. She works with women who simply feel stuck who are questioning what it’s all for and gives them the chance to see just what’s possible for them as well as the tools they need to do just that. To work with Niamh on your own Bespoke Private Coaching RESET Programme just click here.
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