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What to know about overthinking, and how to stop it in it’s tracks


By Niamh Ennis
10th Oct 2022
What to know about overthinking, and how to stop it in it’s tracks

My name is Niamh and I'm an overthinker.

It was the great Buddha who first suggested that “what you think you become”. What this means is that when we constantly think about something, we don’t just attract it into our lives, but it becomes the environment within which we operate. It’s why you hear so much about the power of your thoughts and the influence they have when it comes to living a certain way and to achieving what it is you really desire.

I don’t want to oversimplify it here by saying you just need to ‘think more positively’, as there’s much more to it than that, but even if we start by looking at just how we can stop ourselves from overthinking and then learn how to take action from there then this might be a good place to begin reducing our overthinking ways.

The enemy of thinking positively about things is our tendency to overthink. I’m guessing you are familiar with the experience of trying to sleep at night when your mind won’t switch off. It simply won’t stop working. Perhaps something is genuinely causing you concern, and you are right to be worried, but if you are unable to step back and rationalise what is happening, the chances are you will make hasty, rushed and often bad decisions. Overthinking can in fact make a bad situation worse, so it is helpful when can understand why it’s happening so you can then recognise that you are in fact doing it.

None of us were born over-thinkers. It’s a habit that over time we develop mostly due to our own personal life experiences. Yet the good news is that in the same way that we have developed these habits over time, we can also dismantle them. Being aware of when we are overthinking and it’s source is the starting point.

WHAT EXACTLY IS OVERTHINKING?

The dictionary tells us it is this: to think too much about (something): to put too much time into thinking about or analysing (something) in a way that is more harmful than helpful.

Essentially, we overthink when we think about something too much, for far too long. When you can’t switch off your worries and concerns and you become obsessed to the point that it paralyses you and as a consequence then prevents you from making a decision or from taking any action. And if I needed to say this, overthinking is never, ever good for you!

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU ARE AN OVERTHINKER?

You live in a state of constant worry about the future, about things that might happen, and could happen, but haven’t happened yet! You mull over the past, contemplating all the alternative scenarios that you could have executed, conversations you should have had, things you ought to have done and you are full of regret. You live in fear of the judgement of others. You obsess over what they might think of you, how your actions will appear to them and it dictates how you show up in every situation. You spend so much time reflecting on past events and trying to plan and prepare for future ones that you constantly miss out on the life you should be living now in the present. You analyse absolutely everything. You repeat all the options over and over in your head to the point that you are so intensely scared of doing the wrong thing that you inevitably end up doing nothing.

It’s important to remember here that even making the wrong decision is better than making no decision at all. You always have the chance to learn from your mistakes but you won’t ever learn from inaction.

If any of these find you nodding along in agreement, there’s a strong chance that you might fall into the overthinking category. Just keep an eye on when your overthinking starts to moves toward more obsessive behaviour and observe what the triggers are that start you overthinking. We honestly all have them but what differentiates us is recognising the signs.

THE RECOVERING OVERTHINKER
For my part, I used to worry that if I didn’t cover all eventualities and something were to go wrong, that I would be guilty of letting other people down. The eternal people pleaser in me never wanted to let anyone down. The reality of course, was that nobody ever noticed; but it fuelled my deep need to control all situations and led me further away from feeling in control, mostly because my motivation for doing this was so misplaced.

When I slowly started to get a grip on it and accepted that all I could do in any given situation was my best, it honestly felt incredibly liberating and freeing. I realised that if the worst-case scenario came true, and I did let someone else down, it did not mean I was a bad person and, if they thought so, I learned to see that for what it was also. Releasing my need to be seen always as being perfect actually meant I was free to be imperfect.

Fear is almost always at the core of the overthinkers mind. You want to cover all eventualities and things, you aspire for total perfection, you need to feel in control.

But the real questions to ask yourself when considering this is:

What is it I am afraid most afraid of right now?
If this were to become a reality what would happen? Honestly?
How would I deal with it?
Am I solely responsible for this situation?
Is there someone that can help me, someone I can talk to about this?

Overthinking is not a destructive behaviour once you are aware that you are doing it and are working towards stopping it. It might sound a little trite to remind you that a problem shared is a problem halved but when it comes to overthinking it’s totally true! I’m going to leave you with my favourite, albeit anonymous, quote on overthinking which is this… ‘Overthinking, the art of creating new problems out of ones that never existed in the first place!’

Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading change and transformation coach and author of Get Unstuck. Through her private practice, writings, programmes, workshops and podcast, Niamh has inspired, activated and helped thousands of people to make significant changes in their lives. She is an accredited Personal, Leadership and Executive Coach and the Lead Coach in the IMAGE Business Club. Follow her on Instagram @1niamhennisGet Unstuck is available for pre-order now and released on November 11.