“I can’t do justice to this assignment I’ve been given. Will my boss ever trust me?”
“I am unable to manage my juniors, I’ll never be a good leader.”
“I shouldn’t have asked that question in the presentation yesterday, people would’ve thought I am stupid!”
“I won’t recollect anything for next week’s exam, I’ll fail!”
“No one was there to guide me while was growing up else my life would have turned out better.”
The above statements are instances of overthinking, where one is constantly plagued with undesirable thoughts about incidents and outcomes that have occurred in the past or are predictions regarding the future.
Most of us think excessively at some point or the other, especially when it’s related to something important in our lives however, a chronic overthinker is unable to shut off the chatter in the brain. This person replays conversations, ruminates over past events, questions decisions, relationships, regrets judgements, visualises disastrous consequences, over and over again.
It may seem helpful that you’re imagining all the possibilities before taking a vital decision, however overthinking actually doesn’t provide any solutions. In fact, an overthinker gets so badly caught up in his net of problems that he’s unable to release himself from it, leading to skewed decision-making, low morale and self-doubt. Persistent overthinking further results in loss of sleep, trouble concentrating, emotional distress finally impacting mental wellbeing.
So, how to switch off overthinking and switch on your action button in 7 steps:
#1 Recognise when to stop
As soon as you catch yourself pondering about a certain issue, warning bells must ring in your head.
This recognition must make you pause immediately, take a step back and be aware of your response. The acceptance of your state of mind is the first step towards redirecting it.
#2 Schedule a time for reflection
Incorporate a time for reflection in your daily schedule. Mull as much as you want in that time or better, write down your worries and fears.
Once that time is over, distract your mind to another activity. If you find yourself wandering back to those thoughts, remind self to return to it during your “reflection time”.
#3 Change the channel
Idle mind is the devil’s workshop - It’s tough to prevent the chain of thoughts from re-entering when you’re free.
Change your mind’s channel by doing something you’re passionate about - an energising activity like exercising or a creative pursuit like painting, dancing, baking etc. that takes your mind off the negativity and channelises it towards positive feelings.
#4 Learn to be mindful
Overthinking pulls you into the past or pushes you into the future. Inculcating the skill of mindfulness will keep you grounded in the present.
Focusing on your breathing, closely listening for nearby sounds, becoming aware of surrounding smells, is a technique to linger in the now, helping in relaxing the body and mind.
If you integrate meditation and yoga as a part of your routine, over time, you’ll gain better control of your thoughts, empowering you to veer it towards constructive ideas.
#5 Focus on what you can control
Focus on your circle of control - your skills, attitude and efforts. You cannot influence how others think/act nor can you prevent an external factor like a natural calamity or an invasion from affecting your life.
If you understand this reality, you can figure out solutions and coping strategies to deal effectively with challenging circumstances. Ultimately, just know that you have put in your best and move on.
#6 Don’t wait for perfection
The desire to create something perfect or waiting for a perfect time to do it, makes us go around in a circle of deliberation. This proves to be counter-productive as we procrastinate and fail to even initiate the activity.
Fear of a new project, doubting our own ability and repeated negative self-talk immobilises us. Letting go of this myth for perfection, will free us from this vicious circle of analysis to enable action.
#7 Alter the plot
Challenge your ruminations by asking yourself - has excessive thinking always helped me make better decisions in the past?
If your answer to this is yes, then you are one of those people for whom overanalysing as a technique works but if your answer is no, then its high time to review the suggestions given above for effective decision-making and functioning.
When I was grappling with a physical ailment, how much ever I tried, I couldn’t get myself to think about anything other than my health. During this difficult patch in my life, what helped was to talk about it openly with family and friends. A support system is helpful to rid yourself of negative thoughts. They may offer a perspective that you never considered or simply divert your mind from the continuous babble.
Still, after multiple attempts, if you find yourself unduly deliberating, do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health expert, a psychologist.
Chronic overthinking leads to serious mental ailments or it may even be that an underlying mental issue is affecting your ability to think constructively. Either way, the earlier you seek help, the better it is for your own emotional and mental wellbeing and for those around you.