During my youth, I was a victim of overthinking. It was something that I did unknowingly, unintentionally, and now that I think of it, it was definitely unproductive as well. I would spend an uncountable number of moments overthinking of a particular situation.
It’s a common story for people like you and me, perhaps, when we frequently catch ourselves playing with thoughts like a cat playing with a ball of wool. Then we feel embarrassed about the time spent in that pursuit and get back to things at hand. I have a friend who heads the Operations of a major company. He loves to think. So much so that we have some quirky nicknames for him that poke fun at his habit of overthinking. His pet retort, when we use these nicknames, is that ‘don’t you all do it (overthinking, that is) and we have to admit that we do.
As humans, we all always think. Studies estimate that a human brain has, on an average, 6200 thoughts per day. That is around 387 thoughts per hours for 16 waking hours. Huge figures. But when we think too much for too long, it becomes overthinking, ie. Thinking about something beyond what is reasonably normal about that aspect. It simply leaves us more baffled, nervous (it brings out hitherto unfathomed apprehensions), and tired. Exactly like a ball of wool whose beginning nor end is in sight. We go round and round in a vortex and end up exhausted.
What happens when we overthink?
- We feel confused because the fact of the matter gets distorted and goes out of focus
- We feel spent, after having thought so hard
- It reduces creativity which generally requires spontaneity
- It diminishes our ability to arrive at logical decisions because now they are marred by more confusion
Is overthinking good or bad?
It is debatable but use it for your advantage by controlling it. I’ve noticed that people generally think in 4 ways:
- Those who do things without thinking
- Those who think and act
- Those who think more and act less
- Those who keep thinking and hesitate to act
In fact, if you keep harping on the fact that you overthink you will end up thinking more of it. Most of the time, we overthink because our brains are wired to ponder upon past experiences. If we have been through or have known someone else facing a bitter experience, our brain tends to bring back those memories as red flags, even when not justified. The brain has a habit of constantly chattering on the background. This vocabulary that we use impacts our behavior and decision-making to a large extent. When we focus on exaggerating things, we end up being fearful of consequences. Training the mind to use positive, affirmative words and phrases during the mental chatter helps in controlling wayward thoughts. It is easier said than done when someone tells you not to overthink. So it’s bears good when you can use overthinking to your advantage instead
7 practical and effective ways to put Overthinking to good use
Thinking beyond the obvious is never bad and does no harm. Rather, I would say it’s better than taking random and spontaneous decisions. However, when you can’t help but keep on thinking on a specific matter that hampers your other tasks and mars your decision-making abilities, it’s time to discipline your thoughts. Here are some of the ways that I regularly use whenever I tend to overthink:
- Strive to keep emotions out of the thinking process. If you are driven by emotions and are overwhelmed, it is best to switch into something else. Take a walk, watch a movie, listen to some music, read a book. Pick what works for you.
- Monitor your mental chatter. Understand what are the triggers of you ending up thinking about something too much for too long. Have you got any apprehensions? Then get them cleared. Seek clarity about that which bothers you.
- Set time limits for thinking. Track how much time you spend on thinking about a particular issue. Set a limit for it, upon reaching which you will consciously uncouple from it for good. Set a reminder if you want. That way, you will get into a habit of monitoring your thoughts and the time you spend on them. I would even suggest you have a pen and paper before you where you can chalk out things that you’ve been thinking about. That way you know your mind does not run in random directions.
- Identify patterns of your thoughts. Are they stemming out of fears and anxieties? Does your mind spot opportunities or pitfalls? Are you randomly connecting the dots when they are unfounded? What is your mind trying to do and tell you? Where is it leading you (or rather misleading you). Are you being plain lazy and timid or just going off track with available facts? What is the tone of this chatter? Does it pull you back into the scarcity mindset or the possibilities mindset? Shouldn’t you focus on the positives instead? Be a police for your mind’s wanderings.
- Spot the consequences. Whenever you have thought too much about something, has it helped you take a wise and informed decision that has turned out exceptionally good or have you lost opportunities and unnecessarily spent time in overthinking? Why fall into the abyss all over again when it hasn’t helped you at all.
- Use your overthinking to your advantage by setting limits. Set time limits, set limits for the expanse of thinking. Catch your thoughts if they go wayward and bring them back to focus. Make notes and stop your mind from indulging in a harmful pursuit. Overthinking has its pros too- like you may be able to predict some pitfalls, or spot anomalies or even come up with a brilliant solution that a linear thought would not have perhaps made it possible.
- If all these does not work, identify whether the topic you are thinking about falls under your direct control ie. Can you do something about it? Or is it beyond your control and there is nothing that you can do about it? If it is latter, you know by now that there is no point overthinking.
Thinking is a cumbersome task when we delve too deep into it. I have found writing down thoughts far more effective because it provides a visual framework and does not allow the mind to wander. People who overthink rarely accomplish more in life because a lot of unwarranted time and effort goes in thinking rather than doing something. Yes, sometimes things may not turn out as we had expected, they could go wrong even, but then being aware of the risks involved, trying to mitigate them as much as possible and plugging holes, learning from past mistakes, and avoiding repetition, solves most of the problems. It is one thing to have a comprehensive idea before venturing into anything, and another to keep thinking as if there’s nothing else to do in life.
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