When we’re faced with a crisis, or if we have an important decision to make, many of us fall into the trap of overthinking. You get stuck on a thought wheel that goes over and over again with no break and no insight whatsoever. It’s the kind of thinking that does nothing but perpetuate its own existence.
We get this guilt-induced feeling that if we keep thinking on something long enough (usually constantly), then we’ll eventually come up with the right answer. All we have to do is think long enough, and BOOM! Divine inspiration appears.
How can you stop yourself from overthinking?
Distract yourselfFind an activity, like knitting or working with your hands that requires so much attention that your brain is forced to be distracted from overthinking. Working with you hands is especially good, because it engages your motor skills as well as your thinking process. Your brain simply doesn’t have the resources to split itself into a third activity, that of overthinking.
Other activities are the ones that make you feel curious, proud, amused or challenged. When you’re feeling good and you’re forced to stretch just a “teensy bit” beyond what you’ve done in the past, you’re really get your brain working for you. Or try watching a suspenseful movie. Studies have shown that when someone views something suspenseful, the brain is forced to become stuck in the present because all of your senses are completely engaged. You literally don’t have time to worry about the future because your mind is focused on that’s stimulating you right now.
The STOP techniqueA therapist once told me that she gave her patients rubber bands to wear on their wrists. As soon as the thought wheel started, they would snap their wrists with the rubber bands to get them to stop. Immediately.
Other ways to use the STOP technique is to say the word “STOP” out loud, or if you’re out in public and don’t want to cause a scene, imagine a big red STOP sign right in front of you. Anything that immediately brings your attention to what you’re doing at the moment will stop the overthinking wheel from turning.
Pull the triggerIf you’re in a situation where you know you need to act, and want to act, but you’re trapped by fear, take the first step towards doing whatever it is. Even if it’s a baby step.
Constantly wishing, hoping and praying doesn’t give you any momentum, or any relief. It just keeps you stuck in that wheel. But taking the smallest step gets you out of that treadmill that’s going nowhere and whether or not the first step is a misstep really doesn’t matter. It will still set things in motion so that you’ll move yourself out of the feeling of suspended animation that rumination causes. You’ll start to feel like a snowball, gathering momentum as you go.
Avoid overthinking trapsIf you’re the type who over obsesses about money, pry yourself away from constantly checking your bank account every day. If one of your coworkers is so negative that she always drags you down, start taking lunch at a nearby restaurant to avoid hanging out with her so much.
The traps are things that cause your subconscious to react without you even realizing that there’s a connection between the two. You feel down around you coworker but you just can’t figure out why.
Sure, it’s good to do some self-examination and try to find the insight that will solve our problem, but at some point, we hit the point of diminishing returns. We’re wasting valuable time doing something that gives us nothing in return but more misery and anxiety.
(Photo credit: Portrait of Young Man With Books on His Head via Shutterstock)
Laura Finger is a freelance writer, who blogs about the process of being a creative entrepreneur. She can be reached on Twitter at @rihannsu, or her blog at Boatjumpers.com. When not writing, she's hard at work trying to escape back home to Texas.