What is holding people back from the life that they truly want to live?
I’d say that one very common and destructive thing is that they think too much.
They overthink every little problem until it becomes bigger and scarier than it actually is. They overthink positive things until they don’t look so positive anymore.
Or overanalyze and deconstruct things and so the happiness that comes from just enjoying something in the moment disappears.
Now, thinking things through can be a great thing of course. But being an overthinker can result in becoming someone who stands still in life. In becoming someone who self-sabotages the good things that happen in life.
I know. I used to overthink things a lot and it held me back in ways that weren’t fun at all.
But in the past 10 years or so I’ve learned how to make this issue so small that it very rarely pops up anymore. And if it does then I know what to do to overcome it.
In this article I’d like to share 12 habits that have helped me in a big, big way to become a simpler and smarter thinker and to live a happier and less fearful life.
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1. Put things into a wider perspective.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of overthinking minor things in life.
So when you are thinking and thinking about something ask yourself:
Will this matter in 5 years? Or even in 5 weeks?
I’ve found that widening the perspective by using this simple question can quickly snap me out of overthinking and help me to let go of that situation. And to focus my time and energy on something that actually does matter to me.
2. Set short time-limits for decisions.
If you do not have a time-limit for when you must make a decision and take action then you can just keep turning your thoughts around and around and view them from all angles in your mind for a very long time.
So learn to become better at making decisions and to spring into action by setting deadlines in your daily life. No matter if it’s a small or bigger decision.
Here’s what has worked for me:
For small decisions like if should go and do the dishes, respond to an email or work out I usually give myself 30 seconds or less to make a decision.
For somewhat larger decisions that would have taken me days or weeks to think through in the past I use a deadline for 30 minutes or for the end of the workday.
3. Stop setting your day up for stress and overthinking.
You can’t totally avoid overwhelming or very stressful days.
But you can minimize the number of them in your month and year by getting a good start to your day and by not setting yourself up for unnecessary stress, overthinking and suffering.
Three things that help me with that are:
Get a good start. I’ve mentioned this many times by now. And with good reason. Because how you start your day tends to often set the tone for your day. A stressed morning leads to stressed day. Consuming negative information as you ride the bus to your job tends to lead to more pessimistic thoughts during the rest of your day. While for example reading something uplifting over breakfast, getting some exercise and then getting started with your most important task right now sets a good tone for the day.
Single-task and take regular breaks. This will help you to keep a sharp focus during your day and to get what’s most important done while also allowing you to rest and recharge so you don’t start to run on fumes. And this somewhat relaxed mindset but with the narrow focus will help you to think clearly and decisively and avoid winding up in a stressed and overthinking headspace.
Minimize your daily input. Too much information, too many times of just taking a few minutes to check your inbox, Facebook or Twitter account leads to more input and clutter in your mind as your day progresses. And so it becomes harder to think in a simple and clear way and easier to lapse back into that familiar overthinking habit.
4. Become a person of action.
When you know how to get started with taking action consistently each day then you’ll procrastinate less by overthinking.
Setting deadlines and a good tone for the day are two things that have helped me to become much more of person of action.
Taking small steps forward and only focusing on getting one small step done at a time is another habit that have worked really well.
It works so well because you do not feel overwhelmed and so you do not want flee into procrastination. And even though you may be afraid, taking just a step is such a small thing that you do not get paralyzed in fear.
5. Realize that you cannot control everything.
Trying to think things through 50 times can be a way to try to control everything. To cover every eventuality so you don’t risk making a mistake, fail or looking like a fool.
But those things are a part of living a life where you truly stretch your comfort zone. Everyone who you may admire and have lived a life that inspires you has failed. They have made mistakes.
But in most cases they’ve also seen these things as valuable feedback to learn from. Those things that may look negative have taught them a lot and have been invaluable to help them to grow.
So stop trying to control everything. Trying to do so simply doesn’t work because no one can see all possible scenarios in advance.
This is of course easier said than done. So do it in small steps if you like.
6. Say stop in a situation where you know you cannot think straight.
Sometimes when I’m hungry or when I’m lying in bed and are about to go to sleep negative thoughts start buzzing around in my mind.
In the past they could do quite a bit of damage. Nowadays I’ve become good at catching them quickly and to say to myself:
No, no, we are not going to think about this now.
I know that when I’m hungry or sleepy then my mind sometimes tend to be vulnerable to not thinking clearly and to negativity.
So I follow up my “no, no…” phrase and I say to myself that I will think this situation or issue through when I know that my mind will work much better.
For example, after I’ve eaten something or in the morning after I have gotten my hours of sleep.
It took a bit of practice to get this to work but I’ve gotten pretty good at postponing thinking in this way. And I know from experience that when I revisit a situation with some level-headed thinking then in 80% of the cases the issue is very small to nonexistent.
And if there is a real issue then my mind is prepared to deal with it in much better and more constructive way.
7. Don’t get lost in vague fears.
Another trap I’ve fallen into many times that have spurred on overthinking is that I’ve gotten lost in vague fears about a situation in my life. And so my mind running wild has created disaster scenarios about what could happen if I do something.
So I’ve learned to ask myself: honestly, what is the worst that could happen?
And when I’ve figured out what the worst that could happen actually is then I can also spend a little time to think about what I can do if that often pretty unlikely thing happens.
I’ve found that the worst that could realistically happen is usually something that is not as scary as what my mind running wild with vague fear could produce.
Finding clarity in this way usually only takes a few minutes and bit of energy and it can save you a lot of time and suffering.
8. Work out.
This might sound a bit odd.
But working out can really help with letting go of inner tensions and worries.
It most often makes me feel more decisive and when I was more of an overthinker then it was often my go-to method of changing the headspace I was in to a more constructive one.
9. Get plenty of good quality sleep.
I think this is one of the most commonly neglected factors when it comes to keeping a positive mindset and not get lost in negative thought habits.
Because when you haven’t slept enough then you become more vulnerable.
Vulnerable to worrying and pessimism. To not thinking as clearly as you usually do. And to getting lost in thoughts going around and around in your mind as you overthink.
So let me share a couple of my favorite tips that help me to sleep better:
Keep it cool. It can feel nice at first to get into a warm bedroom. But I’ve found that I sleep better and more calmly with fewer scary or negative dreams if I keep the bedroom cool.
Keep the earplugs nearby. If you, like me, are easily awoken by noises then a pair simple earplugs can be a life-saver. These inexpensive items have helped me to get a good night’s sleep and sleep through snorers, noisy cats and other disturbances more times than I can remember.
Don’t try to force yourself to go to sleep. If you don’t feel sleepy then don’t get into bed and try to force yourself to go to sleep. That, at least in my experience, only leads to tossing and turning in my bed for an hour or more. A better solution in these situations is to wind down for an extra 20-30 minutes on the couch with, for example, some reading. This helps me to go to sleep faster and, in the end, get more sleep.
10. Spend more of your time in the present moment.
By being in the present moment in your everyday life rather than in the past or a possible future in your mind you can replace more and more of the time you usually spend on overthinking things with just being here right now instead.
Three ways that I often use to reconnect with the present moment are:
Slow down. Slow down how you do whatever you are doing right now. Move slower, talk slower or ride your bicycle more slowly for example. By doing so you become more aware of how you use your body and what is happening all around you right now.
Tell yourself: Now I am… I often tell myself this: Now I am X. And X could be brushing my teeth. Taking a walk in the woods. Or doing the dishes. This simple reminder helps my mind to stop wandering and brings my focus back to what is happening in this moment.
Disrupt and reconnect. If you feel you are getting lost in overthinking then disrupt that thought by – in your mind – shouting this to yourself : STOP! Then reconnect with the present moment by taking just 1-2 minutes to focus fully on what is going on around you. Take it all in with all your senses. Feel it, hear it, smell it, see it and sense it on your skin.
11. Spend more of your time with people who do not overthink things.
Your social environment plays a big part. And not just the people and groups close to you in real life. But also what you read, listen to and watch. The blogs, books, forums, movies, podcasts and music in your life.
So think about if there are any sources in your life – close by or further away – that encourages and tends create more overthinking in your mind. And think about what people or sources that has the opposite effect on you.
Find ways to spend more of your time and attention with the people and input that have a positive effect on your thinking and less on the influences that tends to strengthen your overthinking habit.
12. Be aware of the issue (and remind yourself throughout your day)
Being aware of your challenge is important to break the habit of overthinking.
But if you’re thinking that you’ll just remember to stop overthinking during your normal day then you’re likely just fooling yourself.
At least if you’re anything like me.
Because I needed help. It wasn’t hard to get it though. I just created a few reminders.
My main one was a note on the whiteboard I had on one of my walls at the time. It said “Keep things extremely simple”. Seeing this many times during my day helped me to snap out of overthinking faster and to over time greatly minimize this negative habit.
Two other kinds of reminders that you can use are:
A small written note. Simply use a post-it note or something similar and write down my whiteboard phrase, a question like “Am I overcomplicating this?” or some other reminder that appeals to you. Put that note where you cannot avoid seeing it like for example on your bedside table, your bathroom mirror or beside your computer screen.
A reminder on your smart phone. Write down one of the phrases above or one of you own choosing in a reminder app on your smart phone. I for example use my Android phone and the free app called Google Keep to do this.