Happy SMART Day Everyone!
I like choices. Nearly every one of my decisions is carefully researched to maximize the greatest number of benefits. When I buy something, I like to know I purchased the best product at the best price. When I travel somewhere, I am fairly certain I’ll enjoy the most outstanding experience available. When working I am reasonably convinced that I have covered as many bases as possible and creatively contributed to my field. And while most of the time I enjoy the process—I have to admit there are times when I take the whole thing to extreme. (I’m sure Thom, my husband, would agree!) That’s when I know I am caught in the loop of over-thinking and that’s when it’s time to seek recovery.
Here are five clues that your over-thinking has become addictive:
#1 You worry too much. Even if we say we are just considering all the options, if you can’t stop thinking about a certain situation and the experience carries a heavy and depressing feel to it—then our over-thinking is just disguised worry. In fact, worry disguised as over-thinking is often called rumination.
#2 Interrupted sleep. If we routinely wake up in the middle of the night and can’t stop considering all our options, decisions and circumstances, then once again our mind is stuck on overdrive.
#3 We suffer from analysis paralysis. Whenever we are stuck and unable to move forward it is likely from fear generated by over-thinking. Just about every form of writer or creative block falls in this category. Plus, this form of paralysis commonly hides a fear of not being good enough or potential loss.
#4 Over-thinking shares some similarities with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). According to Dr. Norman Doidge, “Many people with OCD have obsessive doubts and are always second-guessing themselves. “ Second-guessing, doubts, fears, and worry all go hand-in hand with over-thinking.
#5 Over-thinking as a control strategy. Perfectionists, or anyone else who dislikes making mistakes, often rationalize the use of over-thinking as a way to avoid errors. While a person might hope to avoid being wrong or making a mistake, over-thinking in order to control people or outcomes is virtually impossible.
Of course, just about everyone I know suffers from one or more of these qualities now and then. In fact, according research by Susan Noen-Hoeksema, PhD., women are particularly likely to be over-thinkers and are prone to turn to overeating or alcohol to numb the condition. Depression is a common result for many women trapped in a loop of over-thinking.
The computer age also makes the situation even worse. Now we can shop for items all over the world 24/7, compare notes with people we will never meet, get in-put from friends and foes without recourse, and our options are nearly unlimited in thousands of categories. Dr. Barry Schwartz has even written a book about it named, The Paradox of Choice. In his book, Schwartz explains that we all need to feel we have choices in a situation, but those choices can increase and become so numerous that we become overloaded with choices. Once overload occurs, we actually become less happy, more frustrated and can even become debilitated. Just like with no choice, too many choices carry negative consequences.
So what can we do? What is the cure for over-thinking? Here are several steps that experts recommend:
#1 Take Action. If you have been obsessing over one choice or decision for days and feel stuck, then maybe it’s time to force yourself into action. Even if you aren’t quite ready to decide, at least get active by exercising, cleaning the house, taking a walk or pursuing a hobby. If you are a writer and feel stuck—then sit yourself down and begin writing just about anything to get going. Once we move past a point of inertia, we frequently can take it in any direction we choose.
#2 Distract Yourself. When our minds are locked into the rut of over-thinking, we can often break its hold by distracting ourselves. Going to a movie, singing along with music, or doing any project you love will likely wake you from the spell.
#3 Bring yourself back to your purpose. One of the best things about having a clear purpose in life is that you can use it to bring yourself back to yourself whenever necessary. Like Martha Beck says in her book “Following Your Own North Star,” “Once you’ve figured out what brings you genuine joy, it goes without saying that you should immediately begin filling your life with as much of it as possible.”
#4 Give yourself a time limit. Whenever I feel stuck about making a decision, I have found that it helps me to give myself a time limit. Even when I am enjoying the challenge of researching something, I can over-think and over analyze something until it no longer feels fun. But, if I tell myself I will only allow myself one more hour, one more day or whatever, and then force myself to make a decision at that point, I am usually content with the process.
#5 Rate your decisions. Many of our decisions aren’t that important in the long run. Although you might want to consider a couple of options before deciding where to dine with friends this weekend, that is a much less important decision than where to move for the rest of your life! Unfortunately, many outside influences work hard to make us believe that EVERY decision we make—from toothpaste to your Internet provider to your underwear—is critical. Learn to rate your decisions on a 1 to 10 scale and never loose sleep over anything under a seven.
#6 Rate the research. Just like with rating our decisions on a scale of importance it is equally valuable to rate the source of research before making decisions. In our current technology driven world it is as easy to get the opinion of a sketchy person on a chat board half way around the world, as it is to query a professor at one of the top colleges in the country. Giving equal weight to poor quality input is madness. Be discriminate with where and what input we do accept and use when making decisions.
#7 Remember that sometimes “not-thinking” is the best response. Dr. Sian Beilock, author of, Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, explains in her book that studies with professional golfers show that the minute they begin “thinking” about the putt they are to perform they often start making mistakes. If the prefrontal cortex (thinking part) of the brain takes over from the automated response of the sensory and motor cortex part of the brain, movements become jerky. In other words, once you become proficient at something (golf, public speaking, etc) don’t over-think the details or you throw your brain into a mode that requires constant attention and distraction. Not thinking can also be thought of as going with the flow—or as golfer Sam Snead said, “Practice puts brains in your muscles.”
#8 Meditate. It is interesting to note that the practice of meditation came up again as a step toward healing over-thinking. After all, meditation is the act of “not-thinking” or at least “focused thinking.” While there are dozens of ways to practice meditation, the experience is all about quieting and disciplining the mind. If we don’t meditate on a regular basis, our monkey-mind is constantly chattering, creating chaos, or doing whatever it likes whenever it wants to—and we end up wondering why we are stuck in destructive loops. Meditation is a powerful way to take control of a wild and uncontrolled mind.
A big part of living SMART 365 is being aware of our actions and our habits. Habits include how we think—even if that means thinking too much. Admitting what is working and what can use a tweak here and there can make all the difference in a life well lived. Knowing when to think, when to quiet the mind, and when to give it up all together are all steps to a happier and more peaceful life.
“When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.” ~Sigmund Freud
“You can spend minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months over-analyzing a situation; trying to put the pieces together, justifying what could’ve, would’ve happened… or you can just leave the pieces on the floor and move the fuck on.” ~Tupac Shakur
I like this article. The solutions don’t sound patronizing or oversimplistic. I may have to try taping this up somewhere I can see it and give a few of these a go.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Justin! Thank you for your comment and for stopping by SMART Living. Please let me know if of my ideas work out for you. ~Kathy
Wonderful article with some good advice. I personally prefer the “Meditation” method and try to abstain from thinking anything else at that point of time. However, it requires regular practice to get the full benefit of this method. Thanks for the post and the other ideas.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Ganeshkumar! I so agree that meditation is perhaps the very best way to still my mind and not over-think. And even though I have been doing it daily for years now, I actually think that it can help fairly quickly (at least it did with my very overactive brain!) Just taking the time to show myself that I can sit down and focus on something, my breath, the silence, meditation music, whatever–has trained my brain to know that I WILL NOT GIVE UP and that in itself is helpful. Plus, it helped me start sleeping better and more deeply right from the beginning.
Thanks as always for your comment. ~Kathy
Bob Miglani says
Terrific article filled with wonderful and useful advice. I especially find points 7 and 8 useful.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Bob! Thanks for stopping by SMART Living and your comment. You too have a great page filled with very helpful and useful information. Stay in touch because I think we both write about much of the same stuff and I’m sure I can learn a lot from you. ~Kathy
Gary Lange PhD says
I will forward to a couple of clients.