Thinking things through before taking any action is a good habit. However, the big question is… when do you stop thinking and start acting? People who overthink are constantly looking at all the possible negative outcomes, and to avoid these outcomes, they keep trying to find answers or options. But the reality of the situation is that there are always going to be unknowns, variables, uncertainties, and risks in every situation.
Focusing on things that are not in your control can make you anxious and give rise to negative emotions. It also prevents you from being mindful of your surroundings. When researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara showed images of kaleidoscope colors to participants and then tested their ability to remember, they found that participants who guessed fared better than participants who spent time trying to remember colors and patterns.
Thinking more about something does not mean you’re going to find all the answers you’re looking for. So here’s how you can train your mind to not overthink.
1. Become Comfortable With Uncertainty
In any given situation, there are certain things you know and some that you can’t predict. When you overthink, your brain is concentrating on the uncertainties and trying to figure them out. An overthinker’s brain is always looking for answers but the truth is that some questions cannot be answered. Dwelling on uncertainties only leads to more stress and confusion.
Overthinkers keep thinking about questions like, “I wonder if my manager thinks I’m hard-working” or “Why did she say that to me”. Such questions can easily be answered by asking the person, and in cases where you cannot, just tell yourself that it’s all right to not know all the answers.
2. See The Big Picture
The research experiment mentioned above goes to show that a broader view is more helpful in recalling complex images. You can apply the same technique by training your brain to take in all the details at once without focusing too much on individual patterns. The process is similar to looking at an image as a whole rather than focusing on the elements that are in it.
One way to learn underthinking is to take a picture book and open a random page, look at the image for 5 seconds, and then close the book. Once you have closed the book, try and remember everything that you saw. Doing this exercise prevents your brain from overthinking. You will be surprised at how many things you remember from the image. Practicing this regularly will allow your brain to think more quickly.
3. Be Aware Of Negative Thoughts
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re aware of your thinking patterns and know that overthinking is not really taking you anywhere. Meta-thinking means thinking about thinking and if you’re someone who experiences distress about overthinking, you’re most likely also having negative thoughts about yourself because you overthink.
Research has shown that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can help people to feel more self-compassion and decrease negative emotions about their overthinking. People who went through MBCT therapy experienced less stress associated with their thoughts. You too can practice mindfulness to become more aware of the present rather than dwell on something in the past or future.
4. Start With Something You Can Control
If you’re overthinking a particular situation, the best thing you can do is find something that’s actually under your control and start working on it. For example, if you’re worried about planning a wedding, instead of thinking about all the things that could go wrong, write down all the things that you can do to make the event a success. When you write things down, you become more confident because your brain does not have to dwell on it constantly.
You can always go back to your list to check on things rather than rely on memory. Similarly, look at everything that’s worrying you and list down the things that you have the power to action upon. Then add these action items to your to-do list and strike them off as you’re done. This way, you start focusing on doing things you can instead of thinking about things you cannot.