As I sit here and think about what to write about this month, I find a quote: “Stop overthinking. Whatever happens, happens.” What a delightful platitude. However, I find it falls flat. Dull. Overused. Under-motivating. So, I will lean in to Pablo Picasso’s quote, “Action is the foundational key to all success.” In that spirit, before I ruminate, brood, stew, obsess, wallow, or deliberate any further, let’s put those quotes into action and dig in to overthinking.
Overthinking is classically defined as, “thinking about something too much or for too long.” However, I prefer to think of it as, “when your brain just won’t turn off and ruminates and turns over a problem or concern many, many times just like a load of tumbling clothes in a cold dryer, with no solution or action resulting”. Does that analogy help? It’s the lack of a solution or planned next step that is the worst part.
And when does reflection, or pondering, or mulling something over become overthinking? I’d say it’s right around the point where we become uneasy. Even irritated or edgy. The stress response kicks in. Neck and face start to warm. Heart rate starts to increase. And then the low to mid-grade anxiety program starts to run.
You know you might be an overthinker (like I’ve been) if you:
• Have a hard time turning thoughts (especially negative thoughts) off
• Depend on distractions like music or TV (binge watching!) or even food to get your mind to turn off or focus on something else; have a hard time being calm and quiet-minded when alone
• Have difficulty getting to sleep because your brain won’t stop thinking of what needs to get done
• Frequently remind yourself of mistakes you’ve made, or re-living embarrassing moments over and over
• Dwell on something that was said to you, sometimes subconsciously framing it as the worst-case scenario — taking it personally and getting defensive and perhaps even angry
• Worry about things you have zero or little control over
Any of those sound familiar? One study from the University of Michigan found that 73 per cent of adults between the ages of 25 and 35 overthink, as do 52 per cent of 45- to 55-year-olds. And what’s more, research has found that many overthinkers believe they’re actually doing themselves a favor by cycling through their thoughts over and over. Yet another study found that “rumination,” a form of overthinking, can lead to anxiety, binge drinking or eating, depression and self-harm.
Again, with overthinking, the lack of a solution or next step or plan is the worst part. However, we can make a subtle shift that pays off big time! If we can identify when we are overthinking things, by being more aware of our thoughts (pro tip: that takes daily practice — and it’s easy to start right now!), then we can begin to slow the overthinking down, and focus on an actual plan of action! This plan of action or solution is so important because when we have a plan we believe in, our worries settle right down. We feel like we have taken control of the problem back, within our own power. Take ownership and take charge of the situation. Be your own leader! It is so powerful.
The next time you find yourself overthinking, just take a quick pause to notice your surroundings. Note the sounds, the colours, the smell and what’s going on around you. And take three deep breaths from down low in your lungs. Think about the problem that you are ruminating on from a fresh perspective. Ask yourself other questions like, “Why is this bothering me?”, “Where is this coming from?”, “What do I need to do to solve this?” Then put a quick action plan together of a few things you are going to do to solve it. Identify the first step that will get the ball rolling. And do that first thing right away.
Notice how you feel when you take action against the thing you are overthinking. And keep that feeling with you. Keep that win. Keep that peace within you more each day, each week, and each month. That’s ground taken. Keep it. And remember this…
“You’ll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind.” —Irish Proverb