Thinking about doing something is not the same as doing it.
Everyone overthinks sometimes.
It’s hard to recognize the spiral of overthinking when you’re caught in the middle of it. In fact, your brain might try to convince you that worrying, and ruminating is somehow helpful.
After all, won’t you develop a better solution or prevent yourself from making the same mistake if you spend more time thinking? Not necessarily.
In fact, the opposite is often true. Analysis paralysis is a real problem. The more you think, the worse you feel. And your feelings of misery, anxiety, or anger may cloud your judgment and prevent you from taking positive action.
If you have ADHD, the overthinking can be more intense and more frequent. People often tell me, “I can’t relax. It’s like my brain won’t shut off,” or “I can’t stop thinking about how my life could have been better if I’d done things differently.”
Two Forms of Overthinking
Overthinking comes in two forms: ruminating about the past and worrying about the future.
It’s different than problem-solving. Problem-solving involves thinking about a solution. Overthinking involves dwelling on the problem.
Overthinking is also different than self-reflection. Healthy self-reflection is about learning something about yourself or gaining a new perspective about a situation. It’s purposeful.
Overthinking involves dwelling on how bad you feel and thinking about all the things you have no control over. It won’t help you develop new insight.
The difference between problem-solving, self-reflection, and overthinking isn’t about the amount of time you spend in deep thought. Time spent developing creative solutions or learning from your behavior is productive. But time spent overthinking, whether it’s 10 minutes or 10 hours, won’t enhance your life.
When you become more aware of your tendency to overthink things, you can take steps to change. But first, you have to recognize that overthinking does more harm than good.
Sometimes, people think that their overthinking somehow prevents bad things from happening. But, the research is pretty clear–overthinking is bad for you and it does nothing to prevent or solve problems.
Here are 10 signs that you’re an overthinker.
- I relive embarrassing moments in my head repeatedly.
- I have trouble sleeping because it feels like my brain won’t shut off.
- I ask myself a lot of “what if…” questions.
- I spend a lot of time thinking about the hidden meaning in things people say or events that happen.
- I rehash conversations I had with people in my mind and think about all the things I wished I had or hadn’t said.
- I constantly relive my mistakes.
- When someone says or acts in a way I don’t like, I keep replaying it in my mind.
- Sometimes I’m not aware of what’s going on around me because I’m dwelling on things that happened in the past or worrying about things that might happen in the future.
- I spend a lot of time worrying about things I have no control over.
- I can’t get my mind off my worries.
Here’s How to Stop the Spiral
If you know that you get caught up in overthinking, don’t despair. You can take steps to reclaim your time, energy, and brain power.
This is the tool I share with all my overthinkers in coaching. It works!
Mel Robbins created the best tool you can use to break your habit of overthinking and start taking action called the 5 Second Rule.
Here’s how you use it: the next time you catch yourself spinning in circles, procrastinating, obsessing over every detail, worrying about something that doesn’t matter, fixating on making it perfect, reflecting, ticking off excuses – interrupt that garbage and take control.
Count: 5-4-3-2-1 and MOVE.
Counting backwards requires your mind to focus. As soon as you start counting, your brain switches from autopilot mode (where your overthinking habit runs on a loop) to the prefrontal part of your brain that focuses on counting down from five. It gives you immediate control over what you think and do next.
It’s a little trick that works for millions of people and it’s backed by tremendous research.
Try it and let me know how it works. And, seriously, grab Mel Robbins book The 5 Second Rule.
If you liked this, grab your free guide: