I was talking to my Mum the other night and she mentioned that she has trouble sleeping because her mind doesn’t stop thinking. In a nutshell, she can’t stop overthinking.
Mum mentioned something about not being able to control that, which immediately got my attention.
The thing is we can control our thinking.
We can control our thoughts a lot more than we realize.
This is something I have been working on a LOT over the last couple of years. I’ll admit I’m not exactly where I want to be yet but I’ve come along in leaps and bounds from how I used to be, not all that long ago.
I used to be an overthinker.
I’d overthink conversations and situations. I’d wallow. I’d obsess about things. Then I’d obsess over them some more.
My mind would often wander into a field of crazy sh*t thinking (and not in a good creative way!)
Hey, I still occasionally overthink but I have improved a lot.
On a scale of 1 – 10, with 10 being the worst, I’m probably at a 2 – 3 nowadays. I used to be a big fat 10! Big improvement.
With that in mind, here are my tips on how to stop overthinking.
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Understand you can stop overthinking
You are in control of your thoughts.
You aren’t in control of those first physical reactions to harmful situations. If you see or sense a potential physical threat, your brain sends a warning signal. It’s why you might jump away from something before you even realize what that something is. That’s your amygdala sending out a warning.
It’s that whole fight-or-flight thing you have probably heard about already.
But after that, you can control how you feel about a situation.
It goes without saying that overthinking can be connected to our stress levels, which is why it’s so important to work on understanding and controlling the stress in your life.
While I was drafting this post, I bought the book The Stress-Proof Brain: Master Your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity by Melanie Greenberg.
It’s a fascinating blend of science, physiology, and practices for you to adopt that can help keep your stress under control. I know I’m going to learn a lot from it (and I’m looking forward to sharing that with you).
I just got to the section about how we can control our stress levels (which let’s face it, goes hand in hand with how we control our thoughts).
Maybe control isn’t the best word, it’s more about how we can focus our thoughts.
It’s important to point out that if you are suffering from a mental illness, the neurotransmitters and chemicals in your brain might not work the way they should, which can affect your thinking. Again, if you suspect you need help in this area, please seek the help of a trained medical professional.
Related content –
- 3 Ways to Dramatically Improve Your Positive Self-Talk
- When Do You Let Your Mind Wander?
- 11 Ways You Have More Power Than You Think
Be aware of what you are thinking
Awareness is key. You can’t stop something if you are not even aware you are doing it.
You need to stop letting your thoughts run around on autopilot.
You need to be running the show. So reign those suckers in!
You need to be aware of when you are thinking trash thoughts. By trash thoughts, I mean thoughts that are harming your mental health, not helpful to you, or thoughts that are distractions from what you need to actually be thinking about.
Notice those recurring thoughts
I read something recently about the average number of thoughts we have every day. As you can imagine, it’s a huge number. No surprise there really.
What was a surprise is how many of those thoughts are the same ones you had yesterday, as well as the day before.
It got me thinking about how much crap we think about on a neverending loop! They might be slightly different versions of a particular topic, but they are still the same stuff.
If these are negative or toxic thoughts, just imagine how harmful that is to your mental well-being!
Going back through my daily journal, I even noticed I was sometimes writing the same things down every day. Definitely, something for me to work on.
If you take notice, you can work out what some of these repeat offenders are and work at erasing them from your life.
Be aware of why you are thinking it
Often what we are thinking about isn’t even close to why we are thinking about it.
For instance, if I am mad at myself or frustrated with my lack of action, my mind will sometimes wander onto my friends and their lack of action or what they’ve been doing. It’s a copout/distraction for me not dealing with my own laziness or lack of action.
Or I might think I have one problem when actually the problem is something completely different.
Before I can work out a solution to my problem, I have to be honest with myself about what the problem really is.
Related post – Who Are You Really Mad At?
Be aware of when you are most likely to overthink
As I mentioned in an earlier post, when we overthink can play a part as well.
For my Mum (and many others) it’s when she climbs into bed at night. Yet the truth is that Mum probably overthinks at a lot of other times as well. She just notices it more at night because there are no other distractions.
For me, it used to be mornings. When I was getting ready for work is when I let my ,mind wander around thinking all sorts of toxic rubbish.
I would imagine arguments with people in my head. I would criticize people in my head. I could go on!
Now imagine how letting myself do all of this negative stuff in the morning affected the rest of my day. You guessed it. It sucked.
Now I have a strong and positive morning routine (which includes writing in my journal) and I do not allow myself to think toxic thoughts.
I do not allow myself.
I am in control of my thoughts.
This isn’t about being in denial. If my mind starts to wander onto toxic thoughts or thoughts that don’t assist in my personal growth, I get myself back on track. I focus back on my priorities. I focus back on my positive morning routine.
If your bad time of day is evenings, particularly when you climb into bed, you should be focusing on creating and implementing a positive, calming evening routine.
You could start a gratitude practice either written or verbal before you go to sleep.
Definitely avoid social media before bed and no mobiles in the bedroom.
A helpful practice is writing in my High Performance Planner. The High Performance Planner has an evening journal section that I fill in every night. It helps close out my day and gives me a sense of calm, accomplishment, and positive contemplation.
If you want to get the most out of your High Performance Planner, make sure you read the book High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard. It’s one of my all-time favorite books.
If you are looking to implement a positive evening routine, these posts can help.
I’ve always been an emotional person.
I’m emotional and sensitive. It’s a great thing by the way, not something I’m ashamed of!
However, as part of my personal growth journey, I have learned to be more logical.
I have taught (and trained) myself to think more logically.
If you are an emotional person, thinking things through logically can help calm you down.
Be in the moment
In an earlier post, The One Thing You Can Do Right Now to Feel Happier and Less Stressed, I talked about how time traveling makes us miserable.
We are either worrying about the future or living in the past.
Neither option serves us.
I recently had a talk with a family member that was very much focused on the past. While it was an open and honest conversation (always good), I remember feeling terrible afterward. I still felt awful the next day.
I realized I felt awful because I had spent a large amount of time and energy living in the past (and one that wasn’t pleasant). Considering I had already dealt with those demons emotionally it felt like a huge step backward.
As soon as I became aware of why I was feeling ‘off’, I got myself back in the moment and stayed there. Consequently, I felt much happier.
Whenever you feel yourself time-traveling get back in the moment.
In Brendon Burchard’s excellent book, The Charge, when Brendon is talking about being conscious of your thoughts he says –
Much of this book has been about consciously controlling your own thoughts, feelings, energy, experience, and meaning in life. This means being aware of such things and choosing to guide them rather than letting them unconsciously or automatically drive you. Let me give you an example by what I’m getting at, by suggesting a question you should ask yourself several times during each day: Where shall I focus my thoughts right now?
Note that this is not the same question as, What am I currently focusing on and thinking about?” – Brendon Burchard.
I totally love this because a simple question can help direct your mind and all of us have the ability to ask ourselves questions. The key is asking the right questions!
Write your thoughts down
Writing your thoughts down with a pen and paper is a great way of sorting through your thoughts or at the very least getting some of the trash thoughts out!
I have kept journals my whole life. Writing has been a huge part of my personal development and growth (hence the name of this blog!)
Grab yourself a journal and get busy writing.
Write a list
If you’re overthinking, particularly when it comes to all of the tasks you have to do the next day, then it’s time to get busy writing your to-do list.
Write your list, put due dates against each item, and start working on them. If it’s the middle of the night, go to sleep and work on your list the next day.
Of course, you have to take action on your to-do lists.
I always find a pretty, cute, or funny to-do list format works for me!
Snap yourself out of overthinking
Snap might not be quite the right word so let me explain.
Recently, I started to overthink and was also starting to feel downright crappy. Then I listened to some uplifting music, The Greatest Showman soundtrack, and it completely changed my mood. I danced around the house, and I sang in my kitchen loudly and totally off-key. I had a ball.
For the next couple of days, I hummed the same music to myself at work. When I was standing at the photocopier feeling bored or thinking negative things about work, I started humming or singing in my head.
I picked up immediately, I pulled myself out of my funk.
You have to stop overthinking and start making yourself happy.
Music can be a blessing (even if you have to play it in your head) but laughter and humor are also great.
A stupid overthinking thought popped into my head the other day and I picked up on it straight away. I laughed out loud at myself walking down the street. Don’t chastise yourself for silly thoughts, laugh at them instead.
I don’t even remember what that thought was now. What I do remember is laughing at myself and feeling much happier.
Stop the victim mentality
Part of your overthinking might include thinking about all the horrible stuff that has been done to you and the people that did the awful stuff.
Yikes, I’ve been there. Guilty as charged.
I used to do this a lot when it came to my love life. If I am being honest, I probably wasted years of my life thinking about stuff I shouldn’t have.
I refuse to waste time now. I stopped overthinking about this stuff.
Occasionally, I might have a dream about one of my exes which can trigger some thoughts and emotions but I have learned to not let those emotions derail me. I move on from them – quickly.
The truth is this road is never pretty and while you might imagine thinking nasty things about your ex, or a family member or a co-worker hurts them in some way, the only person it hurts is you.
If this sort of stuff creeps into your thoughts and you can’t shake it, think about it from a different angle.
Think about what you learned from the experience and how you can use that moving forward. Think about how not ending up with a certain person was a blessing in disguise. Think about how the lessons that helped you grow as a person.
Then let those past thoughts go and keep moving forward.
Related content –
How to Break Out of a Victim Mentality – Part 1
How to Break Out of a Victim Mentality – Part 2
How to Break Out of a Victim Mentality – Part 3
Commit to your growth
You’re an overthinker. Okay then, my next question is what are you going to do about it?
If you want to change or improve something in your life, you have to commit to your growth. You have to commit to making changes in your life.
Don’t just throw in the towel, tell yourself you’re an overthinker and you always will be.
Stop making it part of your identity and start learning how to grow.
Believing in change is the first step to making things change.
Do something about it. Try different techniques. Some things will work for you and others won’t. Find out what works for you.
Read books on the topic. Learn about how your brain works and learn practices and actions for improving the way you think, how to control anxiety, and deal better with stress.
Overthinking can become a habit. If you need help breaking the habit, I have a great course for you!
The course is How to Break the Habit of Self-Doubt and Build Real Confidence by the amazing Mel Robbins. It’s an online course held over at CreativeLive (which has an amazing range of personal development courses). I’ve taken this course myself and it helped me a great deal. You can read about my experience here and why I think this course can help you.
If you are struggling with anxiety, here are two books that can help.
- Calm the F**K Down: How to Control What You Can and Accept What You Can’t So You Can Stop Freaking Out and Get on With Your Life by Sarah Knight
- Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic and Worry by Catherine M. Pittman and Elizabeth M. Karle (I haven’t read this one yet but it’s on my reading list)
Focus on the important stuff
Right now you might be thinking – but I overthink the important stuff!
I get it. So let’s rephrase that heading – Focus on the important stuff that you can control.
I fully understand that sometimes the important stuff that you have little or no control over can be some pretty serious, hard to deal with situations. I’m definitely not downplaying that.
For the stuff, you can control, focus on finding solutions. Stop overthinking and take action.
You can stop overthinking. You are in control of your thoughts. You are definitely in control of your actions. Start experimenting and find out what techniques and strategies work for you. Make it as fun and playful as possible.
Stop overthinking and live a happier, calmer life.
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