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9 Ways To Stop Overthinking Everything

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Click for photo If you’re someone who spends a lot of time “in your own head” mulling over things ad nauseam, you may think you’re alone.  You’re not… Not by a long shot!

Overthinking is a natural part of life for many of us, even when we’re not aware we’re doing it.  Research has shown that overthinking is prevalent in young and middle aged adults, with 73% of 25-35 year-olds identified as overthinkers.  More women (57%) find themselves overthinking than men (43%), which is a significant difference.  This means the majority of women are overthinkers, and the majority of overthinkers are women

I’m not a woman, but I am an overthinker.  So I guess I’m in the minority… a vocal minority ;)  If you find yourself spending an unreasonable amount of time thinking through something, twisting it around in your head until you’ve seen it from every angle and possibility, chances are you too are an overthinker.

There are very few benefits to being an overthinker.  Being logical (and therefore unemotional) about taking action has a lot of merit and can have positive results, but there’s a difference between thinking about something just enough – and thinking about something to the point of analysis paralysis.  The short of it is, you don’t want to be an overthinker!

Overthinking can occur as a consequence of a decision that needs to be made, big or small, and is typically exacerbated in stressful situations.  It’s not limited to decision making however, as it can also rear it’s ugly head whenever something has the ability to cause any level of anxiety or worry.  It’s the proverbial thing that “keeps you up at night” and stems from an actual or perceived lack of control over some aspect of life.  With a lack of control comes a feeling of helplessness. Overthinking is frequently the direct result.  The worst overthinkers actually spend time overthinking seemingly meaningless things to the point that they’ve spent more time thinking about the thing than the time it would have taken to address it completely.  What a waste of time and energy!

There have been a number of studies over the past 20 years that challenge the view that overthinking equates to better decisions and therefore improved happiness and success.  Specifically these studies have found that overthinkers are more prone to sustained sadness and negative thinking.  And though it may seem that thinking through problems to the extreme would result in better decisions, overthinking has actually been shown to impair problem solving and rational thought, and interfere with initiative and motivation.

What’s worse is that people aren’t clued in to the dangers of overthinking.  Most people feel they’re making progress while cogitating endlessly, but in fact they’re permeating negative thoughts and fostering a pessimistic view of the situation.  As we know, “we are what we think”, and for those stuck in the cycle of overthinking, they’re reinforcing this adverse thought process and letting it trickle into other areas of thought.

If you got this far, chances are you’ve identified yourself as an overthinker. Which means right now you’re probably wondering what the heck you can do about it?  If you were to stop reading right now, you’d probably go off thinking that you have a problem – and then spend the rest of the week wondering how this affects your thinking, what you could do to “fix it”.  And again, you’d be overthinking it! 

Overthinking isn’t something you’re born doing, it’s a learned habit you form over time, probably as a defense mechanism to the possibility of failure.  So before going any further, let’s see what we can do about it.

If you find yourself overthinking, you need to change the channel in your mind immediately.  Simple, right?  It mostly is.  The caveat here is that while the solution is simple, putting it into action takes ongoing practice.  But just like most things, the more you do this, the better you’ll get at it next time and the time after that.  Here are some ways you can change your current thought process:

  1. Avoid situations and people that can lead to overthinking.  You can do this based on history – you can probably determine which situations are going to keep you up at night unnecessarily.  Or do this based on how something makes you feel prior to participating.  This takes some self-awareness, but it isn’t unlike what an alcoholic has to do in order to stay sober.  They avoid the people, places, and things that put them into that mental state.
  2. Talk to yourself.  Rather, don’t talk to yourself in the way you’ve been talking to yourself; “level up” your self-talk.  When you have something on your mind and you can’t shake it, stay aware of your thought process… You may find it surprising how often the topic pops up.  You may also be surprised to find that overthinking is more likely to occur with negative thoughts, which means you’re fixating on the wrong things to help you overcome the situation.  Every time you find yourself overthinking something, especially when it’s negative, think instead, “This isn’t helping.  What would help is…” and replace it with a positive affirmation.  Do this each and every time.
  3. Commit to a project that maps to your goals.  Find a happy person and chances are you’ll find at least one active project that aligns with their core values.  If you’re able to focus your energy on something that matters to you instead of on the repetitive monotony of unhelpfulness, you may find yourself thinking less and less about the thing you want to avoid.
  4. Distract yourself.  Get out, do something, and get your mind off of the thing you can’t stop thinking about.  It’s possible to do this… you just have to be willing to give it a shot, which is probably the trickiest part (convincing yourself to do it).  The best way I’ve found to distract myself is to exercise – for whatever reason it’s hard for me to overthink when I’m sweating – but spending time with your family, going on a drive, or just sitting still and breathing work as well.  The best distractions are ones in which you can find the flow state.  Find your favorite distraction and do it!
  5. Enforce a time limit to your thinking and document your thoughts.  If you’re going to overthink, just commit to it for a short amount of time.  Give yourself permission to overthink, but only for 15 minutes.  Set a timer, grab a pen and paper, and for the entire 15 minutes, write down everything that comes to your mind.  Don’t stop to correct yourself (pretend there’s no eraser or backspace key), it doesn’t matter what you’re writing.  You’re just letting yourself get it all out.  When the 15 minutes are up, crumple up the paper and throw it out (or safely burn it) and move onto something else.  Something fun.
  6. Turn overthinking into a next action in a project plan.  One big reason for overthinking is not knowing what comes next in order to make forward progress.  When you consider that overthinking is usually endless unstructured thinking on something, the key is to turn that energy into structured thinking.  Determining what the next possible action is you could take in order to push the boulder another inch up the mountain could free you from thinking about everything else at once.  Crystallize your thoughts into a list of next actions and take the first step.  Add the next to your calendar or to-do list, and know that you’re making progress.
  7. Realize that being perfect isn’t possible.  Striving for perfection is a recipe for disaster, and the sooner you give up those perfectionist tendencies, the sooner you’ll move past the thing that’s occupying all your thoughts.  Perfectionism is highly overrated, and this post lists the 11 reasons why!
  8. Work through the 5 keys to overcome fear.  The most important one for overthinkers is to stop projecting the worst of what could happen.  Ask yourself what’s the absolute worst that could possibly happen – and then be OK with that outcome, coming up with appropriate responses if necessary.  This is an amazingly freeing step as almost immediately, a light bulb in your head goes off.  If the worst case scenario isn’t actually that bad, and if you know how you’d deal with it if it came to that, anxiety about that thing may disappear completely.
  9. Think about the big picture.  This is the one that has worked the best for me over the past few years.  It takes a little experience (i.e. the know-how to realize that it will indeed pass) but if you ask yourself, “Will this matter in a month/6 months/1 year?” and the answer is “No” or “Not really”, then what’s the point in thinking it to death?  If you do, in fact, determine that it will matter in a year, you can use this opportunity to leverage post-traumatic growth.  How has this experience changed you?  What have you learned from it, or how will you approach it differently next time?

Overthinking is a real detriment to focus and must be stamped out.  Forming positive habits and reinforcing them over time will make a big difference in your propensity to overthink, and these steps are some ways in which you can start to do that.  Let me know how it works!

(One way I’ve stopped overthinking and trying to perfect this post is to close my laptop without rereading it and get outside – it’s Sunday afternoon.  I’ll read it once more in the morning and then post it.)

Written by Mike Torres

August 24th, 2009 at 6:45 am

  • Haley

    Working through the fear helped me almost immediately. I felt like the anxiety just fell away, although it will take a lot of reminding to overcome this! I am very glad I read this article!

  • Courtney

    Thank you so much. I can’t even describe how many times I have thought I was the only one who thought like this. I’m so glad you wrote this, thank you.

  • bob

    Anyone know the causes

  • in need of help

    i overthink all the time. mostly about my future and of course relationships… but my problem isnt the overtrhinking or thinking about the worst case scenario… its to have some thing happen or about to happen and then first see the best possible outcome of what just happened and be happy and then when (as it usually does) the worst case scenario happens i get so depressed and sad… another thing is to do something and if what i do dont get replyed or if i message someone and they dont answer for å long time or i know theyve seen it and dont answer i get insanely depressed instantly thinking about worst case scenarios…. but the thing that i think is the worst to experience is expecting something good to happen or overthink the best case scenario, and then the worst case scenario happens… cause then i go from an extremely good mood to extremely depressed…. i usually shut down all emotions and or feelings but lately i got someone to talk to that might become a relationship but then again that might just be overthinking….

  • BalloWorld

    i need a new brain

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  • Harrison

    I found out about overthinking from dating somebody who overthought. I had no idea the power of this affliction and how it would affect and doom us. What an awful condition to have. My sympathy to those who have it and those who are affected by it.

  • Reginald McGuire

    wow ,I been a over thinker for 63 year’s it’s been crippling to my emotion growth .reading this has giving me insight thank you!!!

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  • TimR

    Well.. I came looking for a post like this, I’m happy to have read it as overthinking is like a curse. Thank you for the tips, they’ll all come in helpful for the future!

  • Janey Preston

    Totally brilliant – focused me into the positive today – just what I needed to step outside myself for a while – thank you

  • Shahram Shokoohi

    I have constant over thinking and end up doubting with what I want to do.

  • Cruz

    Lately for the past 4 months I’ve been developing this overthinking process and its just been getting worse. The more I think its getting better, the worst it gets. I honestly don’t know how to explain it. I’ve thought maybe it was social anxiety disorder or something but idk if it’s chronic or not. It’s getting to the point where i can’t have conversations with my family, co workers and friends. It has altered my plans for the future and all I think about is the time and place im currently in every second of the day. I’ve stopped smoking bc I thought that’s been making that worse. But even now that I’m sober it’s getting worse. I’ve been exercising and going on walks to try and take my mind of things but unfortunately I go right back to it at the end of the day. Knowing I’m not only going through comforts me and gives me some hope. I would have never thought I’d be in this situation but here I am typing this post. A junior in high school and I feel I shouldn’t be thinking like this. But I pray I get better every night and this goes out to anyone who’s going through my situation. I wish yall good luck and pray for you all.

  • Pallavi Singla

    sir…I am overthinker…. and the person due to which I over think…should I make distance from him/her?

  • Jay

    I over think in lots of different ways but lately I’ve been finding I over think about horrible things. I sometimes see horrible things unintentionally like animal abuse being shared on FB or Twitter, like today, a video of a woman getting her head stamped on and kicked by some guy. This was on FB too and was being shared to help find the man but I find that I cant stop thinking about it and being really upset. It bothers me and affects me and I find it hard to deal with and get over. I dont know how to let go and move on from such things because what Ive just seen has really upset me. Is this over thinking or something entirely different?

  • noname

    i’m a overthinker too and still struggling to get out of it, after long research and trying, i’ve a theory of this problem.
    First, over think problem comes from diff in expectation and reality. the more the expectation get more wider from reality, more the mind think about it, but in other hand, it will get better, somehow feel relaxing.
    Second, the source of problem is fear and misunderstanding. Fear leads to stuck because we can do anything in reality so we do it in our mind. But when we let it out, people get angry or disliking at us, a negative respone. That make us getting back, and go more deep in our mind and make wrong perception about society.
    So tried this theory and find the two way out. first, make my expectations go to zero, like hang out or playing games but it just help me for that moment and somehow making me confuse. I tried the second option that make all my expectation be real. The result is great but because some of my expectations are forbid by law 🙁 , so bad, i tried to use the first way. it makes my head and stomach feel sick at first time. After a month tried this theory, i got realize that i was wrong this time and saw myself like a freak, lol.
    Like the mirror on harry potter that show us what we really want, Dumbledore said the most happy people is when he or she sees himself or herself just like what it looks like. So my opinion is making all in your mind real or forget about it and no other option is avaible.
    May my thought can be helping, sorry for my bad english

  • Nausea

    Just avoid all my friends? Yeah, no.

    And, of course, the classic, nebulous personal project. Neat.

  • Caspia Mavrick

    omg i wrote like 4 pages in 15 mins and i have to say i will sleep well tonight 🙂 thanks

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  • Patrascanu Florin-Claudiu

    Hmmm this kind of helped me I was thinking about someone or better said some people that annoied me in highschool and the urge to revenge myself was huge so I was overthinking how to hurt or murder that person … I don’t know how to get that out of my mind and move on with my life that’s what I’ve been overthinking

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  • Danae Gboway

    I’m and overthinker so how can I get my brain back

  • Danae Gboway

    So how can I get my brain back to live again

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  • B-Boop

    Is it considered overthinking if you look at something from every angle, all the little details and aspects of lets say a behavior or action. My husband said I read to much into every little detail of things. But to be thinking about every possible outcome or action that can be taken seems like a positive thing. I try not to think about the negative things but the positive ones while my husband throws out one negative thing I am trowing a dozen positive things that could happen.

  • lina

    I read all the comments and you all seem to be terrifed by your own thoughts. Overthinking is a bad thing? HELL NO ! You, my friends, are the most intelligent, sensitive, and creative people out there.
    Thinking a lot is amazing. That’s what makes us all humans. That’s what makes us different from animals. Unfortunately, that’s also what creates our irrational fears and other types of suffering.
    Now next time you’re thinking a lot. Just observe your thoughts. And instead of seeing them as a bad thing, try to see them as a wonderful gift.
    Actually most of our problems come from the fact that we perceive our thoughts as a threat. Then our own mind becomes our enemy, and it’s very unfortunate.
    Thoughts are like naughty little children in a classroom, always whispering and gossiping. Why are you taking them seriously? Just look at them with compassion, and even amusement.
    They’re not something to be afraid of. Nor something to get rid off completely.
    But instead of being manipulated by playful children, maybe you should be a more responsible teacher? What do you think about that? Just enter the classroom with confidence. Don’t tell them to shut up or they’ll hate you. Don’t hide under the desk in despair, or they’ll feel superior and be even more naughty.
    Affirm yourself. You’re the boss. You’re the teacher, the captain, the employer, whatever analogy you like best. Your thoughts won’t manipulate you or stop you from doing what you want anymore. 😉
    Sorry for bad English, it’s not my native language

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  • Thank You

    This article is the most tremendously reassuring thing I have ever read. Thank you.

  • thaabtih

    i over think alot for the fear of fucking up in the future please annoying aloota people.i just dont know what to do

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  • batool uswa

    Im so glad to know that Im not alone.

  • Nir

    Try meditation… Vipassana ….. Or any other … It helped me

  • Clo

    Thanks really helped me. I’m a super over thinker. In not fun at all anyone because of it but that’s okay cause I’m not going to think about this problem again and move forward.

  • Wyatt Whittier

    What if I overthinking about things that aren’t bad? What if it’s not because of fear, and I don’t think about possible outcomes of stuff, I just think.

  • Arminds’ copy of Swank

    So women overthink more than men? That explains why a man saying hello is considered Harrassment by some, their overthinking all the possible connotations and associating the benign phrase to something sinister

  • Rose Barnett

    nice article. do you have more? the archives list goes up to only a year ago

  • Quan Nutty

    hey guys,i think the only way you can think less is exclude yourself from the usual patterns of life and free your mind from making it look like a problem.this is how i do it.
    + enjoy everyday life as it is.stop making your daily chores a problem.Enjoy them like your doing something fun
    + Always have something special you make for yourself and you should enjoy it food,or a movie or whatever indulgence you so much like and it shouldnot include someone else but only you.Make sure all thinking habits are ended by only you.
    + Get some inspiration.Church,music,motivational speeches ,,,just change what you think about because you are great and a brain that thinks constructively gets healthier….for more chat me up on messesnger

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  • Matt

    It’s uncontrollable. Even the simple things like one word spoken will lead to a break up…. idk my mind is just leaving my system, starting it’s new and free life without my goddamned soul. I can’t keep em apart for long cuz I know Ill break down. It’s very hard to not over think.

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  • vor24

    The word ‘overthink’ self-contradiction. But the author points to better meanings, like ‘unstructured’. Some things can look like overthinking but not be. For example, difficulty making aesthetic choices, especially among a limited number of choices. Like in what clothes to buy/wear, what wallpaper or color paint to use, etc. Personally I find it easier to structure my thinking, than to make certain kinds of choices whose consequences are hard to fully predict before making them. I have, and I suppose others too, emotional reactions to such choices. And when I fail to predict or under-emphasize what that reaction will be, I may not be ‘completely happy’ with the choice, and even feel compelled to re-do it, something I wish to avoid. But I know this is not so random, because I make certain choices that I am completely happy with, consistently, and invoke positive feelings whenever I am near them.

  • American Psycho

    I suffer from this with a female friend with whom I’ve known for 20 years. It was always an emotional roller coaster when she was in my life. Just friends. Romantically involved. Other guys in her life. The feeling of being used. The anger with allowing myself to be used.

    After being absent from her life for years on three separate occasions, This time around, 3.5 years ago I decided to set boundaries for myself. We began talking again. I was happy with being a phone friend. I wasn’t going to spend anytime with her because I was afraid I might begin to have feelings for her again.

    In those 3.5 years I’ve seen her 5 times. Twice along, three other times I brought a mutual friend along. Now of course just like magic the over thinking has started. It’s so stupid because I’m no longer attracted to her but wonder if she has somebody else in her life that I don’t know about.

    She tells me I’m her best friend (meaningless) and is an open book but I guess all of the negatives and red flags from the past keep creeping into my head. So now I overthink about whether she is seeing someone and whether I should slowly slip out of her life, I hate this crap but it’s all on me.

    The other thing I’m dealing with is that my friend was diagnosed with stage 3 to borderline liver disease as she has been a hard drinker for most of her adult life. So as a friend I’ve been there for her and I feel if I walked away now I would look like a bad person and perhaps regret it for not being there for her and if something did happen. Being friends with someone shouldn’t be so hard but again the past has a lot to do with the negativity and overthinking.

  • ABR

    I have been overthinking about the Syrian Refugees at night and I cannot sleep. i am a Tulane University Social Worker and I donate money to UNICEF. I know about the starfish story too. Oh well it gets my mind off failing at LSU and graduating from Tulane.