Calling all perfectionists and overachievers …

If you have a tendency to ruminate, excessively worry, second guess your decisions or even struggle to make decisions, you may be an overthinker. I would even bet that you have some OCD tendencies. The quirky kind, not the disabling kind.

May 18, 2022

Paralysis, Rumination, Overthinking

My overthinking tendency is rumination. Sometimes, I recognize it and sometimes, I don’t. Yes, I have the quirky OCD tendencies. My paper money has to be in a certain order and turned all the same way. My shoes have to be placed next to each other and in the correct L/R order. Not just kicked off in any old way. I have to eat an even number of cookies. Enough about me. What are your tendencies? Are you able to recognize them? Can you recognize your triggers? Do you know what your analysis paralysis is? Do you know what you overthink? 

When does overthinking cause problems?

When does overthinking cause problems? When it paralyzes you from taking action? When it keeps you stuck? When you realize that you have spent hours on a problem/issue with nothing to show for it? Have you noticed that your mind will always come up with another “worry question?” There will always be another “what if,” or “if this, then that.”

Our brains go in to analysis mode, which is good. However, it is not good to stay there. At some point we do have to make a decision and move forward. One of the problems with overthinking is that we stay in the analysis mode even to the point of becoming paralyzed. You have heard the phrase, “analysis paralysis.” It most commonly happens when we have too much information or we “feel” that we do not have enough good information to make a decision. We want to make the best decision possible. That is always my main objective and I am sure it is yours too. What we don’t realize is that we keep looking for the answers that we cannot know until we make a decision. The real reason we keep searching, is because we must not fail. We cannot fail, it is too important. We get afraid when we have important decisions to make. 

I get it. I want to know all of the possible scenarios and the possible outcomes too. But, that is not the way the world works. Look at it this way, if you are in a competition, whether it is sports, band, game night, or whatever, you can play a perfect, errorless game and still lose. You did your best and you did not make any errors, but you still lost. We cannot know every outcome. 

Stop overthinking and use 3 trusted resources

Use three trusted resources and allow appropriate time for research, reflection and choosing. I wish that I could tell you it was two hours, but maybe you need more or less time. Realize that your choice will not be perfect, but strive for “good enough, for now.” You can always make adjustments later. Maybe the best thing for you is two hours of research, discovering three possible options and then you take a day or two to think about those options (or you need to meet with others to flesh it out). Then it is time to make a decision.

Your brain(thoughts) will fight you. It will throw up all the “what ifs, buts, worst outcomes.” You can quiet it down. You can still make a decision. You can move forward. Mindfulness meditation really will help you calm your mind. 

Sometimes, thoughts are just thoughts

Your thoughts are just that, thoughts. They are not reality. In fact, they may be lies. Learn to challenge your thoughts. Sometimes, you will have to throw the bullshit flag on your thoughts. We all want to control situations, outcomes and consequences. We are not that powerful. The reality is that we can make the best decision possible with the information that we have, at this moment in time. We cannot choose the consequences. We cannot choose the outcome. It sucks. We beat ourselves up too much for things we have absolutely no control over.

Is it possible to stop overthinking?

Find your pattern of overthinking. What moments or situations cause you to go in to the overthinking mode? Note – write them down when you find yourself in an overthinking situation

You will find your pattern. Then when you are aware of it, that is when you are able to notice your triggers and will then be able to work on your strategy or plans of action. For example, you will give yourself, two hours of research from trusted resources. You will develop two or three options. You give yourself time to think about the positives and possibilities of the options. (1 to 2 days) Our brains go to the worst-case scenario, so be prepared for that. Understand that the probability of that worst-case scenario will probably NOT happen. Of course, it could, but really how likely is it? Make a decision and implement the steps to move forward. Set a time for evaluation (2 weeks – 2 months). Make updates or changes, if needed. Re-evaluate in 2 weeks to 2 months, etc.

You do not have to believe everything that your thoughts are telling you. What is the evidence in this situation? What are the logical and reasonable possibilities? If a thought is not logical, reasonable or helpful, then tell it so. I know that this sounds crazy, but you do need to talk to yourself out loud or at the very least write down the conversation. Do not have the conversation in your head. It will just keep going around and around.

Talk with a trusted friend. They may be able to see things that you can’t. They may have a different perspective than you and can see other options or possibilities. They can also give you a kick in the butt, when you need it.

Do some kind of physical activity

Walk, run, work out, do something physical. You need to burn off that cortisol energy. It will help your brain too.

If you find yourself overthinking in most situations, you may need to do some talk therapy. Talk therapy is a great tool, to help you see patterns, and how to make adjustments to move forward. Overthinking causes a great deal of stress and if you do not deal with stress, it can cause anxiety, depression, fatigue, headaches, stomach problems, etc.

How can you tell if you are overthinking?

When you find yourself focusing on the problem, you are probably overthinking.

The goal is to get in to the problem-solving or solution finding mode of thinking.

If you find yourself ruminating about the past or worrying about the future you are probably in the overthinking mode. If you are dwelling on how bad you feel or you are thinking about all the things that you have no control over, you are probably overthinking. Overthinking does nothing to prevent or to solve problems. Irrational fears often lead to overthinking.

Manage your energy, you only have about 4 hours of focused energy per day.

You only have so much energy every day anyway, so why not use it for solution finding or problem-solving rather than ruminating or staying stuck on the problem. Practice quicker decision making. Start with dinner choices or dessert choices. Read your options and decide in 3-2-1- choice. This is the biggie, choose where to go for dinner. If you need to, have 3 choices, then pick. You can do this.

Sometimes, you just have to declare it DONE!