- Strelka Institute for Media
Sure, you know it doesn’t make sense to spend an hour deciding which sandwich to eat for lunch.
Or a week deciding whether to accept a job offer. Or a year deciding whether to marry your partner.
Enough, you might tell yourself. Just make a decision. And you do.
But within minutes, that stream of doubts and insecurities starts leaking – and eventually gushing – though the mental fortress you’ve built up around them.
Everyone’s been there – and everyone has their own tricks for avoiding the situation. We checked out the Quora thread, “How do I deal with overthinking?” where many people have shared those tricks, and highlighted the most creative responses.
Read on to find out how to clear your head once and for all.
1. Observe your thoughts from a distance
A key component of meditation is that you watch your various thoughts pass, instead of getting caught up in them or trying to stop them from arising.
Quora user Sameer Jain cites mindfulness meditation as a practice that’s helped him stop over thinking in the past.
He writes: “Realize that you can actually choose to observe your thoughts rather than getting caught in them. The tendency to over-think is to some extent a natural tendency of the mind (which varies to some degree by person), but one you can change through practice.”
In fact, Steve Jobs described this very same process to his biographer, Walter Isaacson:
“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is … If you try to calm it, it only makes things worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things.”
- Flickr/Ant PDX
2. Write down your thoughts
One way to stop your thoughts from spiraling out of control is to talk out the issues with someone else, who might offer a different perspective.
Otherwise, says Aman Anand, you can write down your thoughts on a piece of paper.
“I usually find that this allows one to organise their thought process a lot better,” Anand writes, “whereas if you keep those thoughts stuck in your head, not only can they make a mountain out of a molehill but they can also lead to you coming back to the same ideas continuously and thus over-analysing the same thing repeatedly.”
You can go a step further and throw that paper away – science suggests it’s a way to make those thoughts less meaningful.
3. Designate ‘no-thinking’ times
Stefan Papp says he established “no-think zones” to prevent himself from dwelling too much on a single problem. For example, he writes that he doesn’t think about difficult things after 8 p.m. because it affects his sleep.
Social worker and author Amy Morin suggests a similar approach. In a Psychology Today column, she recommends scheduling time – maybe 20 minutes – for reflection:
“During this time, let yourself worry, ruminate, or mull over whatever you want. Then, when the time is up, move onto something more productive. When you notice yourself overthinking things outside of your scheduled time, remind yourself that you’ll think about it later.”
4. Distract yourself
It sounds simple, but it’s really hard to concentrate on two things at once.
That’s why Vinay Nagaraju recommends exercising or playing a game when you find yourself over-thinking: “The run of emotions when complemented with the physical action brings in a great balance between the two.”
Experts agree. Stephen S. Ilardi, author of “The Depression Cure,” told Fox News that the key to not over-thinking is to find an absorbing activity. Specifically, you’ll want “a physical activity that combines mental engagement and social contact, such as tennis or a brisk nature walk with a friend.”
5. Focus on what you can do right now
You can break a thought spiral by replacing thinking with doing.
“Do not focus on what you … need to do, do not focus on what you haven’t done and should have done, and do not focus on what is going on around you,” writes Lukas Schwekendiek. “Just focus on something you can do now, however small, and then do it.”
Meanwhile, Bob Migliani, author of “Embrace the Chaos,” writes in The Huffington Post that he often tries to turn his worrisome thoughts about the future into concrete action:
“Each time I would start getting worried about the future, I would make a proactive choice to physically get up from the place I was sitting and walk to the computer to start writing or working on my book.”
6. Respect your own opinion
Part of the reason why you’re over-thinking a decision may be because you don’t trust yourself to make the right choice.
“Learn to respect your own opinion,” writes Suraj Teja. “The more you think about it, the more doubts you’ll be creating upon your own thoughts.”
7. Know that you can change a wrong decision
It’s normal to worry that you’re choosing the wrong job, marrying the wrong person, or taking the wrong driving route home. But the mistake doesn’t have to be a catastrophe – in fact, it could be an opportunity for growth.
In her TED Talk, journalist Kathryn Schulz challenges the common assumption that, if you’re wrong about something, you’re an idiot. Instead, she says, realizing that you made a mistake and reframing your view of the world is where innovation and creativity come from.
Nasim Khan sums it up nicely: “Over-thinking often comes from the notion that you will make a grand finale decision that will never change and must be correct,” he writes. “Being comfortable with being wrong, and knowing that your opinions and knowledge of a situation will change with time, brings a sense of true inner freedom and peace.”