Stop overthinking everything

Some days I can't shut my brain off.

I often worry about something that happened at work or home. Sometimes I remember a situation that happened in the mid-90s when I was DJing in a nightclub. Yes, this regularly happens and I'm always surprised I can remember that far back! Today I've been worrying whether the last 7 articles I've written for my writing habit challenge are good enough or not. I can't stop thinking about how I could have approached a situation differently and changed the outcome.

It can be mentally exhausting.

I'm sure I'm no different to many people in being an overthinker but I wonder how you can challenge your brain to organise the good thoughts and solve problems, rather than being bogged down with things you can't affect.

Overthinking can take many forms. It can be thinking too much about the past situations that you could have changed. It can be worrying about future events and how they will play out. For me it's often deliberating when attempting to make a decision on something, and then questioning the decision once I've made it. Just ask my wife Clare how long it takes me to buy anything! It can also build a running commentary in your head, putting words into others mouths in a fictional situation. Inevitably, you think you know how the conversation will end and in your own mind that's usually badly.

Overthinking isn't problem solving to find a solution. It's dwelling on the problem itself and not getting beyond that.

How can we deal with overthinking?

I'm trying to get better at scheduling my downtime to stop my brain from spinning. I used to spend too many hours in front of a laptop after 10 pm at night. Wherever possible, I put the computer and phone away to try and allow my thinking to slow down. I've also tried to read more in bed as it's a much nicer way to end the day and helps me to avoid thinking too much about what's happened.

Some research suggests, as strange as it sounds, that you schedule your worries into a set time each day. I've not tried it myself but sounds like an interesting idea.

A collegue at work ran a workshop which referenced Steven Covey's classic book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People". There's an idea of the circle of influence and control. I found it's a good way to rationalise what you can and can't control and where you can influence situations. There's little point in thinking about the your company's policies, unless you're on the board of directors, as it's difficult to change these situations.

Noticing that you're overthinking is a good thing. Once you realise that you're stuck on the same thoughts, you can move your mind to something else. Try and steer your thinking away from the bad and think about what great things you could do at the weekend instead.

Move from dwelling on a problem to suggesting potential actions to solve it instead. If it's something you can control, see if you can come up with one or more solutions which you can explore instead. If it's something that's not within your circle of influence, try and move it aside and focus on areas you can control.

Remember that overthinking is often your brain over-exaggerating towards the negative. Try and step back and remember a similar situation that's happened before. The chances are that it didn't turn out as bad as you thought. I know this is hard as I struggle with this a lot but it does help.

So yes, I'm trying to get better and stop overthinking.

To realise that things in the past can't change.

That things in the future haven't happened yet.

I'm trying to take more time out to reflect and meditate, especially with the current pandemic that we're all living through.

Stay safe and keep thinking of the positives instead of dwelling on the negatives.

Further reading

Marc Littlemore

I'm Marc Littlemore. I’m a Software Engineering Manager who loves to help developers to build quality software.

I can help you to learn more about software testing and intentional remote work.

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