We have an estimated 70,000 thoughts every day and these can involve making decisions in the moment like which mug you're going to choose for your morning coffee or what clothes to put on for work. But a lot of the time these thoughts pop into our brains unrelated to what we're working on and cause distraction and often we don't even notice that the way that we think colours how we experience the world.
Rather than staying in the present moment we think about the past or what might happen in the future and just massively overthink things to the point that we lose time, focus and don't enjoy what we have right now. And this is something called cognitive fusion where we buy into every thought that passes through our mind. It's when you think something and without questioning or noticing you just believe it. So in today's video we're going to talk about recognizing all of our thoughts and separating ourselves from them and then selectively choosing which thoughts or beliefs you want to act on instead of letting random subconscious thoughts dictate your mood, your choices, and your ultimate happiness. So before you even get a chance to think about it do hit that subscribe button and let's start things off starting with a quick story about my own overthinking.
What Is Overthinking
As a medical student and then as a doctor I sat loads of exams and I used to randomly get worried thinking about what might happen if I failed. I remember when revising for finals this overthinking interrupted my studying so much that I lost focus and study time for a few hours which totally sucked. After the exam was over I'd think back through all the questions and be like yep I definitely messed that one up. And these thoughts meant that even after I'd finished something like an exam I wasn't happy as I was thinking about the past rather than celebrating the fact the exam was over.
Overthinking something, whether it is opinions, situations, or people's actions, can cloud our judgment. It prevents us from acting, it invades our minds with negativity and deteriorates our happiness.
We try to figure out whether that decision we made is correct or not and keep pondering over it for so long that we get irritated and annoyed. In the process, we get distracted from the present moment and our thoughts start to impact our emotions and actions. While everyone sometimes overthinks situations, some people continuously have thoughts rehearsing every conversation they have had, second guessing their every decision, and imagining the worst outcomes.
What Are The Signs of Overthinking?
The problem with overthinking is that you might not even know you're doing it or you might be so used to daydreaming and thinking about things you just think it's normal like I used to. So what are some of the signs and symptoms that you're overthinking so you can catch yourself?
Well you might make catastrophic predictions about unlikely events in the future that haven’t happened yet – and that leave you unable to enjoy the present. You might be beating yourself up about “should haves” and “could haves” and are unable to let go of the past and move on. Like "man I wish I'd invested in Crypto sooner" or "oh no I'm going to lose all of my crypto as it's crashing".
You might be replaying every interaction and social situation in your mind and be worrying about what others might think of you. Or if you need to make a decision you replay all the options in your head meaning that you’re so afraid to take the wrong action, that you take no action at all.
All of these are linked to negative self-talk where your thoughts can lead to you feeling stressed, distracted and even depressed as you replay worst case scenarios in your head.
What are the Causes of Overthinking?
The causes of overthinking are varied with some relating to our own personality and upbringing, like for example if your parents are overthinkers. Or overthinking can happen in certain circumstances like when you're tired or stressed. So let's look at some of the common causes of overthinking to see if you can relate and then we'll look at how to reduce overthinking next.
Studies show that sensitive people have more active brain circuitry and neurochemicals in areas related to mental processing. This means their minds not only take in more information, but also process that information in a more complex way. So if you're a high-achiever who considers things in a thoughtful manner like say a doctor you're actually more likely to overthink things.
We make hundreds of decisions a day — from what to eat for breakfast to how to respond to an email — and each depletes our mental and emotional resources. You’re more likely to overthink when you’re drained and tired, so the more you can eliminate minor decisions, the more energy you’ll have for ones that really matter.
Perfectionism is one of the biggest blockers to swift, effective decision-making because it operates on faulty all-or-nothing thinking. For example, perfectionism can lead you to believe that if you don’t make the “correct” choice (as if there is only one right option), then you are a failure. Or that you must know everything, anticipate every eventuality, and have a thorough plan in place before making a move. Trying to weigh every possible outcome and consideration is paralyzing and can lead you to do nothing.
Worrying About What Others Think
Worrying about what other people think and how you'll be perceived is really common. Whether you are worried about going to the gym and not lifting as much as the person next to you so you just don't go or whether you're worried about failing at something because you think people will laugh at you or feel superior overthinking scenarios means you end up taking no risks due to fear of how you perceive other people might react.
Can We Stop Overthinking?
So now we know some of the signs and causes of overthinking can we actually stop ourselves from overthinking and stay focused in the moment. Well as a medic I was pretty bad at overthinking things and was worried about how people would perceive me and then I read a book called the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
Which literally and metaphorically blew my mind as at its core it basically says that your mind is who you actually are and what you do and then you have your ego which is a kind of false concept that exists by drawing on external sources. The ego feeds on the past (who you think you are, based on past experiences) and the future (who you think you want to be, based on beliefs and perceptions drawn from external influences).
Like your ego, “time” is also a concept created by the human mind, to help us function in the practical world. “Clock time” is useful for tasks like scheduling appointments and running a meeting, as well as to learn from the past and set goals for the future. However, “time” is really an illusion. The time at this moment is simply “now”–everything that has ever happened or been created happened in the Now. It is the only moment that we ever truly possess.
Yet, most of us are trapped in the illusion of time. We spend the bulk of our energy reminiscing the past, or hoping for a better future. In the process, we are absent from the present moment. Worse still, we create pain in the present when we unconsciously overthink things and think about the past or the future or what others might be thinking about us.
Identify your destructive thought patterns
So the first way to reduce overthinking is to just start to become aware of any negative thought patterns that occur when you overthink. By thought patterns I basically mean do the things your worrying about have any commonalities. Remember one of the key problems with overthinking is cognitive fusion where we just believe the thoughts that pop into our heads without questioning them. So from my own example like many medics I had a rule in my head that was basically telling me that if I failed an exam that was the worst thing in the world and people would think I was stupid and I'd be outcast from society and have to dress like a village idiot or something. In reality if I failed the exam I'd have to repeat it which would be annoying but not the end of the world, plus I'd put in the work so chances were I'd be fine. The problem was that because of this mental rule about failing an exam being bad, my mind was then just going to the worst case scenarios. So if you can spot any common rules or mental patterns you can start to apply logic and stop overthinking
Catch Your Thoughts
But what about preventing overthinking all together? Well to do that we need to train our brains to stay in the present moment. I didn't think this was possible but The Power of Now has a really great exercise which involves mindful meditation where you simply try to meditate and remain in the present moment. Now what happens is that as soon as you relax loads of thoughts come rushing in but the practice says to simply acknowledge these and go back to focusing on the present. The aim of the game is to go longer and longer without letting a thought creep in. It sounds a bit weird but it definitely works and I was able to train my brain to stop thinking about things and I'll pop a lik down in the comments below so you can try it out too.
Accept the fact that you cannot control everything
Another tip is to understand that trying to control things beyond your reach is of no use. There is no point in trying to change others or their behavior towards you and thinking how the past could have been different if you did this instead. The sooner you understand this; you will save yourself a heck of a lot of time and you can allocate that time for productive things.
When you overthink situations, you often create imaginary fears and consider disastrous scenarios unlikely to play out in real life. If you do not take a closer look at these scenarios, they may keep you from trying new things. So, next time you catch yourself overthinking a situation, ask yourself what the worst thing could happen is? For instance, you have a job interview and start stressing about it and overthinking it. But what is the worst possible thing to happen when you fail that interview? You need to apply for more jobs, like so what.
While you can't control everything there are some circumstances where taking positive action will completely resolve a situation. You may have heard the term analysis paralysis. It is brought on by overanalyzing or overthinking situations constantly. Moreover, overanalyzing a problem that troubles you will only hold you back from taking the correct action. If you catch yourself overthinking a situation which you can change, act. This is most true for procrastination and worrying about things like studying. Set yourself a time limit of a few seconds or minutes from when you realise you need to get something done and force yourself to take positive action.
Stop waiting for the perfect moment
When you constantly overthink, you become prone to believe there is always a perfect moment for everything. This leads to procrastination and stress. For instance, if you want to start your own YouTube channel, it would be easy to overthink the questions like; what if I do not have the time? What if I do not get subscribers? Do I have the potential to start this new venture? Thinking about this will lead you to give up on the idea and not even start. There is never a perfect time to do anything, whether starting a youtube channel, falling in love, writing a book, or doing anything else. There's a popular Chinese proverb that says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Basically this means that if you want success and growth in the future, the best time to act is now in the present moment, you can't go back 20 years no matter how much you overthink it so you just need to get on and do it now rather than put it off any longer. Overthinking prevents you from doing things no matter how much you want to do them. Remembering that there is never a perfect time for anything will put you at ease in situations like these.
Separate your thoughts from who you are
One of the quickest ways to beat negative overthinking is to grab a paper and pen and make a list of your thoughts as they happen. When you recognize your overwhelming thoughts, writing them down will help you avoid stressing out over the negativity. After writing down what you are worried about:
1. Add the phrase "I am thinking about..." before the thought. This is a little cognitive therapy trick that helps to separate who you are as a person from the thought that you are having.
2. Next create another column and note what you can do about the things you're worrying about
3. If there is something you can do about it, write it down and give yourself a time limit to do it.
4. If not, remember there is nothing more you can do about it and remember that you can't control everything.
Learning the art of introspection will help you stop overthinking and realize it will not help you in any way.
Quit Caring About What Others Think
The final and probably most important way to stop overthinking is to just focus on yourself. The spotlight effect is the psychological phenomenon by which people tend to believe they are being noticed way more than they really are. If you're at the gym and worried about people judging you for lifting less than them or you're at a party and are worried about what people are thinking about you in actuality no-one even cares because they are so worried about what they themselves are doing. A lot of the time the people we think are judging us are often random strangers or people who we aren't even that close with, so why even bother stressing? You're not a cave person who's going to be outcast from their tribe so focus on yourself, take risks, look stupid, fail and grow and give up worrying about the opinions of people you don't really care about.
Most of us overthink certain situations throughout our lives, and it's perfectly okay. However, if your overthinking becomes a habit, it will take some time to learn how to prevent this habit from taking over your life. Following these simple steps will help you do that. All in all, it is vital to understand that you do not have to control every aspect of your life. You do not have to be perfect all the time. Once you accept that many things are outside your control, you will be closer to solving your overthinking problem.
FAQs on Overthinking
How do I stop excessive overthinking?
Overthinking is exhausting, leads to negative emotions, and stops you from moving forward. The strategies mentioned in this video can help you prevent excessive overthinking and channel your thoughts for positive outcomes.
Is overthinking a mental disorder?
Overthinking is when you are constantly worried about something. The mind overacts and spends excessive amounts of energy looking for solutions to problems, real or imagined, which can often prove to be exhausting. No, overthinking is not a mental disorder, but it can be a symptom of an underlying mental health issue like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTDS).
What is overthinking caused by?
It is normal to analyze situations sometimes but dwelling on it can lead you into unhealthy territory. So, if you are wondering, why do I overthink? There are several reasons. The main factors are stress and anxiety. Issues with self-esteem and self-doubt are also causes of overthinking. Trauma is another factor that can cause overthinking. Also, if you hold perfectionist values or have obsessive tendencies, you may tend to overthink quickly.
Is overthinking just anxiety?
Everyone worries at least once about school grades and relationship troubles with friends or family members. However, getting lost in your thoughts often signifies an overthinking disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The act of overthinking links to psychological problems like anxiety and depression, but it is hard to know what happens first. Overthinking can cause your mental health to decline. But the good news is that it is treatable. If you are experiencing disruptive and unwanted thoughts, you can get them under control.
Are Overthinkers smart?
Overthinking can chew and spit you out, but thinking is not a problem. It is the fear it stirs up. What if I said the wrong thing? Do people think I am useless? Does he hate me? What if I am boring? What if I never get over him? What if I make the wrong decision? Therefore, overthinking focuses on the negatives. Studies reveal that overthinkers tend to be intelligent but not necessarily smart.
Is there a medication for overthinking?
To treat overthinking, you must stay focused on the present and live each day as it passes. But overthinking is linked to anxiety and depression. Yes, few medicines are available to relieve stress and anxiety. However, they are physically addictive and not recommended for long-term usage. If you think you have panic attacks, then consult a doctor. They may suggest you some medicines.
Is overthinking a form of depression?
Overthinking is when you analyze the same situation repeatedly. People who overthink are paralyzed by their worries and often struggle to make the right decisions or take action. Overthinking can be caused by and can contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders, but it is not a form of depression.
Why do I overthink every little thing?
Overthinking every little thing is often based on feelings that you are not good, or not smart or hardworking enough and what other people think about you. To stop overthinking everything is to accept yourself as you are. You have done what you could do. Once you have given in your 100% efforts for anything, take it as such and know that success may depend partly on some things you cannot control.
Can overthinking cause brain damage?
Overthinkers believe that repeating certain situations in the head assists them to overcome them. The truth is overthinking takes a toll on your well-being. It may trigger mental illness as overthinking stresses the brain. Stress has a profound effect on cortisol which damages and kills brain cells. Overthinking also interferes with problem-solving abilities and disturbs your sleep.