How To Stop Overthinking From Ruining Your Life
Two years ago, I made the decision to leave my corporate job and pursue my passion projects. I wanted to go freelance and do my own thing. This interested me because I knew I could work whenever I wanted and take a break if it got overwhelming. I really enjoyed the freedom I got from this ‘Work whenever and wherever you want.’
A few months in, I was doing well with the planning and prep work for my future projects. There were instances when I thought to myself ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?’ All this freedom to do what I love was really exciting, that too on my own terms! I worked with clients from all around the world and it taught me so many valuable lessons.
When I first started, I had no idea what I had to do in order to build a successful freelance career. I watched a few youtube videos of how other freelancers got started and that’s how my journey began. Now, this is just the gist of my whole freelance story. I did struggle with a lot of uncertainty and self-doubt. And one of the biggest blocks I experienced was OVERTHINKING.
Why We Overthink?
Let’s call this overthinking person in our head the Overthinking Owl. Now, this overthinking owl is a real pain in the butt. ‘Should I follow my passion and start a side business?’ - Wait, let’s overthink and exhaust my brain power to make a decision. ‘Should I dress however I want and start feeling confident in my skin?’ - Hmm, I don’t know, let me get back in 3-5 business days. Does this sound a little too familiar to you? I feel you, bestie.
The behavioral pattern of overthinkers is not solution-focused and revolves around avoiding difficult decisions. They stay stuck in a loop and avoid facing the reality of things as if thinking more is going to give them a shocking revelation and solve all their life problems. Usually, this stems from fear of failing, the fear of making a wrong choice, uncertainty, or even having issues getting out of your comfort zone.
Overthinking is playing the same thoughts over and over again in your head and procrastinating important decisions. Second guessing and poor decision-making are some of the common traits of overthinkers.
Initially, I had this fear of failing when I started my freelance career, wherein I had thoughts like ‘What if I don’t get any clients?’, ‘What if my clients don’t like my work and think I’m a fraud?’. If I had let my intrusive thoughts get the better of me, I would have never started my freelance journey.
When you think about it, your overthinking patterns mostly involve your insecurities getting the better of you. Overthinking only gives you a temporary break from making those hard yet much-needed changes in your life.
(Note: If you’re having a hard time coping with overthinking due to anxiety or depression and feel like your condition may be chronic, please consult with a health professional.)
Dealing with your Overthinking Owl
Overcoming your problem with excessive thoughts in your head is yet another decision you need to make and this is not something that you can get over within just a few days. We’re talking about reshaping your belief systems and rewiring your brain here. It may sound simple when we try to narrow it down to these terms but this takes a lot of effort and discipline.
Identify your thought patterns
Before we get into actionable steps to overcome overthinking, we need to identify its root cause. Where exactly does it start? How does your brain work in certain situations? Is there a specific cycle of thoughts that you get stuck in that leads to confusion and overwhelm?
Let’s start by acknowledging that you overthink. Next, identify your thought patterns when a certain situation presents itself. We have this really bad habit of assuming things in our heads that aren’t necessarily true. Ask yourself - ‘Is this really true?’ If the answer is yes, try to look at it from an objective angle and try your best to come up with a plan. If the answer is no and you’re just assuming things, don’t spend another minute on it.
In any situation, it is important to take time in order to make the right decision, however, there is a difference between thinking deeply and worrying deeply. Thinking deeply involves actively finding ways to choose what’s right for you while worrying deeply involves finding everything that may go wrong in a situation.
Let go of the past
Your past experiences have shaped you into who you are and this wouldn’t have been possible if you didn’t make mistakes. It’s only human to make wrong choices as long as you learn from them. Most of our overthinking patterns point back to us dwelling too much on the past.
Instead of thinking about how things could have been, learn to accept what’s in front of you right now. Allow yourself to feel the emotions and then just let go. Always remember to be gentle with yourself because being harsh is not going to do you any better. Learn to prioritize your mental well-being.
Live in the moment
This is an extension of letting go of your past to live mindfully in your present moment. We cannot go back in time to undo some of our decisions or time travel to the future to get a heads up on what’s coming. All we have is the present moment and the only way to inner peace is to accept things as they are.
There’s no need to overwhelm yourself with a multitude of things, just focus on one and focus on doing it well. Be mindful and ask yourself - ‘Is this worth spending my time and energy on?’
Accept or Deny your thoughts
A simple yet effective way to validate the fleeting thoughts in your head is to either accept and adjust or deny and forget. Trust me, this will save you a lot of brainpower and time.
When you accept something to be true, you learn to or at least try your best to live with it. And when you deny something, you just need to forget it and move on. The choice is yours.
Journaling & Meditating
I’ve found that writing out your thoughts helps clear your chaotic mind. It helps put things into perspective and even uncover some hidden emotions behind them.
When you feel overwhelmed, just sit down and pour everything that’s on your mind into a journal or any notebook. I’m talking about unfiltered thoughts, like stream-of-consciousness writing. Write down every single thought that pops into your head, even if they feel irrelevant or sound absurd.
Another way is through Meditation. In simple terms, just sitting alone with your thoughts. Find a quiet environment and sit in silence with your eyes closed or open (whatever feels comfortable to you). Get cozy and allow your mind to wander off.
The goal is to get comfortable acknowledging every thought in your head and rationalizing its validity. It is also practicing patience and knowing that this is a long journey rather than a short trip in order to understand how we’ve accumulated beliefs over our lifetime.
When you feel like you’re going down a spiral with your thoughts, find a distraction, take deep breaths, talk to someone about it, and focus on the positive things in your life. Remember that this isn’t you, this is your anxiety and fear taking over. There’s a quote that goes -
“Overthinking is the art of creating problems out of the ones that didn’t exist in the first place.”