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5 steps to help an overthinker get unstuck and move forward

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Paint it black

Over the past year, we’ve been updating our home. Apart from a new kitchen, everything else, in the main, are cosmetic changes There have been many decisions made – ones around the kitchen requiring the most thought but something as simple as choosing paint sent me into a bit of a spiral last week. Well, it didn’t send me into a spiral, clearly my thoughts did. I often reiterate that self-development is a work in progress, and I am aware that each and every day, I need to work on my own thoughts in order to think effectively. Just because I write about mindset, doesn’t mean I claim to have it all sussed. What it does mean however is that knowing this stuff, I am very consciously aware of the nature of my thoughts and I know the tools and strategies to get myself out of the headspace which isn’t serving me well at that particular point. If I want to enough.

So, as I drove to the paint shop, I thought: ‘This is ridiculous. Get a grip Kirsty. Think about why you feel so panicked about choosing a paint colour!’. The space we are going to be painting (I say ‘we’, I mean my husband – he’s a dab hand with a paint brush and roller, is consistent, gets his head down and let’s face it, bosh, and a room is done. With me, there’s faffing. I know my strengths and I play to those. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!), I digress… The space my ever-patient husband will be painting is for our daughters to hang out in and this has caused a fracas. The three of them each want a different colour, not to mention the fact none match what I’d like. I should never have mentioned it, just bought the paint and got it done. The two eldest to be fair aren’t too fussed but the youngest pulls on the ole heart strings or more honestly knows how to manipulate my values and her parting shot as she went to school was: ‘Imagine if the Dengineers came and sorted that room, it wouldn’t be what you wanted but I’d love it.’ Oh, how those heart strings played a melancholy tune…

I didn’t want my youngest to be upset but I didn’t want a paint colour that I’d cringe at every time I walked into that space because it didn’t match the furniture etc. What to do? What to do? And so off my thoughts went up cul-de-sacs and down rabbit holes, leading nowhere and no decision made.

Don’t you worry ’bout a thing

Overthinking is an area I have worked a lot on for myself. When I was younger, one of my teachers said to me: ‘Oh Kirsty, you are such a worrier! So much so that if you didn’t have anything to worry about, you’d worry about that!’ This stuck with me for many years and was a label I gave myself. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy and in turn, others would describe me as a worrier as I grew up. That way of thinking – or overthinking – became habitual for me, as it does for so many. This manifested itself in me finding making decisions to be very very, challenging; I would go over every scenario in my mind of what my choices were and what could go wrong if I picked the other option or options. I was stuck in a ‘what if’ cycle. The thing is, I never concentrated on making one decision and all that could go right by making that decision. It’s not as if any of it was life or death anyway. Which dessert to have in a restaurant? I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? You don’t like the dessert. You go home a little disappointed that the meal didn’t end on the high you would have liked but getoveryourself.com, it’s just a dessert. I’ll know not to have that one next time! There were of course choices to be made with more far-reaching consequences and outcomes over the years. Even choosing the wrong degree course was remedied one term in. But indecision was my nemesis, and it was like a millstone round my neck – it was as if I had no way of influencing it.

Of course, we all like to consider our options, to think through a scenario before making an informed choice; however, there is a difference between ruminating on a choice and letting it gently percolate before we come to a decision, as opposed to overthinking it until the cows come home, unable to choose one thing from another. Analysis paralysis. Overthinkers worry too that if they don’t overthink a challenging situation, something even worse will happen to them. They tend to catastrophise. So, they convince themselves that if they think more about something, they will think of something crucial that no one else has considered and so everything will be OK. In fact, the more you think, the worse you feel. It can lead to anxiety and cloud your judgement about the best way forward. There is a marked difference between problem-solving and self-reflection – you are learning, developing and moving forwards. Overthinking however means you dwell on things, you go round and round, re-playing past scenarios or imagining future ones. You are stuck with no positive action.

Don’t think twice, it’s gonna be alright

Overthinkers also have a penchant to worry about what people think of them; they will over-analyse anything from a facial expression, or scrutinising the way someone says something to them – wondering if it sounds as if there’s a subtle inference - that they’re insinuating something. Overthinkers go over past conversations and encounters, worrying they might have said the wrong thing, embarrassed themselves with their behaviour or whether they may have shown themselves up. They re-read text messages and emails, analysing each word, trying to read between the lines, assuming there’s a certain tone when there probably isn’t, looking for any negative subtle nuances.

Overthinking can be prevalent when embarking on a new relationship – very often it’s written off before it’s even got off the ground. It’s a kind of self-preservation. If an overthinker writes it off, rather than wait for the Dear John text, they’ve saved themselves a lot of heartbreak in the process; rather than to go with it, have faith in themselves, to quieten down those gremlins that they allow to harp on about previous experiences, or ignoring the inner critic who likes to remind them of insecurities and worries. We can allow the narrative we have written for ourselves to play out or, we stop, and rewrite the script. The one where we like ourselves. The one where we are resilient enough to let things pan out and see where it goes. With no expectations. No preconceived ideas.

The same can be said when an overthinker starts a new job role. Maybe in the past they have felt a rabbit in headlights, felt unsure of their worth, had feelings of being an imposter but ultimately, that can stop – a consciously chosen positive mindset can ensure the new role is begun with gusto with the intent to start afresh. Because we get to decide who we are going to be.

Breaking the cycle

As an over-thinker, how do you break this habitual thought-cycle? First and foremost, as with most habits, it starts with the nature of your thoughts and then re-training your brain. You weren’t born an overthinker – it is something you have learnt or developed over time so equally, you can learn how to create a helpful habit that will move you forwards with the type of thoughts you have.

1) Recognise when you’re stuck

Notice when you are re-playing something that has already happened – you are essentially rehashing it and going over and over it, questioning what you said and did and what you could and should have done differently. Equally, you are overthinking the future – what might and might not happen and the consequences and outcomes of both, or more scenarios. Recognise that these thought patterns are getting you nowhere. You’re headed off into a cul-de-sac and so you need to re-programme the SatNav with a more helpful route.

2) Be solution-orientated

When you have recognised your thoughts are not serving you well, reframe them to be more problem-solving in nature. Rather than to catastrophise, ask yourself a self-coaching question which can shift your focus:

  • That’s interesting I feel like this, how could I reframe it, so it serves me better?
  • What's the healthiest thing I can do right now, to calm my thoughts?
  • Could any of these thoughts I'm currently experiencing, be untrue?

 3) Question your thoughts

When you recognise the unhelpful thoughts, say to yourself: ‘That’s interesting, why do you think you’re thinking like that?’ It helps to reframe what it is you’re so concerned about. Ask yourself if there is a need to analyse and over-analyse the issue or situation in such depth? It’s not about ignoring what you’re concerned about, so dedicate some time to the thought then ask yourself: ‘How long do I want to worry about this? An hour? A day? Two days? A week? Will I remember the consequences of this decision in a month? Or a year? Five years?’

4) Focus on what you can control

Sometimes we might concern ourselves with something that we can have no effect over whatsoever – someone else’s relationship, a global event – such as the US elections! Or a natural disaster. The one thing you can control is the type of thoughts you are choosing to have. If you can have no effect on something, it’s knowing that and choosing to switch your thoughts to an area of your life where you can make a difference. Refocus your energy.

5) Repeat powerful affirmations

Say affirmations to yourself that will create new neural pathways. Change your path and create the grooves in your brain that will divert from old thought patterns. Repeat affirmations at least twice daily until your subconscious brain catches up:

  • I trust my ability to make good choices.
  • I welcome new experiences with an open heart and an open mind.
  • I love and approve of myself.

 

And so, to the paint colour. I ordered some paint samples, in shades I felt we might both be happy with. And the paint colour decided upon will not be a compromise, because there is no such thing as compromise. For we all choose what sits most emotionally comfortable with our values. I just need to decide whether I value my daughter’s happiness and me wincing every time I enter that space, over a calming neutral tone and moaning from my youngest… Above all else though, the overthinking will stop and a decision will be made. After all, it is just a paint colour and ultimately, can be painted over.

 

Take this quiz to discover which personality trait you’re currently leaning more towards, and learn a simple 3-step strategy you can begin implementing today to start bridging the gap between where you are now, to where you want to be! Share it with your friends and family too!

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