How to sort through the spaghetti junction of thoughts of an overthinkerFeb 20, 2023
The King of Wishful Thinking
When you’re worried about something, have you noticed how your thoughts can be like a needle stuck on a record. The same thing is played over and over again and the trouble is, it’s not even a good tune.
And sometimes, we are wont to overanalyse, nay perhaps catastrophise to the point where our imagination has created quite the unbelievable scenario which we think might just happen…
Our imagination is one of our Choice Drivers- it influences the decisions we make in life and unfortunately, as we get older, we increasingly tend to use our imagination to think of the worst that can happen. We imagine all that could go wrong as the result of a decision we could make, rather than all that could go right. Overthinking is after all, the art of creating problems that don't exist! Mark Twain has the perfect quote for this:
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, most of which never happened.”
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the complications of what might happen. However, to become overly focused on potential obstacles in life, means we are in a mindset of trying to avoid failure. Or worse still, expecting failure.
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 and thus it became part of who I believed I was– someone who overly worried. 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 decision-making 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 choosing that option. 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!
As I got older, there were of course choices to be made with more far-reaching consequences and outcomes over the years. Even choosing the wrong degree course though 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. I had made it part of my template – the essence of who I believed I was- I perpetuated that narrative through my thoughts and my self-talk. My thoughts about that one comment by my teacher when I was age 11, and quite probably a throwaway comment, had gone from a fine gossamer thread to a mooring line for a ship, and I was carrying it around across my shoulders, weighed down by the load- weighed down by own thoughts.
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 might happen to them. They convince themselves that if they think more about something, they will think of something crucial that they might have missed had they not thought about it enough, and therefore everything will now be OK. In fact though, 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 a quiet confidence with the intent to start afresh. Because we get to decide who we are going to be.
Breaking the cycle
Perhaps this resonates with you. Maybe you find your thought patterns get stuck and you overthink. Maybe you feel trapped by your own unhelpful cyclical thoughts. The good news is, that you get to intercept that loop. It takes conscious effort and hard work to rewire those neural pathways, but it is possible. This is not who you are, it is who you believe you are. And so you get to change that narrative. The question is, if you consider yourself as an overthinker, 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 – yes, we are all born with certain propensities but overthinking is something you have developed and practised over time so equally, you can learn how to create helpful thinking habits that will move you forwards with the type of thoughts you have.
Five steps to help an overthinker get unstuck and move forward:
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 might be 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, in other words, you need to change the nature of your thoughts.
2) 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?’
3) 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:
- It'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?
4) Focus on what you can control
Sometimes we might concern ourselves with something that we can have no influence over whatsoever– maybe it’s someone else’s relationship that we worry about and the effect it is having on them, world events such as a natural disaster, warring nations, perhaps the decisions made by politicians that will affect us. We are unable to change any of these things and yet we might donate much time and energy to worrying about them. However, 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. The Serenity Prayer can be very powerful when you are overthinking:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
It is therefore about refocusing 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 so that you create a positive outcome in your subconscious mind. Repeat affirmations at least twice daily until your subconscious brain catches up. For example:
- 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.
- I am calm, confident and in control
For the next 24 hours, focus on the now- when worries arise about what might or might not happen, gently bat them away and focus on the thing immediately in front of you. Think about what you can control- the nature of your thoughts.
Record your feelings and observations at the end of the day. Do you feel more in control when you manage your thoughts- when you run your brain, rather than allow it to run you?
Perhaps make it a regular thing- to write down your thoughts and feelings and how your day panned out when you reflected on the way you think about what you think about.
When we allow ourselves to worry about what might happen, we can close off potential opportunities and keep our world smaller. You don't have a crystal ball but when you think more optimistically, although you know everything in life doesn't always go to plan, you know you can cope. And just think, if you imagined everything that might go right, what a wonderful possibility that would be… Your brain will start to work towards making it happen and you start creating for yourself a whole different set of circumstances and results. Just think of the potential!
As for my overthinking and indecision, well, one day I became so frustrated and bored with how this felt, that I decided to change the way I thought about myself. I consciously recognised the situations when I started a spiral of overthinking and I would consciously check in with myself to reframe my thoughts. The affirmations I repeated helped me to build the belief that I was calm, confident and in control. And so it was.
Do you consider yourself to be an overthinker? 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!
If you want to reset your mindset – to have a greater understanding of how you can harness the power of your mindset, the Mindset Coaching Membership can help you to understand the tools and strategies needed to help you to run your brain, rather than to allow it to run you. With Masterclass Teachings + Coaching + Accountability, we will help you to create the future you want. Find out more here.
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