You’re lying awake. It’s 3 o’clock in the morning. And you just can’t turn your brain off.
As anybody with a human brain can attest; overthinking might be one of the most painful experiences that you can go through psychologically.
I won’t overdo the build-up here. It’s very simple – the solution to overthinking is to take an action.
Once you learn what this means, overthinking can be almost completely removed from your life, even if you’re obsessive-compulsive or have chronic anxiety.
What is overthinking?
First and foremost, you must recognize when overthinking is taking place, and that’s actually pretty simple if you can just pull yourself out of your own perspective for a second.
Overthink is if you’ve been thinking about something for more than 10 minutes without taking an action on it. At this 10-minute point, you’ve gone beyond just considering something or planning your next move and you’re now into what’s called analysis-paralysis – you’re overthinking your next step.
Why does this happen? Simply put, it’s because you’re trying to think of the ‘right’ way to deal with it, and that’s slowing you down because the best way to deal with it is not the right way.
Overthinking occurs when the ‘right’ way to do something is not the best way.
The right way to deal with something is the way that goes well, it goes safely, it concludes the problem forever, it doesn’t cause you any problems in the future, and it’s not messy. Unfortunately, the best way to deal with something rarely aligns with those dreams. The best way to deal with something is usually messy, it doesn’t solve all your problems for life, and it will still require follow-up afterwards.
Why overthinking doesn’t help
When you’re overthinking, you’re trying to solve a problem in your mind without any interaction with the real world or the people involved. You’re not having any experimental back-and-forth with the problem – you’re just dealing with it in your head, which means the only resources you’ve got to deal with the problem are the ones you already have. There are no new resources being introduced, no new wisdom or information.
So if what you’ve got in your head already isn’t enough to solve the problem, you’ll be stuck going around and around. Instead of solving the problem, you’ll become trapped imagining possible scenarios, and as you already know: you can do that forever without coming to a conclusion.
The solution to overthinking is to take action, because any action – no matter how bad it is – will give you new information to work with. You will be wiser after new action. This means you won’t be stuck just with what you’ve got in your head, you’ll have new information from the world that can help upgrade your problem-solving abilities.
our limiting beliefs about problems
The reason we get stuck on figuring out the ‘right’ way to deal with problems is an underlying belief that eventually you can get to a place where you have no problems at all, where there’s no discomfort and no pain. We dream of a finish line you can cross where everything is solved.
If you have this underlying belief that “One day I can be problem free,” every time you try to solve a problem you’ll be thinking “How do I make this the last time I ever have to solve it? How do I finish this completely? How do I ensure that there’s no mess in the future?”
And because that’s actually impossible, you can never imagine a scenario where that happens, which means you’re stuck. You can’t move forward because you’re asking the impossible from yourself
You’re going to have messy problems for the rest of your life…
For the rest of your life.
So there’s no need to avoid getting messy, because it’s going to happen no matter how you live. It really just comes down to what kind of mess are you going to create.
When I say messy. I think you know what I mean: the problem is not fully solved, there are uncomfortable emotions, can’t avoid confrontations, people start thinking things about you that aren’t true, people stop liking you, you have to deal with the same hassle over and over again… that’s real life.
The problem-free fantasy life in your head that you’re trying to imagine – the one where everything is cleaned and tidied up with a nice little bow on top of it and everything is all finished – that world will never exist. Your overthinking all comes from trying to make that world exist.
Give up on that fantasy world, and get messy.
the best way to solve problems
As uncomfortable as being uncomfortable is, you can actually do something about it.
It’s not gonna be solved by thinking, it’s gonna be solved by moving this problem forward in some way, which is going to be an action and not a thought.
The key principle you must keep in mind – the thing that’s going to set you free – is this:
It does not have to go “well”
If you can give yourself permission for this to be messy, for this to not finish things, for this to bring even more problems in, then you can move forward with this.
If mess is not allowed to happen – if this must go “well” – then you’re going to be stuck inside your head forever.
The second key principle: keep it small. Usually with overthinking you start to overwhelm yourself with the size of the task. You start adding on top of it as you predict it into the future, trying to get to the final solution.
Try to think more like “What’s the one little thing I need to do next?” because that’s the only thing you need to do to get out of this rut. Even if it’s the wrong thing to do at least then you’ll know one way that doesn’t work, which is progress.
And the third principle: above all else, just keep it honest. Even if your next action is just to journal about the problem. Express yourself honestly. That is the best way to relieve all the tension and fear and stress that you’re feeling about this problem in the first place.
You may never be able to solve it but you’ll always be able to express it – and most of the time that’s all you actually need to do.
I do it too
Of course, to show you I’m not perfect, I’ll give you an example that happened very recently (it’s occurring on the day I make this video).
I got into what you might call an online ‘disagreement’ with somebody who actually quite like. We’re going back and forth and I’m building up a lot of stress and frustration – we’re having a confrontation that’s just not going well.
I’m trying to insist that this person speaks to me face-to-face; they’re avoiding that and it’s building up this tension in me. I started overthinking about it and was pondering it all day long yesterday. It was eating up my time, distracting me during my coaching sessions, and then finally today I just reached out to the person said “I’m feeling anxious and frustrated.”
Straight away, that pressure came off. That’s what I needed to say. I needed to stop trying to win the argument, stop trying to make him see how I feel, stop trying to get him into a conversation face-to-face, and instead just tell him I’m anxious and frustrated. That’s all I needed to get out.
Now the overthinking has stopped and I can move forward.
but what if I can’t do anything about it?
I hear you – what if it’s something you can’t control? Like you’re waiting on the test results for your cancer biopsy, or you’re waiting to hear back from a job interview. How do you stop overthinking about something you can’t do anything about? Something you can’t take any action to progress?
The key is to grab your attention and refocus it on something you can control.
Again, it’s about taking action but focusing somewhere else.
For example, if I’m waiting on cancer results I can’t speed that along, but maybe I can focus on doing healthy things, like eating right, exercising, and spending time with my friends. I can’t progress the test but I can progress my health. And if I’m waiting on a job interview, maybe instead of sitting around looking at the phone thinking “God, I hope I get that job” I can keep applying for other jobs. I can keep working on my career in general, without having without having the ability to progress this current job.
There’s always an action you can take. You’ve got to ask yourself “What can I control? What will benefit my life? What am I going to do about it? What small honest and messy thing can I do next?”
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, please share it around and comment below with your thoughts.
And if you really struggle with this – if you’re an anxious person or you have compulsive thinking or you have a pattern of getting stuck inside your head and not taking action – please get in touch and I’ll give you some more detailed resources and support to help you break out of the cycle email@example.com