By Jannah updated on February 9, 2021
Thinking is a part of being human. It is essential for us because it helps us to define and organise experiences and to plan, learn, reflect and create. But our thinking can become unhelpful, and there is a fine line between regular thinking and thinking too much.
With overthinking, we go around and around in our own minds, like a hamster on its wheel, and it’s usually very difficult to find a way out.
Overthinking also tends to be passive rather than active. We will overly dwell on past events and focus on disproportionately negative future events. And, unfortunately, the majority of time, our overthinking tends to be negative.
We can over-analyse all of the ‘what ifs?’ or we can read too closely into someone’s tone of voice or expression and worry that they might be upset or cross with us.
So, overthinking usually involves ruminating, worrying, and over-analysing. It is more about dwelling on the problem, rather than developing a solution.
Overthinking also increases stress. And the more distressed you feel, the more likely you are to focus on the negative, which causes you to feel further anxiety. This keeps you stuck on that hamster wheel and in a nearly constant state of anxiety.
But is the purpose of overthinking to suffer, to torture yourself with all of the things that you have supposedly done wrong, or all the million possible other actions you could have taken? There comes a point where you have to wonder if your overthinking could do more for you.
Turn it around
This isn’t about how to stop overthinking, but rather how to turn it into something that helps you and the people around you.
To do this you need to channel the energy of overthinking towards one thing: an action you will take. The way to step out of the hamster wheel is to take action. This means that you are turning overthinking into problem solving.
On the Tim Ferris show, Safi Bahcall a physicist and biotech entrepreneur, explains it this way: “Instead of being in battle with your thoughts, you become in partnership with them because they are there for a reason.”
When you’re problem-solving, you’re actively looking for a solution. You’re developing action steps you can take, strategies you can employ, and skills you can improve on. By doing this you are truly using your overthinking to your advantage. And unlike overthinking, the benefit of problem-solving is that it decreases stress.
Also, the action you decide to take doesn’t even need to be the ultimate solution. It just needs to move the problem forward. This way you’re still taking action and making progress. That’s an improvement, compared to spending all of your time in fearful overthinking.
To conclude, overthinkers can be their own best friend or their own worst enemy. Continuous, scattered thoughts produce little to no value, but within everyone who overthinks is tremendous potential.
So, instead of waiting for your thinking to stop or change, change your behaviour first. Once an action has happened, your thinking patterns evolve from being paralysed by indecision to finding freedom in action.