For the past seven days, I’ve done the impossible: I didn’t overthink every little decision or situation that crossed my path, and I actually survived to live to tell the tale. Now, I have shorter hair, a clean(er) home, and more energy. Who knew so much can happen when you don’t spend the time to overthink about all possible outcomes all the time.
However, I wouldn’t call this an overnight success. As I sit here in front of my computer screen, contemplating how I’m going to write this story, I can’t help but feel a little hypocritical. After a week of forcing myself not to over analyze every little thing, I feel nervous — anxious even — about rehashing the past seven days. Will this experiment change me? Can I continue this newfound life? Obviously, I need to practice not overthinking a little bit more.
What made me want to complete this challenge in the first place was that ever since I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that I started to overthink my every move. Instead of contemplating all the things that could go right, I’d sulk about what could go wrong. I would let fear paralyze me and second-guess my decisions to avoid making mistakes. Was it tiring? Absolutely. Did it bring me comfort? Yes, yes, triple yes. Overthinking allowed me to be in control of something that I had no control over. When I mulled over every possible outcome I felt in charge, even though it became emotionally draining. This was the only way I knew how to handle extremely stressful situations and it got to a point where my day would vanish into thin air because I couldn’t stop thinking about what was bothering me. Alas, that’s why we’re here. I needed an intervention. Below, are all the ways I found that helped me stop overthinking for the week.
Tips on How to Stop Overthinking
Before I began my week-long adventure, I wanted to find a few tricks on how to pull myself out of spiraling into overthinking. After a quick search on the internet, I found a few tips from Psychology Today that felt manageable:
- Become aware of when you’re thinking too much. Pay attention to the way you think.
- Challenge your thoughts. Learn to recognize and replace thinking errors.
- Keep the focus on active problem-solving. Ask yourself what you can do about it.
- Schedule time for reflection — only 20 minutes of worrying.
- Practice mindfulness. Be present.
- Change the channel. Keep yourself busy with a new activity.
Essentially, these tips are a step-by-step guide on how to overcome obsessive thinking. They are supposed to stop someone from ruminating (rehashing the past) and worrying (assuming future negative outcomes) and instead, help them become more present. While I didn’t use these tips exactly in this order all the time, it did allow me to become more aware of them so I could individually use them for certain situations.
I wanted to begin the week-long challenge during what I thought would be a really busy week. I had a few stories in the works that I needed to complete for a couple of different publications, grab drinks with friends on two different days, host a panel, and get ahead of everyday household chores — because, adulting. Once the week was over, I realized there were a few things I was naturally gravitating toward to help be prevent overthinking. In addition to using the above tips, I was able to be more present when I created a strict schedule, listened to my intuition, and took control of my fears. These things may seem simple enough to some, but as someone who has been plagued with this mindset for quite some time, these little tricks helped me feel like I was heading in the right direction.
Created a Strict Schedule
The one thing I realized early on in the week was that I tend to overthink when I want to do multiple things at one time. Luckily, I figured out that creating a strict schedule gave me room to breathe. Instead of contemplating for 30 minutes about what I wanted my day to look like when I first woke up, I would create my schedule the night before and stick with it. After doing this for a couple of days, I realized that I wasted so much energy trying to make the “right” decision when in reality, any decision was the right decision; it just depended on how I wanted my day to be structured.
As a freelancer, it can feel rewarding and crumbling at the same time when you have the freedom to do whatever you want, but once I noticed that I functioned better with a schedule, I wanted to continue to follow that routine for the rest of the week.
Listened to my Intuition
During this challenge, I tried everything in my power to just listen to my gut. When a positive thought or feeling took over me, I followed it. When a day didn’t go as planned, I would ask my intuition why and listen to it. This helped me to focus on finding *the* answer instead of overthinking, trying to find multiple answers. When I listened to my intuition, it told me to do things that would make me happy. That meant I said yes to hanging out with two friends on two different nights, working until 11pm every now and then because I wanted to feel accomplished, cutting my hair, and going to a pilates class on Sunday, and treating myself to a cup of coffee because I simply wanted to.
Before this challenge, I would have overthought all of those scenarios. So-and-so wants to hang out, but do I want to travel all the way downtown? I could schedule a pilates class, but staying in bed on a Sunday sounds nice, too. Listening to my gut gave me room to let go of all the B.S. and do what I truly wanted to do deep down. I noticed this week was filled with less remorse, less rehashing, and more fulfillment. And I never felt better.
Took Control of My Fears
I tend to overthink when I don’t have control over a situation and I’m afraid of a possible outcome coming to fruition. I’ll worry about every single scenario that can occur and mull over all the ways I can avoid it. This thought process could easily take up an entire day and leave me feeling brain dead by the time I go to bed. While I couldn’t completely get rid of my fears this week (I mean, who can, anyway?), I tried to focus on actively problem-solving my issues to help me navigate through them. And it worked for the majority of the time.
A few weeks prior, I was asked to moderate a panel. I was so thrilled to do it that my fear didn’t start kicking in until a few hours before the event. I started to think of all the ways it could go wrong and noticed that I was about to spiral down a dark and negative path of negative self-talk. But instead of letting my fears take over me, I asked myself how I could take better control of this situation. I stopped whatever I was doing and started to prepare a minute-by-minute sequence of how I would imagine the night would go. Then I practiced what I was planning to say out loud over and over again until I felt 90 percent confident. By the time I got to the event, my nerves were cut by 50 percent and I felt comfortable enough to talk in front of a crowd because I had already practiced doing it at home. To me, this was a success, and it showed me that no matter what happens, there’s usually a way to navigate the fears, if you allow yourself to slow down and think of a way around them.
While I never thought I would be able to do this, I realized that I have more control over my thoughts than I realized. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like a prisoner in my own mind and after a week of trying to not overthink, it’s possible to find peace within yourself with a little bit of practice, self-awareness, and kindness. I’m proud of myself of realizing that I’m capable of challenging my thoughts and continuing to implement these strategies moving forward to create a more peaceful and structured life.