Overthinking: Ways to Think (But Not Overthink) About It

What is overthinking and how do we reduce it?

One online dictionary says it’s “to spend more time thinking about something than is necessary or productive.”

E. Paul Zehr, PhD, Psychology Today, likens overthinking to having “too much mind” and suggests the desirability of the Japanese martial arts concept of “mushin no shin,” or “mind of no mind.” As he explains it, “The main implication is to focus on the task at hand–what really needs doing–by letting things happen naturally.”

One example Zehr gives to illustrate this is walking, an activity we do all the time automatically. In fact, if you stop to actually think about your walking, you’re likely to stumble somehow. “You start to exert conscious control over things that are already well controlled and you mess it up.”

Bob Miglani also offers assistance on decreasing overthinking. When he went to his birthplace of India, “the capital of chaos,” he learned a better way of handling his own related issues. As stated in the description to his 2013 book Embrace the Chaos, “The secret is to stop trying to control the chaos and focus on what you can control—your own actions, words, and thoughts. Move forward, make mistakes, trust your intuition, find your purpose.”

Although his Manifesto covers a lot of territory, one significant element is “Don’t Over Think,” or “Don’t Over Analyze. Don’t Over Plan. Don’t Try to Predict.”

Stop trying to predict the future. You cannot. No matter how smart we are, we cannot accurately predict what will happen tomorrow. Everything is so complicated. All the information out there cannot show us the right path we should be taking. Things change constantly. It’s fine to think about pros and cons and the consequences of actions but too often our mind tries to get perfectly certain and gets lost in the process. We allow our mind to be distracted by what others think, say or do, being paralyzed by words casually thrown our way. Stress and tension is often caused by trying to bring certainty and predictability to real life where things are so fast and interconnected and complex that you simply cannot predict anything accurately. Once I realized that my predictions about a career, business, the economy or my life in the future, were not predictable, I got working on the things I could control today!

In The Huffington Post Miglani outlines four specific steps he used to detox his mind from overthinking:

1. Stop consuming the news. 

2. Reduce stimulants (coffee, soda, etc.).

3. Soak the mind with positive juices.

4. Get up and get to work on a goal, a project or a specific task.

Regarding the news, he began to limit himself to once-a-week catch-ups. “Instead of exploring the possibilities and opportunities in life, reading about the uncertain nature of our world today caused me to start worrying and overthinking about my own future — my career, my relationships and my life. And there I stood: Stuck. Unable to move forward.”

Detoxing from caffeine, etc., though hard, was spurred by a health concern initially. “Reducing such stimulants helped to detox my mind because I didn’t have the ups and downs anymore. No rush, no crash. I was less stressed…I was more even keel, more smooth during the whole day…I started sleeping better.”

The third step: “From listening to everyday people to personal development authors to hearing an instructional video on how to do better blogs — I took charge of what went into my head and made a choice to fill it with positive thoughts.” Gradually the overthinking lessened and optimism developed.

Last, he found that a regular “walk about” allows him to focus more on the present. “The reason action is a great way to detox from overthinking is that it forces our mind to concentrate on the things that our physical body is working on and has no choice but to assist the physical effort.”

These four changes aren’t the only ones Miglani advocates, though. In a previous post on his site Embrace the Chaos, he’d listed others, including these three:

  • Know your rhythm and use it in your favor–Because he got more carried away at nighttime, he began to rise earlier in the day so he’d be too tired at night for overthinking.
  • Set a time limit for surfing on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter–By setting a time limit to spend on looking at updates for something like 10-15 minutes, I’ve found that the mind has less material to use, helping me to stop overthinking.”
  • Accept that no matter how smart you are, you cannot predict the future.

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