December 17, 2015

How To Stop Overthinking: Is It Even Possible?

Just stop. Is that not a good enough answer? It seems to be the one that people give who don’t overthink things. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as just stopping. But, overthinking can be tackled.

It’s important to understand that only you can only change how you think. Someone else is not going to stop your overthinking for you – no matter how much information they give you on how to stop overthinking. In addition, you cannot give some of your thoughts to other people and find relief. When it comes to how to stop overthinking, you have to change some internal processes. The first step is to understand what you overthink.

Overthinking Is An Addiction?

Eckhart Tolle calls overthinking an addiction to thinking. He says that it is addictive, just like smoking, eating, gambling, or any other thing that you have become dependent on. In fact, he says that overthinking is a greater addiction than any of those things. It is something that we can do at any time we want – morning, noon, or night, which makes it something we can’t get a break from unless we are asleep or find a cure.

If want to live life, then you can’t sleep all the time, so tackling the addiction of overthinking is very important. And following the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, finding presence would be the greatest enemy of overthinking.

Become More Aware Of The Moment

Get into the habit of living in the moment. Presence can happen when you are ‘doing’ instead of ‘thinking’. For instance, when you are cooking supper for a friend and they are sitting behind the counter talking to you, the two actions that you are taking cause you to be present. You can’t overthink if you are fully engaged in cooking and enjoying their company.

Presence can also happen in the background of thinking. Instead of being completely involved in the thinking, you can work on being aware of your surroundings and engaged in the moment. You will still be thinking, but it will be about the information that you are seeing, hearing, feeling, or sensing.

3 Tips On How To Get Into The Habit Of Presence

It may feel impossible to be more present when you are overthinking everything you have done or will do. But, it is possible. You just have to get into the habit of presence, and you can do that in a few ways.

1. Set Reminders

Just like with any habit, you can set reminders in places that remind you to practice presence. You can simply write out the word ‘present’ on a sticky note and stick it somewhere you spend a lot of your time overthinking. The simple reminder will help you stop, become aware, and open up your awareness to the here and now.

You can also set alerts on your phone with the reminder ‘take a look around’ or ‘stop and smell the roses’ or whatever resonates with you. Don’t be shy with these reminders. Set them to go off once every hour, so that for at least a few minutes of every hour you are focused on being present and getting out of an army of thoughts.

2. Add Important Things Into Your Day

The habit of being present requires that there are important things in your day that need your awareness. When I say important, I don’t mean business meetings or life-changing decisions; although, it can be those things. I simply mean something that you feel is important, such as an important hobby, an important person, or an important show. You will find that as you engage with something or someone that is important to you, your thoughts will slow down because your focus will be on that thing or person.

Therefore, as you build new goals or add new habits into your life, think about your daily schedule and what you can add into it to demand your attention in the moment. For instance, drill down your goals into daily tasks that require your awareness to accomplish.

3. Don’t Follow Thoughts

In order to overthink, you must have one thought. That thought is usually one that makes an attempt to pull you into a train of thoughts. For instance, the thought ‘I wonder if he is ever going to call me back’ can lead to a crazy train of thoughts that end up worrying about what you may have done to offend him and what you will say if he actually does call you back. The trick is to not follow the initial thought.

This takes practice, but it can be done. When you hear a thought that you know is going to lead you towards overthinking, stop it in its place. You may want to verbally say ‘STOP’ to break the train of thoughts, or you may want to make a noise, such as a snap or a whistle that grabs your attention and stops you from following your thoughts. Then, quickly put your focus on something else around you, such as your pet, the wind, the sky, the sounds, other people, or whatever is near you that brings you back into the present moment.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder And Overthinking

Another cause of overthinking is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). You may not know you have this, but if you have intrusive thoughts where you think about things repetitively, or where you have irrational thoughts from fear or doubts, or if you ruminate on certain things without any direction or solution, then OCD may be the cause. Thoughts about dangerous, dirty, or disgusting things can also enter the mind and become focused on.

How Can You Tell If You Have OCD?

The following thought patterns may be an indication that you need to look into whether or not you have OCD.

Generally your thoughts will be a little more irrational. For instance, if you are worried about whether or not your house is going to catch on fire after you leave it, that is a sign that you are not confident in how you left your house and you feel sure that something like the oven or fireplace is still on – even if you checked it before you left.

You may also have odd thoughts that you don’t want to think about. These are thoughts that you may not think other people would have, and you may label them as sick, bizarre, or just plain wrong. And, you may fear that you are going to act on these thoughts even though you have no desire to do so.

In addition, you may evaluate your own thoughts and label them as right or wrong. You may feel like you should only have certain thoughts and beat yourself up when you have other thoughts that don’t fit into what you believe you should have.

Lastly, you may find yourself undoing certain things that you say and replacing them with something better, and then focusing on it compulsively and worrying about it.

How To Overcome OCD Thoughts

It’s hard to overcome these kinds of thoughts. Becoming present can help in the moment, sometimes, but soon you find yourself worrying about something or thinking about something irrational, and it almost seems like it can’t be helped. Experts agree that the more you try to stop yourself from thinking about your thoughts, the less it helps you in the long term. So what can you do?

1. Recognize Your Control

Develop the realization that you are in complete control of your thoughts. Whatever thoughts you have are dictated by you. When it comes to how to stop overthinking, the right knowledge and techniques can help, you just have to find what works for you. This realization can be a huge relief for people suffering from constant thoughts that are very intrusive, as it often feels as though the thoughts have control of them and not the other way around.

With this realization, it also becomes apparent that you don’t have to be worried about acting out on your thoughts. Because your thoughts don’t control you, no matter how strong and different they are, you don’t have to worry about them taking control of your body and making you do something you don’t want to do.

2. Don’t Make Give These Thoughts A High Value

Once you recognize that you are in control, give less importance to these thoughts. They do not deserve a lot of your time because they are really not that important to what happens or doesn’t happen in your life. Simply accept that these thoughts are occurring and remember that you are in control. Do that and you will find that your thoughts have a way of fading out on their own when you are not making them your number one priority.

3. Do The Things That Create Overthinking

This is an interesting and scary technique, but it works. Let’s say you overthink the safety of your house after you leave it, then the chances are good you leave your house as little as possible because you spend a great deal of time checking and rechecking everything before you leave. You may check the oven a certain amount of times, slowly go through each door and window to make sure they are locked, and then check and recheck that you locked the door after you leave.

Instead of going out as little as possible, go out a few times per day. Go for walks, go to the store, or go to your driveway and back. The more you expose yourself to leaving the house, the more you can prove to yourself that your thoughts and worries are not as valid as you think they are.

Other Tips On How To Stop Overthinking

Maybe you don’t have OCD and maybe you practice living in the moment quite often, but you still find yourself overthinking things that you don’t want to overthink! Following are some extra tips that can help.

1. Stop Talking About The Issue

I find that when I get angry, talking about it perpetuates that anger for hours. But, when I process the anger and focus on discussing more positive things with the people around me, I find my thoughts moving on as well.

The more you talk about the issue, the more weight you give it and the more important it becomes in your mind. Therefore, if you find yourself telling everyone you meet about what is bothering you, then you are giving the issue much more importance than you want to give it, and it will stay in your thoughts much longer.

2. Fix The Problem

If you are overthinking something that is fixable, then fix the problem. For instance, if you said something that made a friend upset, you have two options: dwell on what you said or apologize to your friend. You will find that apologizing to your friend and talking about it will help you overcome the obsessive thoughts around it.

3. Face Fears

A lot of overthinking comes from fears. We think about what could happen in future situations, and those fears keep us lost in thought. In this case, you can either face your fears in reality by tackling what you are worried about, or you can ask yourself what the worst that can really happen is. Once you face or visualize the worst that can happen, and come to terms with it, you will find yourself moving on from your thoughts.

I used to be very fearful. The thought of certain things happening would bring me to my knees in terror. I would focus on them until I drove myself crazy, and every song, word, and image would remind me of my fear and bring me back to my thoughts.

The trick that I used to overcome my fear-based overthinking was to allow myself to live in the fear completely one more time, but I promises myself that if my fear didn’t come true, I would never to allow myself to live in the fear again.

I repeated that promise to myself daily. I told my friends about the promise I was making to myself. I made it very clear to myself that either my fear would come true or I would stop obsessing about imagined fears that never turned out the way I imagined. When my fear didn’t come to pass, my life shifted. The next time something happened that would have normally caused me to overthink, I reminded myself of the promise I made and lived in the reality that fears never work out as bad as you imagine, so why bother imagining anything bad.

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