It can sometimes be tough to maintain a positive outlook on life, can’t it? The human condition is such that a period of 30 minutes can seem like an emotional roller coaster on some days flitting from one emotion to another. The real problems occur with overthinking and leting negative thinking patterns spiral out of control. Very often, the spiral starts as a result of over-analysis of events and circumstances that ought not make us feel so bad. We ruminate about the event and start to find things that were not there and then start to make connections, associate that event with lots of others and then we invest belief in those thoughts and it can drive us mad.
If overthinking is familiar or typical of you, then you may be a ruminator or an over-thinker, and it could be detrimentally effecting your physical and mental health.
Last year, a good friend of mine Jill Alldridge highlighted and presented here at a college event about a majorly impressive and important study “Psychological Processes Mediate the Impact of Familial Risk, Social Circumstances and Life Events on Mental Health” by Kinderman, Scwannauer, Pontin and Tai. I say that it is an impressive study because it had 32,827 participants from 172 countries in it.
While the study showed that life events were the largest predictors of stress, followed by family history, income and education, relationship status, and social inclusion, it also showed that the ensuing stress only occurred if the individual ruminated negatively about those events, and it showed that people who weren’t overthinking the events did not become as stressed, anxious or depressed, even if they had indeed experienced many negative events in their lives.
As stated in the study; “Our results demonstrate that … a greater tendency to ruminate and self-blame powerfully determine the impact of familial histories of mental health problems, life events and traumas, and social deprivation, in … depression and anxiety… and wellbeing.”
Many of my clients are over-thinkers, and I have been prone to overthinking and ruminating on occasion in my life and there is no simple solution to fixing it. Rather, a series of processes and personal management needs to be undertaken. The following 7 tips will help you forge new habits of thought and grind overthinking to a halt so that it stops having a negative impact on your life:
1. Take Action:
With over-thinking often comes what is referred to as ‘analysis paralysis.’ This is whereby you are thinking a great deal, but not taking any progressive action. The rumination renders us immobile when it comes to dealing with matters at hand, creating a fertile ground for more negative thought to be cultivated. Taking that very first step can be tough, but putting an action plan in place and making even small strides towards what you want is going to create change.
Thinking about the change you want may make things worse if you do nothing about it. Take action today, this very day. It can feel counterintuitive, it sounds obvious, but most end up wallowing in debilitating over-thinking which anchors us to negative feelings and unhappiness. What actions can you take this very day that would start making a difference to your life? When you engage in action, you start to set yourself free.
Do remember the absolute futility of over-thinking. It does not help the issue at all. To continue to analyse things in theory does not create change. You need to move out of the theory and have a full blown real-life experience of the solution – by taking action. The action will actually end up leading to more clarity of thought than the rumination.
2. Be Mindful:
There is an often quoted saying from Lao Tzu:
“If you are depressed you are living in the past, if you are anxious you are living in the future, and if you are at peace you are living in the present.”
Over-thinkers are often ruminating about the past or the future and lose track of being present in this moment, they get consumed with the past or future and have no idea of how to connect with this moment, let alone how to fall in love with it and enjoy the now.
We can learn how to step back from our thoughts by engaging in the present moment and learning how to observe ourselves from a distance. That is, we recognise ourselves thinking thoughts and feeling feelings rather than only directly experiencing them. We notice what we are doing from a dissociated viewpoint. That place beyond our thoughts can be calm, peaceful and even joyful. It is undoubtedly exhausting to ruminate and overthink, so being able to step back and away from our thoughts can be a valuable tonic. When you practice mindfulness, you become a non-thinker instead of an over-thinker.
One of the principles of ACT, mindfulness based acceptance and commitment therapy, teaches individuals how to sit and accept feelings and thoughts too, not fight them and let them create problems for us. This slows down our thoughts and creates inner peace.
Learn more about mindfulness:
Self-Hypnosis and Detached Mindfulness
3. Develop Your Support Network:
Firstly, it can be useful to receive quality feedback from such as a mentor, a professional peer, a friend or family member. The feedback needs to be objective, useful and relevant. It cannot fuel your over-thinking by simply being what you want to hear. It can be incredibly valuable to shift your perspective and have an outside, neutral stance on matters at hand. It gives you a chance to step outside of your own biases, leanings and emotive position. Getting a fresh stance on matters can be like a waft of smelling salts to the senses.
Research has shown that social support reduces stress, it is important that you do not use this as an opportunity to vent. Evidence would suggest that venting does not help over thinkers, and can actually contribute more stress to your situation. One study showed that talking things out is almost another form of ruminating whereby you simply turn the same stuff over and over and can make things worse for you. Even worse, if the other person you are talking things out with and venting to is also an over-thinker, it will lead to amplified stress and negativity.
In the absence of a good quality source of feedback in your support network, you can write your thoughts down to get them out of your head and put them into some perspective, evidence supports this notion.
4. Abandon Perfectionism:
Quit waiting for the perfect time, the perfect conditions, or the perfect situation to arise before you take steps forward. It is great for us all to have aspirations, but being a perfectionist and expecting perfection is unrealistic and immobilises us in the same way over-analysis (paralysis) does. Make it your aim to improve and advance in life, but do not expect perfection.
The reality is that you can’t control everything. There are always going to be circumstances beyond your control and appreciate that it is ok to encounter problems, and it is ok to encounter set-backs, in fact these are the areas that create growth and development for us.
Read this article about learning to relish problems:
Learn to Enjoy Life’s Problems
When you abandon perfectionism, you can start to abandon trying to be too careful, you can make bold decisions and move towards happiness and greatness in your life. Stop worrying about the outcome and start experiencing it, even if it is less than perfect – which you may come to love even more.
When you are compassionate towards yourself and also forgive yourself, stop being so hard on yourself, then over-thinking often dissipates.
Learn more about self-compassion:
How to Advance Self-Compassion with Self-Hypnosis
Once you recognise that you ruminate, forgive yourself for it because your brain is wired for over-thinking. A leading authority on this is psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema who has demonstrated that our memories and thoughts are threaded together in the brain and not compartmentalised, so the brain is naturally set-up to ruminate. When any single stressor is activated, the ensuing bad feelings, emotions or mood can unlock a number of other negative thoughts that are unrelated to the initial trigger.
Having an argument with a colleague at work triggers feelings related to a relationship break-up! The individual starts to make connections between other bad events and this leads to further rumination and over-thinking.
When we forgive ourselves, it puts an end to that. Forgiving others leads to inner peace too. Evidence shows that when we forgive ourselves and others, it can boost our self-esteem, elevate our moods, improve health greatly and advance relationships.
6. Become a Critical Thinker:
Be healthily sceptical, which is very different to being cynical.
Learn Socratic questioning techniques. The begin to apply them to your own thoughts, because your thoughts are not facts. When we believe our thoughts are facts, that causes the stress and problems to rise.
See your thoughts, be aware of them (as per our earlier point on being mindful) and start to ask:
“Is that a fact or opinion?”
“Where is the evidence for that thought?”
“Is that thought definitely true?”
Seek the truth in your thoughts and beliefs and recognise that the belief invested in things which have not evidence, are assumptions and are distorted are actually causing you problems. This will create a much more relaxed mind.
7. Physical Activity:
In an earlier point about taking action, it was action toward change that we referred to. Here, we are referring to physiological action, exercise and movement.
When the body is still, the mind has all the space it needs to over-think. So we want our thoughts to have a purpose and a goal rather than being aimless.
Make it a goal to engage in regular physical activity where your heart rate is raised.
Let it tire you out healthily, let it burn some calories, and negative thoughts will get burned along with them. Engage in an exercise that you enjoy that is not therefore a chore and make it part of your daily regimen. You’ll get oxygen in your system, you’ll make better decisions and as your breathing is elevated, you’ll find it easier to connect to the present moment a lot more too.
Do also consider training your brain to busy your brain and tire it out too. Creative arts, brain training apps, new languages, musical instruments, engaging in puzzles are all ways of creating a healthy brain.
Employ these 7 tips each day and you’ll notice that you are ruminating less and you will stop with the over-thinking. Put your brain to work doing things that make you happy, joyful and satisfied rather spending it’s energy ruminating and over-thinking will ultimately make us unhappy.
If you’d like to learn more or if this has resonated with you in some way, then visit these pages:
1. Has overthinking or negative thinking held you back and is it still doing so now?
Coaching with Adam Eason Or Hypnotherapy with Adam Eason.
2. Would you like a satisfying and meaningful career as a hypnotherapist helping others overcome such issues?
Adam Eason’s Anglo European training college.
3. Are you a hypnotherapist for whom overthinking is detrimentally effecting the success of your business?
Hypnotherapist Mentoring with Adam Eason.
If you’d like to learn more about self-hypnosis, understand the evidence based principles of it from a scientific perspective and learn how to apply it to many areas of your life while having fun and in a safe environment and have the opportunity to test everything you learn, then come and join me for my one day seminar which does all that and more, have a read here: The Science of Self-Hypnosis Seminar.