Overthinking: 8 Strategies to Break the Cycle
Do you ever catch yourself in a relentless cycle of overthinking, where your thoughts seem to spiral out of control, stealing precious moments from your day, and even keeping you awake at night? If you experience this from time to time, you’re not alone. Many of us face this common challenge at some point in our lives, and today, we’re going to explore practical strategies to break free from the mental spin cycle. But first, let’s dive into some real-life scenarios.
The Mental Struggle
Clients taking on a job in a new company, a new role, or a new boss, often experience overthinking. But overthinking can be triggered by a wide range of personal circumstances too. No matter the cause, you may experience a range of (sometimes unexpected) emotions. And, despite the circumstances, a common thread emerges — an unsettling sensation of uncertainty.
Rather than focusing on your abilities, and things you CAN control, you begin to dip into feelings of self-doubt or worry, or even dread, scrutinizing every decision. Questions like, “Am I learning quickly enough?”, “Am I performing well enough?”, “Are they just saying that to be nice?”, and “What happens if….”, start to infiltrate your thoughts.
The internal dialogue may build in your mind, leading to reflections such as, “I wish I hadn’t said that”, and “I should have handled that differently”. The recurring themes of self-criticism, and thinking that the worst will happen, are all too familiar for those grappling with the challenges of overthinking.
Recognizing this Common Challenge
Overthinking is a normal part of life. You have at least two options for dealing with it.
Option 1. You accept that episodes of overthinking are bound to happen. You recognize that you will suffer periods of self-doubt, worry, procrastination, lost productivity, and lack of sleep.
Option 2. You learn how to regain control over your thoughts, quickly and effectively, to minimize overthinking and its negative effects.
Assuming you’ve chosen option two, let’s explore 8 practical strategies that can help you navigate overthinking more efficiently.
1: Notice and Evaluate
The first crucial step is to notice when you’re overthinking. What triggers these thoughts for you? Is it a new challenge, role, or boss that makes you feel uncertain, or a task that leaves you questioning your abilities? Certainly, it may be something entirely different, but equally difficult. Understanding the trigger is essential to addressing overthinking effectively.
Next, pay attention to how your body feels, your emotions, and your automatic reactions. Our bodies signal us (a few precious seconds) more quickly than our brains.
Then, evaluate your thoughts. Are you stuck in the woulda, coulda, shoulda trap? These words are an indication that you might be using your B-Game, or less-than-best thinking to solve a problem. Gathering this valuable data will help alert you when similar situations arise in the future, possibly preventing them altogether.
2: Seek External Perspectives
One challenge with solving overthinking is that it’s often difficult to solve the problem you are facing, with the same thinking that got you there. This is where seeking external perspectives, such as partnering with a coach or mental health professional, can be immensely beneficial. They can provide insights and alternative viewpoints that might be difficult, if not impossible, to see on your own.
3: Pause and Breathe
Taking a moment to pause and take a deep breath can work wonders. This simple action can quickly calm your nervous system, preventing an amygdala hijack that could push you into a fight, flight, or freeze response. By filling your lungs with air and giving yourself a moment, you create space to think more clearly so you can solve your problems, or even possibly prevent them in the future.
4: The Central Question of Life, Love, and Leadership
Ask yourself The Central Question of Life, Love and Leadership (see Axiogenics LLC for more information): “What choice can I make and action can I take in this moment to create the greatest net value?” This powerful question prompts you to reflect on your options, consider the facts, and make decisions that create the most value, and contribute positively to the situation. [To learn about this powerful question watch Unlocking Your Valuegenic Mindset].
5: “Put a Pin in It”
If a solution isn’t immediately apparent, practical, or possible, or it’s the middle of the night, tell yourself to “put a pin in it”. This psychological trick allows your mind to take a break, letting go of the idea temporarily. It’s a way to shift gears and focus on more productive tasks (like sleeping).
6: Be Your Own Best Friend
Consider what your best friend would tell you. Often, we are harder on ourselves than others are. Be realistic and compassionate with yourself, just as a best friend would. This technique can provide a fresh perspective and alleviate unnecessary self-criticism.
7: Get Busy and Reflect on Success
Engage in activities that distract your mind, such as cleaning, taking a walk, or spending time in nature. Doing something for someone else can also lift your spirits. Additionally, reflecting on past successes and how you overcame challenges in the past can ground you in reality, and instill confidence and a fresh perspective.
8: Embrace Discomfort and Seek Help
Acknowledge that discomfort is a normal part of stretching and growing. However, if overthinking is causing excessive stress or mental strain, don’t wait too long to seek outside help. Whether it’s a coach providing valuable insights into your thinking or a mental health professional offering support, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Practical Steps for Clarity
Combining the power of these practical strategies, especially taking a big breath, and asking and answering The Central Question gives you time to reflect on a situation. Consider the facts. Determine whether immediate action is needed. Evaluate whether you have considered all the relevant factors, including yourself.
Conclusion: Living a Richer Life
In the journey of life, overthinking can be a stumbling block, but these practical strategies can help you break the cycle and start living a richer, more fulfilling life. If you find that overthinking is impacting your experiences at work, or your personal life, schedule a call to learn how Valuegenic Self-Leadership training and coaching can help. Let’s start a conversation and explore how you can “put a pin in it” and start Living a Richer Life!
Kristin Clark is an Axiogencs LLC Partner and Certified Axiogenics Coach. She’s the owner of Insight Coaching and co-author of Living a Richer Life; It’s All in Your Head which she proudly wrote with her dad. She’s coached hundreds of people from a range of backgrounds and beliefs, industries, and professions. Kristin trains and coaches owners, executives, and business leaders seeking to become Valuegenic Self-Leaders. Kristin can help you master your A-Game, enhance your performance, embrace your relationships, engage your team, elevate your leadership, and enrich your life.