Ways to Limit and Control Overthinking

February 26, 2020

Do you consider yourself an over-thinker? While logical thinking and decision-making are necessary to progress through life, a fine balance between thoughts and action is required to prevent the excess analysis that keeps us mentally or physically stuck, also referred to as “analysis paralysis.” Overthinking prevents us from taking action. It creates anxiety around the future or keeps us ruminating on past events. It can be mentally draining, inhibit decision-making, and distort our reality in a negative way.

How can we limit or control our overthinking?

We can control overthinking by harnessing the power of mindfulness practices. This entails bringing your awareness to the present moment without judgement. Mindfulness is the practice of focused attention and can be achieved in a variety of ways:

  1. Meditation Practices: “Meditation is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is different from the normal waking state. It is the means for observing all the levels of ourselves and experiencing the center of consciousness within. Meditation is not a part of any religion; it is a science, which means that the process of meditation follows a particular order, has definite principles, and produces results that can be verified. In meditation, your head is clear, relaxed, and inwardly focused. When you meditate, you are fully awake and alert, but your mind is not focused on the external world or on the events taking place around you.” (yoga international.com) The purpose of meditation is not to silence our mind, but to achieve a level of detachment from our thoughts and become a curious and compassionate witness to them.
  2. Body Scan: Connect body and mind by observing all of the feelings and sensations in your body from head to toe. Notice all physical sensations from tensions, aches, discomfort, stillness, and relaxation.
  3. Guided Imagery + Visualizations: Distract your mind from overthinking by focusing on specific images. Visualize the most relaxing place you’ve ever been. Visualize yourself achieving the goal you may be ruminating over.
  4. Yoga Meditations: Incorporate yoga and meditation with specific focus on self-acceptance, breathing, and incorporating body awareness.
  5. Mantra Meditation: This meditation focuses on a phrase, word, syllable, or theme that challenges the beliefs and thoughts associated with your patterns of overthinking. Apps like Calm and Headspace are great places to start using meditation practices.

Establish mindfulness habits when you notice your mind wanders the most. How often is your mind on autopilot?When our mind is idle, thought loops can develop and our heads are prime targets for rumination and worrying. We can take control back by exercising mindfulness practices during our mundane tasks: noticing the textures, taste, and sensations during teeth brushing. Smelling the fruity lather of shampoo during a shower, noting interesting license plates, homes you admire, or beats of your favorite music during long car rides. Being more intentional with our attention can create new habits for us. This helps keep us present and allows us to assert more control over our mental matters.

Cultivate a ‘growth’ mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that skills, insight, and competencies can be established through practice and perseverance. Instead of viewing ourselves and our situations as “unchangeable”, observe through a lens of self-compassion and as a learning process. This will change the meaning of the event from the past that you’re thinking about. Instead of focusing on what went wrong, ask yourself what can be learned from the experience and how you will apply it in the future. Focus on the way this will shape you positivity in the future.

Establish times dedicated to worry during your day and set reasonable deadlines to make decisions about things you are overthinking. With specific times dedicated to worry or stressful decisions, you can give yourself permission to let your mind rest until that time comes. This can be 5-20 minutes a day. This way, you’re eliminating the pressure of juggling a large mental load throughout your day by preventing distractions, increasing productivity, and decreasing negative effects of overthinking overall. Also, setting reasonable deadlines to make decisions is a gentle push to encourage decisiveness for people who ruminate on the pros and cons while making decisions. If we ruminate too long in “analysis paralysis” mode, the indecision potentially holds us back just as much as making “the wrong” decision would, ultimately preventing movement to a place of growth and progress in our lives.