Stop Talking About It
When faced with the type of difficult decision that causes most of us to overthink, it's natural to seek out advice from others. This usually means we talk through a problem with so many people that it's impossible not to overthink.
As we've pointed out before, too many cooks in the kitchen leads to poor decision making. As you talk with more people and get more data, you get more confused, which leads to more overthinking. Psychology Today explains what's going on in your brain:
The human mind hates uncertainty. Uncertainty implies volatility, randomness, and danger. When we notice information is missing, our brain raises a metaphorical red flag and says, "Pay attention. This could be important..." When data is missing, we overestimate its value. Our mind assumes that since we are expending resources locating information, it must be useful.
We all want to get details and information from other people, but at a certain point it stops being helpful. When we limit information, we can look at it more productively. Psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer refers to this as the "take the best" strategy:
"Take the best" means that you reason and calculate only as much as you absolutely have to; then you stop and do something else. So, for example, if there are 10 pieces of information that you might weigh in a thorough decision, but one piece of information is clearly more important than the others, then that one piece of information is often enough to make a choice. You don't need the rest; other details just complicate things and waste time.
Even if you're overthinking an event that happened to you, your relationship with your significant other, or a mistake at work, limiting how many people you talk with can help make the process better.
Figure Out Why You're Overthinking
Sometimes, we overthink because we can. We'll get caught in a loop where we're recreating an event over and over, or attempting to analyze an idea from every perspective imaginable. After hours of thinking and days of no sleep, we'll often get nowhere. Psychology Today suggests that even though our brains are often hard-wired to overthink, you can move the process along a little. Here's their definition of the problem:
Whether it's worrying about social interactions, our self-worth, our future, our families or something else, overanalyzing in these repetitive ways is exhausting and rarely leads to a productive or helpful outcome. Rather, we waste time overthinking events, ourselves, actions, people's intentions or thoughts, or repeatedly trying to plan for all potential future outcomes, even though most times none of those scenarios ever play out...
One of our biggest challenges - and why we keep reminding people that you are not your brain! - is that we often take those initial brain-based thoughts, urges, emotional sensations, impulses and desires at face value and assume they must be true...
They suggest a four step plan to moving on:
- Relabel the ideas you're overthinking ("self-doubt,"
- Reframe your experience and identify your thinking errors
- Refocus your attention on the part that matters
- Revalue your brains messages with the new information
After running through these four steps, you'll often realize just how often your brain has no idea what it’s doing. With a little bit of distance, you can figure out why you're overthinking an idea, close the loop, and move on.
We're all going to overthink, overanalyze, and waste a lot of our days inside our own brains sometimes. The trick, really, is about minimizing those thoughts and making them as productive as possible so they don't get in the way.
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Sources and References
Klosowski, T. (2014). “How to Stop Overthinking Everything and Find Peace of Mind” Lifehacker.com. Thorin Klosowski, published 24 July 2014. Accessed 31 May 2016. <http://lifehacker.com/how-to-stop-overthinking-everything-and-find-peace-of-m-1609850688>
Image Credit: National Institute of Health (NIH). NIH Medline Plus, Summer 2015, “Safe Use of Complimentary Health Products and Practices for Anxiety”. <https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/summer15/images/collegestudent.jpg>. Published Summer 2014. Accessed 31 May 2016.
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