3 Good Reasons to Stop Thinking So Much, And How to Do It

by Henrik Edberg

3 Good Reasons to Stop Thinking So Much, And How to Do It
Image by gutter (license).

What is stopping people from getting the results they want?

Well, for one I’d say a pretty common and self-imposed roadblock is thinking too much.

In fact, one of the best tips for getting things done that I have learned so far is simply to stop thinking and start doing.

I think this problem of overthinking things is nothing that I’m alone with in the personal development community. I think it may be one of the problems that draw people to books and websites on self-help and one of the things that still keep them from achieving what they want even after they have picked up on a lot of helpful advice.

Because after having read five books you think and plan and think a little more. You get lost in thinking. At least that’s what I did. If you’re an overthinker then getting your hands on personal development information becomes just another way to creatively procrastinate. But now you can label it as making progress and get an emotional kick out of it.

Now, I’m not saying that educating yourself or thinking is something bad. But overdoing it won’t help you either.

Here are a couple of good reasons why.

1. Thinking can’t replace action.

I sometimes think there is some kind of wish when overthinking that thinking will somehow replace action. A wish that if you just think enough you can find some easy way out or get what you want without having to actually do something.

Without taking action you’ll most likely not get what you want. Thinking is however seldom as scary or uncertain as taking the leap into the unknown and taking action.

So it can become a place where you hide from taking action and then rationalize to yourself in different ways how all this thinking will help you. Even though you know deep down that what you really want and need is to take action and get going.

If you’re having trouble taking action then you may also want to check out Do You Make These 5 Mistakes When You Try to Take Action? and How to Take More Action: 9 Powerful Tips.

2. You may overcomplicate things.

Are things hard and difficult? Yeah, they might be. But you may also want consider that it’s you that are making them even harder.

By overthinking things you make them more and more complicated in your mind. You can turn something fairly simple into a really complicated and big mess. And so it goes from something you can do with some discomfort and persistence into an epic battle where you keep moving inch by painstaking inch.

A problem here is that when what you are doing is difficult and complicated then you and others think that it must be important. And so you feel important. You derive a sense of importance from making things into big struggles.

Such a thing can form into an identity where you are struggling and keeping on moving forward while you imagine other people lying at home in the sofa lazily watching some TV. It can strengthen you. It can make you feel negatively about other people. It may feel good in a sort of way to feel like an outsider or some kind of misunderstood underdog that’s up against so much. So it has its upsides.

However, you may also want to consider not making things to so hard for yourself. You don’t have to be a rebel that’s going against the world. You can just accept what you choose to do. And that other people choose to do other things.

Upsides such as a feeling of importance or of being the underdog may make it hard to give up the notion that what you are doing may not be that difficult and complicated. But I have found that when I do that then I become more relaxed and things tend to be easier to accomplish.

You can to some degree control how difficult something will be. Much of your struggle is up there in your head. Just try letting go of the notion of how awfully difficult something is and see what happens. You may be relieved. And surprised at how you have been making your life more complicated than it needs to be.

3. You’ll perform worse.

If you overthink things you may overcomplicate them. And so you become nervous and start to second guess yourself all the time. It also becomes harder to focus on doing something when you have a have a habit of thinking a lot. You may often slip into possible future scenarios in your mind instead just focusing on what you are doing right now.

All of this can cripple your performance and produce results that are worse than they could have been.

How to stop thinking so much

So, I used to be a big overthinker. Still am. From time to time. But I have made progress. Here are three things I use to cultivate a habit of not overthinking things.

Be aware of the problem.

The most important thing is to be aware that you tend to overthink. And to keep being aware of that in your everyday life. You can for instance do that with post-it notes that say “Don’t overthink things. Act!” or something along those lines.

By just being aware of your habit you can often pick up on when you are doing it, stop yourself and do something more helpful instead. Over time it also becomes easier to step out of the loop of thoughts and not get stuck back in it a half an hour later.

Set deadlines for decisions.

Instead of thinking about something for days, tell yourself that you have – for example – 30 minutes to think. Then you will make a decision.

Be present.

Focus on what’s in front of you instead of flying off to the past or Tomorrowland for long periods of time. A tennis player will for instance not think much while playing. She just trusts in her own subconscious and stays with flow. Her body will – after years of practise – know what to do automatically.

The same goes for many things in everyday life. You don’t have to think a lot about everything. You can just stay present and let the right actions naturally arise.

This may sound a bit wonky, but if you just do things while being present you may discover that the results are often better than if you put in a lot of thought. Like the tennis player, you know what the right thing to do is and how to do it well from years of experience and practise. You just have to let go of all that thinking that can cripple you. And have trust in your capabilities.

For tips on how to be present have a look at 8 Ways to Return to the Present Moment.

If you like this article, please give it a thumb up in Stumbleupon. Thanks a lot! =)




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{ 53 comments }

Jarrod - Warrior Development July 11, 2008 at 2:21 pm

If content is king in blogging, action and consequently experience is king in personal development.

When it comes to decide if you should adopt a new way of living in the end the only way to know if it is going to work is to go all out using it for a set period of time. If the change is supposed to bring serious change into your life you probably want to practice all out for 3 – 9 months to see how real and long term its effects are.

Its far to easy to do things for a couple of weeks and then decide its not working and start reading again. :)

Lauren - OfficeArrow July 11, 2008 at 3:01 pm

Hi Henrik,
I completely agree with everything you’ve mentioned in this article and I appreciate the suggestions you’ve offered. Sometimes planning, mapping, and organizing can get in the way of the end goal which is ultimately, to take action. I don’t know how many times overthinking has only made things worse for me, both professionally and personally. My productivity mantra recently has been “Just do it.”

Sara at On Simplicity July 11, 2008 at 4:14 pm

It’s like you peeked into my overanalytical mind! I’ve spent many hours reading about a new hobby or idea without ever actually trying it. Lame, right?

Setting deadlines with concrete action points is probably the best strategy for me. Embracing small steps also helps.

In my life, action has always benefited me more than overthinking things. So, I’m trying to embrace failures as successful experiments in not thinking too much.

Avani-Mehta July 11, 2008 at 4:30 pm

I agree. Even if we do manage to gather all the information and process it, usually we can implement one or two points of it only. Then we start looking for information all over again :)

Mike King July 11, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Great article Henrik! I especially like you’re point about how over thinking generally complicates things. While I think it is possible to have an attitude of simplification in your thinking, which allows you to think about ways to make things easier and easier, that is much more difficult to achieve.

Dom July 11, 2008 at 5:51 pm

This is me. I overthink my life and I have been crippled. I have wanted to start my own business for a while now, but have looked for reasons why I shouldn’t…what if I can’t make enough money to pay my bills, and can’t find another job in my business if I fail, and I go totally broke?…or, I can’t do anything yet until my home sells and I can move back home and get on with my life…etc. I am finally learining to take steps towards what I want.
I love this blog and it always keeps me mentally in check.

Thank you very much for the support.

Shanel Yang July 11, 2008 at 6:52 pm

Brilliant post, Henrik! My mantra that snaps me back into action whenever my mind wanders while I’m working is “Make it work.” These tree little words encompass many core concepts: (1) No obstacle is too great to overcome; (2) It has to get done so do whatever it takes to get it done; (3) There are many different ways to get to the same desired result — none are perfect — so just get moving and get there; (3) It doesn’t need to be perfect — it just needs to be “good enough”; and, most importantly, (4) it needs to get done on time!

I’ve learned to trust my instincts much more (just like your tennis player example), and it’s made a world of difference. In fact, I wrote about why our instincts are rather weak if we have had a particularly challenging child and about how to overcome that in my article “Fan Your Inner Flame Till It Burns Bright” at http://shanelyang.com/2008/05/10/fan-your-inner-flame-till-it-burns-bright/

So, now I have a better sense of when I’ve thought enough about a problem and what initial steps/actions I need to take just to get the additional information I need to have any further fruitful thoughts about the issue at hand. Again, great post!

shorty July 11, 2008 at 7:04 pm

This is so timely for me, as i have been trying to “figure things out” on work/life/goals

A friend told me that sometimes we just have to let purpose come to us. So i realize i have to “let go” of those things i cannot control, like other people’s behaviors, and i need to be responsible for myself and TAKE responsibABILITY for my actions.

thanks

Kei July 11, 2008 at 9:21 pm

I think we are all at some time or another, victims of over-thinking. Problems and road-blocks can seem so intimidating sometimes, that we tend to feel that thinking about it keeps us from having to “act” on it. But at the end of the day, the challenge is still there, waiting for us to make a move. I agree with many of the points you made. It’s important to focus, give yourself a timeframe within which you can make your decision, and not allow fear to keep you from doing something that will benefit you. Thank you for sharing.

Kei
http://therevealedoasis.blogspot.com

dtj July 11, 2008 at 9:23 pm

Thinking rather than simply doing is just like waiting for the “right time” to buy a personal computer or laptop. If you wait for the right specs or right price, you will wait forever, as things are getting faster and cheaper continuously. There are particular times, such as transient high memory prices, when you should wait. But, in general, the utility value that you get from using the tool is far greater than the money saved by waiting. Perhaps the most frequent wait rather than do scenario is “i’ll write that novel when I ‘have enough time’”, which of course never comes.

The other problem with waiting is that you start to miss the opportunities and variances in the path that you have chosen. If you wait, you don’t make the mistakes that provide great opportunities to change your path to something that aligns more closely to what you intended to get out of it.

Chuck Bartok July 11, 2008 at 10:02 pm

What a delighful post!

It amazes how many on this internet thing, who “want to be in Business” spend all their time Buying Junk, never reading; Attending Teleseminars; Listeneing to Sizzle calls…

And DO NOTHING!

I have rushed into ventures for 5.5 decades, messed up a couple of times, SO WHAT.

85% of Intuition will take you to next level, If you ACT ON IT NOW.

Thanks,
Chuck

Barbara July 11, 2008 at 10:10 pm

Henrik,

I really enjoy your article and this site. I will bookmark it! Positivity is definitely key, after all, the law of attraction encourages like to attract like. The more positive we think the more positive will come our way. As for quieting the mind, that’s another story since I feel like it is always running a mile a minute. Meditation does help though. Anyways, I appreciate the knowledge you share on this site as I too am an advocate for self improvement. I have recently started my own site, http://www.theyoumovement.com because of this desire to not only improve myself and others but also the world. Check it out if you have the time.

Barbara

Ben July 11, 2008 at 11:15 pm

Great article. I am a huge over thinker and it continually gets me in trouble in terms of completing things that I’ve started (because my ideas tangent and tangent until the end result is so far removed from where I am that I can never finish!).

I also appreciate a personal development writer who isn’t trying to perpetuate the vicious circle often seen in personal help manuals. I’ve read my fair share and you get to the end of it and feel like you need a lot more work, rather then feeling confident and “fixed”! So thanks.

Brianna July 12, 2008 at 12:54 am

I’m SO guilty of overthinking. Thanks for this reminder to move forward and take action.

I am in the process of limiting my thinking time by creating concrete guidelines for myself (I did this for my blog to keep things simple and focused). It is great to have a bit of guidance to keep my thoughts on track and productive so I can make my list of tasks and GO!

ZENanarchy July 12, 2008 at 11:08 am

Thinking is an amazing topic. Its one THE topics of zen thought, if not the major one, and Chinese have a many words that dont work in the way of thinking that our Western ways of language do. The word
“Mouchen” means mindless or that happens of itself
this is an important word that symbolizes that of all thinks, because whether we believe it to be so, we are always acting spontaneously. Even though we become flustered with endless arrary of words, we can get lost in action as well. Perhaps finding that which captures our attention and fully maintaining our ability to get mindlessly caught in action.

fathersez July 12, 2008 at 3:14 pm

You are so right. Analysis paralysis seems to be a common sickness amongst the “over-studied” cases like me.

My wife on the other hand, blissfully does what she thinks is right and very much more often than not, she is!

i lasered my pubes July 12, 2008 at 7:00 pm

Stop thinking, and one day, you too can become President of the USA !

Rick July 13, 2008 at 1:22 pm

I can’t tell you how much this post hits home. I’ve experienced it myself. I’ve taken an aspect of my life that needs improvement and then I’ve read as many books as I can on the subject. It eventually occurs to me that along with seeing contradictions in advice and so many methods for improvement I am not taking action. Great advice and much needed for many.

Rick

Laurie July 13, 2008 at 2:34 pm

Another great article, Henrik! I especially like under “be aware of the problem” is that you said overthinking is a habit. We often think of habits as things we do that are physically bad for us, like smoking, overeating, etc. But habits are also the ways that we think – or overthink. Once we realize what our mental habits are, and are aware of the problem as you say, we can begin to make the necessary changes. Thanks!

Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D. July 13, 2008 at 11:26 pm

Overthinking is my downfall, but I’m getting better at moving into action.

Thanks for treating this topic.

kleanchap July 14, 2008 at 8:07 pm

Great article and Great Advice!! Thank you!!

Doug Johnson July 15, 2008 at 4:52 pm

I’d argue that overthinking is better than underthinking. As an earlier commenter suggested, we could use a little more overthinking in the executive branch of US government.

Doug

Scott July 15, 2008 at 10:06 pm

I agree that over-thinking is a problem, and there are definitely times where one must act right away. I also have too often seen the reverse where individuals or groups do not take a few moments to consider the ramifications and can make huge messes.

Freedom Lies Within July 17, 2008 at 3:48 am

Insightful post. I really agree with the part about being present. Sometimes, its as if we get too caught up in chasing the future or escaping the past that we don’t see the opportunities that lie right before our eyes.

Rigdha July 18, 2008 at 7:40 am

Great post Henrik!

Im guilty of overthinking A LOT..it’s hard to move from over analyzing to doing it..But, it’s a pretty important move.

Thanks for the post!

Personal Trainer\ July 22, 2008 at 11:13 pm

Great post. There has to be balance with everything though.

People who think too much are in the same predicament than people who think too little.

Balance is the key to life.

Diana July 23, 2008 at 5:23 am

I am an overthinker… I really REALLY get into something…

Like i can look at something… ANYTHING… example, piggy bank, i will sit there and deeply think about EVERYTHING… to how im going to spend the money.. to when its full should i buy a bigger piggy bank? or should i bank it? where should i put my piggy bank? do i even really want a piggy bank?… I HATE IT!… its driving me insane.. all i do is THINK!! .. even at work… constantly… i even miss days at work cos i cant get up cos i just want to keep thinking.. and getting stuff done.. or it will bug the crap out of me in my head… DRIVES ME INSANE… i think about EVERYTHING… then try and find the root to how i thought of it?..
or even like my body creams or face washes.. i threw MOST of my makeup and all my creams, so i could try and fit it into a little bag… cos if i EVER decided to go travel, everything would be packed… like i threw basically all my stuff out!!, to my teddy bears, computer, etc.. i dont own much now… even clothes.. ive only got a few.. i needed to throw them away.. cos i think too much about it.. i feel like if i dont own anything, i wont have to think about anything… so now im living with “not much” at all..

this may sound confusing or even extremely boring..
i need help.. i cant stop thinking.. it hurts my head… it makes me wanna cry ALL THE TIME…

SUE January 14, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Diana, I know exactly how you feel. Alot of what you said describes my daily existence. I’m contantly throwing things away (and then replacing, unfortunately) because I can’t stop thinking and planning and researching about them. This has gotten me into serious financial problems too, which I think about non stop. I wish I could just put my mind on pause for a few hours and get some relief. The worst time is when I go to bed…the time I lay there before falling asleep is saturated with over-thinking.

Pavithra.S August 2, 2008 at 2:58 pm

Me too …an overthinker..I am a student.I usually think
big.I might be just started a new course or started learning about something new in our IT field.Most of the time my books will be kept open ,but my mind wanders seeing future such as I would in this position after mastering this theory…Likewise I think too optimistically and the time would have passed away without even completing a few pages of study.

This post has made me interesting and is making me to change.Good post…

anna August 14, 2008 at 5:37 am

Brilliant!!! Thanks for an amazing article.

CalculateYourMoneydotcom November 8, 2008 at 3:07 pm

Calculate once is good.
Calculate again is not that bad but
Calculate again and again is just wasting of time.

Gaurav March 29, 2009 at 1:39 am

Thanks for this article.

I have seriously created a big big mess of my life after being an introvert overthinking person for many many years.

I had hit upon a major health problem last year which could even had killed me. I just think too too much about my life, my goals, my career, sex and what not. Say, for example I have interview tomorrow I will find hard to sleep at night due to thoughts of tomorrow’s interview. This overthinking habit has landed me into serious problems and I am trying to get control over it by socializing, exercising and being active for all day.

This overthinking makes mountains of a small problem and I have been depressed about my future and not happy with my life. I often find it very hard to focus on present and slip into future or think about past mistakes.

But the best part is I am trying to control as much as I can. At first I was not accpeting it but now I have accepted it must be something wrong with me. So its time to change ourselves.

SUE January 14, 2010 at 7:27 pm

I wonder if there’s a link between being an introvert and being an over-thinker. I am both, and it’s not a happy combo for me. I am wondering if you have had any relief from trying to socialize and exercise and stay busy? (See, I’m already starting to over-think about this as a possible solution for me!)

PAT April 27, 2009 at 8:45 pm

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN,I NEED SO VERY BADLY TO STOP THINKING ALL OF THE TIME.TRYING SO VERY HARD TO CHANGE MY THINKING AND CHANGE MY LIFE.BUT CAN’T WITH THINKING, THINKING, CAN’T EVEN DO MY PRAYERS. I WORK ON MYSELF EVERY DAY.NEED ALL THE HELP I CAN GET. GOD BLESS YOU ALL.MRS PATRICIA MOSSER

wellwisher April 10, 2010 at 8:18 am

Hi Pat,
The thing that you need to do is a small exercise…concentrate on your breathing for fifteen minutes every three four years…in a week u can see the change

wellwisher April 10, 2010 at 8:18 am

i meant hours, nt years….

joanne June 12, 2009 at 5:10 pm

all of the above is great. And in addition to this i would like to emphasise the importance of what you take into your body and its effects on your mind and thoughts. i often find that if i
drink too much coffee,
consume too much sugar, or high GI foods,
don’t drink enough water,
don’t get enough sleep,
have a hangover,
my mind goes into overdrive, an more-so if there is something already bothering me- these things just aggravate it.

if my mind is in over drive to stop it i just say STOPPIT!! sternly to myself as if to a bold child. Take 3 or 4 slow deep breaths in and out through my nose, and if possible, do some yoga poses at the same time.

We must remember that when we over think we are just re-cycling information. it is fairly pointless after a certain point, until we get more information.

Hope this helps!!

Daniel June 28, 2009 at 6:25 pm

I am in shock, been thinking to much and this really helped me out! ty so much!

Laptop Guy August 20, 2009 at 11:57 am

This is a great read, maybe I can finally tame my own excessive thoughts.

Dan October 8, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Some projects need good thinking before and not only 30 minutes.

Yasir Ahmed November 18, 2009 at 12:42 am

I thought I was the only one who spends alot of time thinking and not taking any actions, until you wrote about it. I spend alot of time thinking about the past what if I had done that, or what if I had done this. I also think about the future, doing alot of planning , contemplating several different scenerios before its too late to do anything at all. It hampers decision making and makes me more anxious about taking any action. I think i have wasted enough time living in a dream world, now I wanna act and am sure the knowledge you shared on this blog will definately help. thanx.

Jonathan December 2, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Awesome Awesome Awesome Article. I have book-marked this wesbite for furture reference just because of this. Keep up the good work

YL January 7, 2010 at 1:10 am

Stumbled upon this article; I must say it’s been a great help. I tend to overthink, especially on my relationships with people and conversation with them. Did I say something right? Didi I offend them? Or say something wrong? Did I annoy them inadvertently? This habit has been bugging me but thanks to your article I will rise up against it.

mr g January 9, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Good article, it hit home.

Thomas Skip February 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm

But what if the problem is that I overthink every detail of life?
How can I stop what is a natural reaction. I’m not trying to talk your points down they are very good but I want to stop thinking about things all together.

Adam February 25, 2010 at 10:23 pm

its a very serious problem actually. That stink habit kills me slowly made me as a king of hesitation although when I’m relaxed i take the most reasonable decisions :(

John Reynolds April 7, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Hey there! Nice article. I think you can really guide me with the problems that I have relevant to your topic.

1. I am really confused about my life. I am in college completing my graduation, I aspire to become a game developer. Its like I know what I want but still I cannot start with things. I also have the resources that I need but still something is holding me back.

2. I am quite good at academics. But I have grown a very bad habit of procrastinating over the last couple of years. Previously, Whenever I sit to study I could focus fully on what I was doing, but now I always get distracted of something. The things which keep distracting me is my personal life. I am quite a loner from the beginning, I always feel shy of talking to new people and have a hard time making new friends. My friends keep treating me like a child only because I don’t know the stuff they do which they consider to be cooler.
Moreover, I am really frustrated of being a loner. I keep thinking of making a girlfriend and of getting all the things that I do not have. I am really having a hard time dealing with everything else only because my whole day is wasted because of this thinking of mine.

This is having an adverse effect on my life. I don’t talk to anyone much (not even with my parents) . I have always been a hot head. But I never used to get frustrated of anything. Now I am frustrated of almost everything. I don’t know why, but I keep blowing off steam on anyone who tries to tell me something good. (don’t know whether its my ego or arrogance or this thinking). I always keep thinking about hitting and hurting bad people around though they haven’t done anything to me.

My post is already long enough so I am ending it now. All I want to say is that my crave of appraisal and my paranoia just keeps forcing me to think about the things I shouldn’t or which I don’t want to.

After reading this some of you might think that I am crazy. But I was never like this before. I am posting this here because MY THINKING KEEPS ME FROM TAKING ACTION, PLEASE! I NEED A WAY TO GET RID OF THIS THINKING.

THANK YOU.
I WILL BE WAITING FOR A REPLY.

Kyle Anderson April 11, 2010 at 9:12 pm

Thank you oh sooo much for this article. You said if you tend to think too much, this then develops second guessing yourself. And you’re completely RIGHT!!!!i second guess myself all of the time and i have the hardest time just putting my foot down and saying yes, I’m right! So thank you so much for letting me know again that i have to STOP worrying about the future and worry about the right here and now. Worrying doesn’t get you anywhere except into some more deep doo-doo lol So THANK YOU oh so much for this article and may GOD be with you.

~Bless~

insan May 1, 2010 at 2:40 am

aware of our thoughts .. and be present.. thx

Twilights May 30, 2010 at 11:07 am

Wow, this article resonates in me. It illustrates facts and myths of overthinking really well. I have been looking around self-development sites to sort out one of my bad habits, overthinking. I just found the one that cures me.

kbn19 June 13, 2010 at 8:52 pm

hi…i dont even know where to start.. i guess its all in my head, which i think i dont even use anymore just because of all the thinking i do…its to the point were im thinking random things that hasnt occured yet or happened in the past and my over thinking is causeing me to forget everything things like what i last did, or where did i put the object i last had, forgetting is the big major problem right now too.
Its crazy im starting to get worried about myself… i cant even read a book anymore its to the point were im reading the book and i start thinking so much that im not even paying attention to the book anymore… im only 17 male and this is effiecting me so bad.. i cant even have a decent conversation with someone ill have so much thoughts come threw my head things havent happened or a song my last action sayings and a saying someone said.. i feel sorry formyself and i want this to stop. Even right now as i right this im thinking about pictures and songs its crazy… could it be that im not living with my parents anymore?ya im on my own have been for five months now… i need some help.. thanks for reading my comment hope i get better

Anonymous July 28, 2010 at 12:15 am

nicw advice i will try to wok on it this is very true that your performance is really affected in a worse way .hopefully i will let go my thoughts

mats August 10, 2010 at 7:39 am

i couldn’t stop thinking about small small things. i am always stressed. this even interferes to my studies. i don’t know what to do?

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