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.”Chi Wen Tzu always thought three times before taking action. Twice would have been quite enough.”
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.”
One of my biggest problems used to be that I thought too much. I overthought any little problem until it became a bigger and scarier thing in my mind. I overthought positive things until they didn’t seem to be that positive anymore. I overanalyzed and deconstructed things until the happiness that comes from just being in a moment and enjoying it fell apart.
This locked me into analysis paralysis. Little action was taken. Opportunities were rarely used. Life stood still and felt confining. And when I took action I tended to overanalyze things. That lead to more nervousness, second-guessing and me performing worse when I was doing whatever I was doing.
Based on the emails I get I’m not alone in this. One of the most common questions I get is about how to not think so much. In this article I will explore 5 solutions and habits that work for me.
1. Set up simple, unhurried days.
Crazy and overwhelming days are nothing one can avoid entirely. At least not if you want to live a full life.
But you can set up your day to make it more likely that you will be able to stay reasonably calm on the inside and outside. And this will make it easier to keep your thinking simple and focused too.
A good start.
I have mentioned this about a thousand times by now but the start you give your day often sets the tone for the whole day. Start your day with a few simple habits like a good breakfast, maybe a bit of exercise and then get started with your most important task of the day. Or if that feels too hard, no worries, instead start with an easy task to get the day rolling.
Single-tasking + regular breaks.
If you just work and work your whole day then your body and mind will become overwhelmed. Thoughts will start running wild and often down negative paths as stress rises in your body and mind. To prevent this and to do focused work without tearing yourself down schedule regular breaks.
I do this by setting my kitchen timer for 45 minutes. During those 45 minutes I do focused, single-tasking work. When the bell rings I drop everything and take a 15-20 minute break. Then I return for another 45 minutes of work.
Minimize your input.
Too much information, too many times of “just taking a few minutes” on Facebook, Twitter and in the email inbox add more and more input and thought clutter into your mind during a day. The clutter and extra input shoots your thoughts off in more ways and gets your mind extra active. To keep your thinking simple, simplify and reduce the input.
One of the reasons why I wait with checking my social media accounts and email inbox to the end of my work hours is because then it is easier to focus on the most important things during the earlier part of the day. Instead of getting lost in tangents, daydreaming, worries, overthinking and so on.
2. Set limits for thinking.
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.
Getting the day off to a good and action-oriented start, as described above, is one thing that have helped me to become more of a person of action. Setting deadlines for decisions work well too. For small decisions like if I should get started with next important task of the day, go do the dishes or work out I give myself 30 seconds or less to make a decision.
For somewhat larger decisions that would have taken me days or weeks to (over)think through in the past I may set a deadline for 30 minutes or for the end of this work day.
Now, of course for some important things you need to take more time. But in many cases you can make good decisions more quickly and get started with moving towards your destination. And through that build a new and helpful habit.
3. Be here and now.
By being here and now you don’t obsess about the past or create worries or overthink things that are or might be coming up in the future. Of course, it is good to plan for the future and to learn from the past but that seems to happen pretty naturally and in a more balanced way when I focus on spending most of my time in the present moment.
The first section in this article with a simple and unhurried day where I single-task and keep thought clutter down makes it a lot easier to stay with the present moment instead of drifiting away on thought clouds. But if I do drift away, then I usually sit down for a minute or two and use all my senses to take in what is happening around during these seconds. The sounds, the sensations, what I see and what I hear.
That usually brings me back to now again.
4. Be finished with your day.
Taking breaks every hour during your work hours is important. Putting a stop to your work day and doing other things is just as important to keep the overthinking, stress and overwhelm away. So if you are in school or work from home with your own business set a stop time for your work day. Mine is at 7 o clock in the evening. If you go to a regular job do not bring the job home.
Make a firm decision to spend your evenings with other things than thinking about your work. Fill that time with other activities that recharge and relax you.
When you catch yourself with floating back into work thoughts or school thoughts, remind yourself of the consequences of doing so. Such as increasing stress levels, missing the other important parts of your life like friends and family, reinforcing negative habits like overthinking and the risk of having a burnout.
5. Be conscious of your challenge.
Find ways to remind yourself to stay aware of how you are thinking.
- A written reminder. A written reminder posted somewhere where you cannot avoid seeing it every day with words like: “Keep things extremely simple” or “Am I overcomplicating this?” can work wonders.
- A silent vibration on your cell phone. An alarm with just a silent vibration on your cell phone a couple of times a day can remind you to snap out of overthinking or the past or future and help you to build positive thought habits.
By being conscious of your challenge it will over time become easier and easier to stick a simpler way of thinking.
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