Simpler Thinking: 5 Powerful Habits That Work For Me

by Henrik Edberg

Simpler Thinking
Colorful smoke
image from Bigstock.

.”Chi Wen Tzu always thought three times before taking action. Twice would have been quite enough.”
Confucius

“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.”
Eckhart Tolle

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.

If you found this article helpful, then please share it with someone else by using the buttons below. Thank you! =)




Like what you've read? Then get email updates (it's free)

Join over 59,426 awesome subscribers who receive exclusive happiness and personal development tips every week!

Click here to get started!

Print Friendly

{ 35 comments }

Dwayne@TWC January 31, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Great post, Henrik. I tend to over think things as well and psych myself out of the good things I know I am capable of. The tips you just now laid out will definitely help me work on that. Thanks.

Henrik Edberg February 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Thank you for the comment. Yeah, those things are pretty common problems. But I’m glad you find the tips helpful.

Joe January 31, 2012 at 5:20 pm

I have to say that I honestly enjoyed reading this article. Yet the part which rang true for me is the part where you mention ‘Be Here & Now.’ I noticed some Eckhart Tolle quotes on your blog and so like I, am guessing you read Power Of Now by Tolle.
In todays stressed out world, it is harder than ever to to find time to be in the here and now, the only moment that existed. Glad you mentioned this.
I recently also came across an article which discusses a bit about Mindfulness Meditation (being here and now) as one tip among many to boost your spirits. This is at
http://healthmad.com/alternative/how-to-boost-your-spirits/

Good post again by the way

Henrik Edberg February 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Thank you! Sure, I have read a bunch of his books, often very helpful stuff. And thanks for the link tip.

Aina Bjornstad January 31, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Simplicity is the key to a good life, and being in the present moment is the only way to truly BE.
I almost startet laughing when I read this, because I wrote post on a similar topic some hours ago.
I’ve added you to my blogroll to get updates whenever you post something. Great, inspiring blog!

Henrik Edberg February 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Cool coincidence. :) And thank you for your very kind words.

Karen J January 31, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Hiya, Henrik!

~ All terrific ‘small changes’ that provoke ‘big results’!
I especially like the mirror-note “Am I over-thinking this??” – that’s my regular tripping point. ;) and… I find it way-too-easy to fall into overthinking, if I haven’t had enough good-stuff to eat or drink lately!

Happy Tuesday! Karen

Henrik Edberg February 1, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Hi, Karen!

Yes, the lack of food absolutely affects my thinking too. And a lack of sleep can also make me complicate small and simple things into something they simply are not.

Happy Wednesday too you!

Noch Noch | be me. be natural. February 1, 2012 at 12:08 pm

my brain wouldn’t stop working for so long last night i didn’t sleep till 3am
it’s a good idea to set a silent alarm toi remind us
i try to take deep breaths when i catch myself getting too anxious or over thinking. and a little taichi. or just sit, and feel my breaths and my body
Noch Noch

Winston Fitch February 1, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Thanks for this insightful post. I’ve heard people tell me for years that I over-analyze and over-think things.. for a long time I thought it was my strength until recent I didn’t act on some business opportunities that would have made a major change in my bank accounts. In the moment I was excited, but later after digesting the opportunity I lost my zest. It left me baffled that I didn’t act before the deadlines. Nevertheless, thank you again, and I look forward to future posts.

Steve Tracy February 2, 2012 at 5:35 am

Hi Henrik,

Thanks for chalking this up…great points. I’ll certainly take these with me and give some tweaks to my routine in the near future.

I am quickly learning that not everyone – especially in a day job – will agree and/or adhere to betterment suggestions like these. To that, I find it is important to remain true to and believe in yourself that these changes will have a positive impact.

I look forward to sharing these points by example.

Many thanks,
Steve

Taylor February 2, 2012 at 6:28 am

I love The Power of Now.

I invite all of you to check out my blog!!

http://www.onewonderfulthing.com

please let me know what you think of it!

wellness coach February 3, 2012 at 11:18 am

LOVE that quote from Tolle!! You have a great site Henrik!!

William Veasley February 3, 2012 at 6:45 pm

I have learned that it makes all the difference in the world how I start my day. I always try to start it off with a nice breakfast and peaceful music. When I start my day off on the “right foot” it takes a lot more to “get under my skin” and I get more out of those days. My time always seems to be limited, so I try to keep myself on track. It is hard to always keep myself focused, but there has to be breaks in my schedule. I have learned that by taking little breaks I can stay focused longer.

Looking forward to your next article!

God bless,
William Veasley

Malena Lynn February 4, 2012 at 8:56 am

Fun to read a practical article like yours. I am going to try your tips in my life. Thank you very much.

IB February 6, 2012 at 8:43 am

“I sometimes think there is some kind of wish when overthinking that thinking will somehow replace action.”

Henrik, So many great points in this piece that I can’t possibly comment on each, so I’ll stick to “action.” Not only does overthinking not replace action, nothing does! In my piece in “The Huffington Post” I talk about how modern gurus have forgotten that action is central to accomplishing anything. Check it out if you get a chance and I look forward to your next piece: bit.ly/wGs5Ov

Nishant February 6, 2012 at 9:06 am

Great post, Henrik. I think a lot and develop my own fears. I have relationship problem with my parents after marriage. Sometimes the past haunts me so much that my hands starts shivering. Need your help..

Henrik Edberg February 6, 2012 at 11:22 am

Thank you. I can’t say I have much experience with the issues you mention but have a look at this article too for more general tip on handling fears:

http://www.positivityblog.com/index.php/2011/05/06/minimize-fear/

Nishant February 7, 2012 at 6:43 am

Thanks a lot Henrik.

Daniel D. Lombardi February 7, 2012 at 1:10 am

Hi Henrik,

No. 4 (Be finished with your day) is my biggest challenge. At the moment I am working full time from home, so each and every time I get inspired I turn on my laptop and start working (no matter when).

I guess the best solution for me will be a pen and a paper. I should write down all my new ideas and give a special time limit for new stuff during the day. What do you think?

Thank you Henrik for this great post.
Wish you a great day.
Daniel

Henrik Edberg February 7, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Thank you. Yes, that is similar to what I do whenever I get get an idea outside of my work hours. I write it down on a small notepad or on my cell phone if I’m out somewhere. Then I work on it during my regular work hours.

I would recommend to try to do things as you described for a few weeks and see how that works for you.

Galen Pearl February 7, 2012 at 11:20 pm

I found your blog through Live Bold and Bloom, and all I can say is fortune was smiling on me! I have spent a little time browsing around your excellent blog and I look forward to reading more.

I was especially excited about this post because it validates several things I already do and gives me some ideas for new things. For example, I agree that starting my day sets the tone. Before I even open my eyes in the morning, I say a prayer. Before I get out of bed, I do some belly (deep) breathing and stretching. And before I get going with other things, I spend some time in meditation. I also have my phone set to vibrate several times a day to remind myself to pause, take a deep breath, and be grateful.

I have marked your blog as a favorite and I will be back regularly. Right now I’m going to go read your post about Bruce Lee, my personal hero.

Praverb February 8, 2012 at 3:28 am

Great advice Henrik. You have definitely inspired me…going to put together a post about bloggers that influence me and I have to include you.

Mark February 8, 2012 at 7:36 am

As a creative person I often find it hard to balance structure with inspiration. On the one hand, forcing inspiration usually results in crap that needs to be redone later. But on the other hand, sometimes I get too heavily invested in my feelings and get nothing done, because I’m waiting for the moment to be just right. It’s a tricky one.

Classier Corn February 8, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Hi,
Really inspiring post.
Thanks!
Best regards
Classier Corn

Hung Le | How To Achieve a Goal February 8, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Great post Henrik! I completely agree with you on “If you just work and work your whole day then your body and mind will become overwhelmed”.

All too often many of us get carried away with trying to squeeze out hundreds of tasks on a daily basis regardless of whether these tasks have a low or high importance and after a ‘hard day’s work’ all that really gets accomplished is you guessed it – physical exhaustion.

Thanks for the great post again!

Jason Fonceca February 8, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Great quotes, great message, great tips, Henrik.

I’ve been there. Blessed with a ‘giant intellect’ I tended to (over)use it for everything, and it created some pretty um… s**tty life experiences lol.

I love and agree with your tips, and I’m surprised to didn’t add

7. Meditation

Especially after quoting Eckhart Tolle :)

Keep rockin’!

Kris February 9, 2012 at 3:42 am

Wonderful post with great reminders on how a few small changes can shift our attention. I believe there is an epidemic of multitasking and work overwhelm right now and one reason so many of us are struggling is the inability to focus. Mindfulness is so important for this, yet so hard to attain in corporate America. We need to move things towards simple!

Merly February 10, 2012 at 6:30 am

Great post! Thanks, Henrik.

Jox February 11, 2012 at 3:58 pm

This post is helpful. It’s hard to catch up with complexity yet I always find myself over thinking and end up getting paranoid. I tend to take in too much information , process them but they rarely translate to productive actions. I will practice the tips that you’ve given. Thanks again!

Tathata February 13, 2012 at 8:19 am

Finally, a list that is not just a bunch of idealized nonsense. Thank you for such a wonderful post! The concepts you have posted here have substance, take time to practice and grasp. But that’s what makes them real (and also not too acceptable to the parameters of modern Western society).

.. or maybe I should just say that these are things have worked for me. I’m glad to see them here.

Shaun - Millionaire Mentors February 16, 2012 at 6:14 pm

I’ve never thought to put an end to my day. I mean I always thought of it but I usually don’t do it.

Thanks for the post!

Glynis February 19, 2012 at 5:10 pm

I tend to be an over-thinker. I plan strategy for tasks almost constantly. I wasn’t until recently that I realized that I didn’t want to do this. I had certain tasks I would automatically do but they were the kind you repeat often. The one-time tasks or the ones done rarely, I was planning in my head sometimes to the point where I never would actually get the task do. I still fight this awful habit but I’m getting better. I’m learning to just do the task when I have the require time to do it instead of planning it.

Chan February 23, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Hiya :)

Great article and site in general – I come here atleast 3 times a day during work when I can feel myself getting overwhelmed with overthinking and it always helps. Please keep up the good work and if you ever need anyone to contribute then please let me know! :)

Sylvia Gautier - Proactive Life Coaching March 2, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Well written! I agree that living in here and now is very important. Contrary to the past and future, only the present moment can bring us happiness. I share more ideas on the topic in my new blog article “The Power of Now” http://wp.me/p1E5MV-9c.
All the best
Sylvia

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: