How to Stop Overthinking Everything: 9 Simple Habits

by Henrik Edberg

What is holding people back from the life that they truly want to live?

I’d say that one very common and destructive thing is that they think too much.

They overthink every little problem until it becomes bigger and scarier and it actually is. Overthink positive things until they don’t look so positive anymore.

Or overanalyze and deconstruct things and so the happiness that comes from just enjoying something in the moment disappears.

Now, thinking things through can be a great thing of course. But being an overthinker can result in becoming someone who stands still in life. In becoming someone who self-sabotages the good things that happen in life.

I know. I used to overthink things a lot and it held me back in ways that weren’t fun at all.

But in the past 8 years or so I have learned how to make this issue so small that it very rarely pops up anymore. And if it does then I know what to do then to overcome it.

In this article I would like to share 9 habits that have helped me in a big, big way to become a simpler and smarter thinker and to live a happier and less fearful life.

1. Put things into a wider perspective.

It is very easy to fall into the trap of overthinking minor things in life.

So when you are thinking and thinking about something ask yourself:

Will this matter in 5 years? Or even in 5 weeks?

I have found that widening the perspective by using this simple question can snap me quickly out of overthinking and help me to let that situation go and focus my time and energy on something that actually does matter to me.

2. Set short time-limits for decisions.

If you do not have a time-limit for when you must make a decision and take action then you can just keep turning your thoughts around and around and view them from all angles in your mind for a very long time.

So learn to become better at making decisions and to spring into action by setting deadlines in your daily life. No matter if it is a small or bigger decision.

Here’s what have worked for me.

  • For small decisions like if should go and do the dishes, respond to an email or work out I usually give myself 30 seconds or less to make a decision.
  • For somewhat larger decisions that would have taken me days or weeks to think through in the past I use a deadline for 30 minutes or for the end of the workday.

3. Become a person of action.

When you know how to get started with taking action consistently each day then you’ll procrastinate less by overthinking.

Setting deadlines is one thing that have helped me to become much more of person of action.

Taking small steps forward and only focusing on getting one small step done at a time is another habit that have worked really well.

It works so well because you do not feel overwhelmed and so you do not want flee into procrastination. And even though you may be afraid, taking just a step is such a small thing that you do not get paralyzed in fear.

4. Realize that you cannot control everything.

Trying to think things through 50 times can be a way to try to control everything. To cover every eventuality so you do not risk making a mistake, fail or looking like a fool.

But those things are a part of living a life where you truly stretch your comfort zone. Everyone who you may admire and have lived a life that inspires you has failed. They have made mistakes.

But in most cases they have also seen these things as valuable feedback to learn from. Those things that may look negative have taught them a lot and have been invaluable to help them to grow.

So stop trying to control everything. Trying to do so simply doesn’t work because no one can see all possible scenarios in advance.

This is of course easier said than done. So do it in small steps if you like.

5. Say stop in situation where you know you cannot think straight.

Sometimes when I am hungry or when I am lying in bed and are about to go to sleep negative thoughts start buzzing around in my mind.

In the past they could do quite a bit of damage. Nowadays I have become good at catching them quickly and to say to myself:

No, no, we are not going to think about this now.

I know that when I am hungry or sleepy then my mind sometimes tend to be vulnerable to not thinking clearly and to negativity.

So I follow up my “no, no…” phrase and I say to myself that I will think this situation or issue through when I know that my mind will work much better.

For example, after I have eaten something or in the morning after I have gotten my hours of sleep.

It took a bit of practice to get this to work but I have gotten pretty good at postponing thinking in this way. And I know from experience that when I revisit a situation with some level-headed thinking then in 80% of the cases the issue is very small to nonexistent.

And if there is a real issue then my mind is prepared to deal with it in much better and more constructive way.

6. Do not get lost in vague fears.

Another trap that I have fallen into many times that have spurred on overthinking is that I have gotten lost in vague fears about a situation in my life. And so my mind running wild has created disaster scenarios about what could happen if I do something.

So I have learned to ask myself: honestly, what is the worst that could happen?

And when I have figured out what the worst that could happen actually is then I can also spend a little time to think about what I can do if that often pretty unlikely thing happens.

I have found that the worst that could realistically happen is usually something that is not as scary as what my mind running wild with vague fear could produce.

Finding clarity in this way usually only takes a few minutes of time and bit of energy and it can save you a lot of time and suffering.

7. Work out.

This might sound a bit odd.

But in my experience working out – especially with lifting weights – can help me to let go of inner tensions and worries.

It most often makes me feel more decisive and when I was more of an overthinker then it was often my go-to method of changing the headspace I was in to a more constructive one.

8. Spend more of your time in the present moment.

By being in the present moment in your everyday life rather than in the past or a possible future in your mind you can replace more and more of the time you usually spend on overthinking things with just being here right now instead.

Three ways that I often use to reconnect with the present moment are:

  • Slow down. Slow down how you do whatever you are doing right now. Move slower, talk slower or ride your bicycle more slowly for example. By doing so you become more aware of how you use your body and what is happening all around you right now.
  • Tell yourself: Now I am… I often tell myself this: Now I am X. And X could be brushing my teeth. Taking a walk in the woods. Or doing the dishes. This simple reminder helps my mind to stop wandering and brings my focus back to what is happening in this moment.
  • Disrupt and reconnect. If you feel you are getting lost in overthinking then disrupt that thought by – in your mind – shouting this to yourself : STOP! Then reconnect with the present moment by taking just 1-2 minutes to focus fully on what is going on around you. Take it all in with all your senses. Feel it, hear it, smell it, see it and sense it on your skin.

9. Spend more of your time with people who do not overthink things.

Your social environment plays a big part. And not just the people and groups close to you in real life. But also what you read, listen to and watch. The blogs, books, forums, movies, podcasts and music in your life.

So think about if there are any sources in your life – close by or further away – that encourages and tends create more overthinking in your mind. And think about what people or sources that has the opposite effect on you.

Find ways to spend more of your time and attention with the people and sources that have a positive effect on your thinking and less on the influences that tends to strengthen your overthinking habit.

Image by Davide Restivo (license).




If you enjoyed this article, then get email updates (it's free)
Join over 59,426 awesome subscribers today and get practical personal development advice in your inbox.













Print Friendly

{ 76 comments }

Allen Lim December 5, 2013 at 10:46 am

Good post and a great list served as a reminder for me…some year ago I wrote a post “Practical Wisdom” which reminded myself on over-thinking… Hope you can have a read and give some comments…

http://conversationcircles.sg/2011/01/practical-wisdom/

Thanks Henrik!

Vijibalan Kumaran December 5, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Superb share, Mr. Henrik Edberg. I really appreciate those words and ideas you shared. Those ideas might help me out. Thank you.

Thomas Nwafor December 14, 2013 at 10:23 am

Keep it simple…one thought at a time

Susan December 16, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Hi Henrik,

I must say this article is a gem of the post. I loved the point 8 , however it is not easy to live your life in present. If somebody has something in back of their mind, they tend to think about it and that makes situation worse.
Loved your article.

Thanks
Susan

Manish Kapoor December 19, 2013 at 9:24 am

Hi Henrik, excellent article. I used to be the kind of person who always lives either in past or in future. I used to have some bad childhood memories which were affecting the way I live my life. I become a thinking machine, constantly worrying and analyzing. But looking back on those days, I can’t believe how far I’ve come. I can barely recognize with my old self.

I am more of a doer now. I do the things that I really like doing instead of doing what I am expected to be doing. I take more long trips alone. I have learned guitar. I have learned photography. I do meditation. I wake up early in the morning and go for a walk. I take the time out to hang out with my best buddies. I spend quality time with my family.

I live in the present moment. That over-thinking self of mine has died.

Adored your article.

Thanks,
Manish Kapoor

Abdul Rauf December 21, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Overthinking results in bad consequences. I am a firm believer that we must not be overthinking about our decisions and the things around us. Lots of questions are never answered and this is their beauty. Why disturbing that beauty, by the way? Thanks a zillion for great points to think on and to implement them on the daily life. I loved #6 the most.

Jordan Michaels December 31, 2013 at 3:02 am

I think this is a problem that tons of people have, myself included. Among my friends I am widely known for my disorganized approach to things and a lot of it is because I tend to over-think just about everything. I know that this sounds contradictory, you would think I would over-organize and waste time because I over-think so much, but that is just not the case. I over-think and go back and forth on stupid things, wasting lots of time and accomplishing little. Hopefully I can utilize some of these tips and start making some improvements!

Beth January 7, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Great article Henrik. I started reading this for myself (I’ve been working on overcoming this problem for some time) but as I got further in I found myself thinking about my daughter. She’s 7 and we’ve been dealing with a lot of anxiety and fear at bedtime. For a while I thought it was a delay tactic. :) But over the past few months I am realizing that she is a deep thinker and a worrier. She stays distracted during the day, but as soon as she slows down the negative thoughts and worry overwhelm her. I printed this article out to read with her. I think it will really help her to understand that this is an issue a lot of people face and she does have control over it. I think numbers 5 and 6 will be especially helpful for her. Thank you!

Parthvi Vala January 12, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Thank you very much Henrik.. i think this blog would help me alot…. overthinking is one of my major problems… and i think with this blog i can overcome this problem…

{ 4 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: