One of the most common things that gets people stuck in inaction and in not doing what they deep down would like to is the destructive habit of overthinking.
You can overthink a small problem or challenge until it looks like a huge and undefeatable monster.
Or overthink something positive in your life until it doesn’t look so positive anymore.
And sometimes you may even be zapping a simple moment happening here right now out of all it’s joy and magic by overanalyzing and dissecting it.
I’ve done all three of those things. All too many times.
So in the first part of this week’s post I’d like to share 21 of the quotes that I’ve found the most helpful myself when I’ve gotten stuck in overthinking.
And in the second part I’d like to share 5 of my own favorite tips. The ones that have helped me the most to stop overthinking in the past 10+ years.
- “Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte
- “Thinking too much leads to paralysis by analysis. It's important to think things through, but many use thinking as a means of avoiding action.”
– Robert Herjavek
- ”Spend eighty percent of your time focusing on the opportunities of tomorrow rather than the problems of yesterday.”
– Brian Tracy
- “Rule number one is, don't sweat the small stuff. Rule number two is, it's all small stuff.”
– Robert Eliot
- “Don't get too deep, it leads to over thinking, and over thinking leads to problems that doesn't even exist in the first place.”
– Jayson Engay
- “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
- “Don’t brood. Get on with living and loving. You don’t have forever.”
– Leo Buscaglia
- “If you treat every situation as a life and death matter, you’ll die a lot of times.”
– Dean Smith
- “Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, “What else could this mean?”
– Shannon L. Alder
- “We can easily manage if we will only take, each day, the burden appointed to it. But the load will be too heavy for us if we carry yesterday's burden over again today, and then add the burden of the morrow before we are required to bear it.”
– John Newton
- ”People become attached to their burdens sometimes more than the burdens are attached to them.”
– George Bernard Shaw
- “The more I think about it, the more I realize that overthinking isn't the real problem. The real problem is that we don't trust.”
– L.J. Vanier
- “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
– Winston Churchill
- “It's a good idea always to do something relaxing prior to making an important decision in your life.”
– Paulo Coelho
- “Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.”
– Napoleon Hill
- “In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
- “Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.”
– Erma Bombeck
- “Trust the still, small voice that says, “this might work and I'll try it.”
– Diane Mariechild
- “Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.”
– Benjamin Franklin
- “A year from now you may wish you had started today.”
– Karen Lamb
- “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain
How to Stop Overthinking: My Top 5 Favorite Tips
1. Use a reminder to save yourself from winding up there in the first place.
Staying aware of your negative habit and catching yourself as soon as you start falling into that trap of overthinking as you go about your day can be a big help.
But just trying to keep it in mind at work, in school or in your private life tends to not work that well in my experience. Because we forget all the time.
So what’s needed for this to work a lot better is a reminder.
When I focused on getting a handle on my own overthinking I used a whiteboard on the wall in my home office. The message I wrote on that board was this:
Keep things extremely simple.
This helped me greatly to more often and quicker snap out of overthinking and reduce the number of times that the destructive habit grabbed a hold on my thinking.
Two other kinds of effective reminders are in my experience:
- A small note. Put a post-it or something similar with your reminder somewhere where you cannot avoid seeing it every day. You may even want make a few copies and put them in strategic places like your workspace, bathroom mirror and on the fridge.
- A reminder on your smart phone. This is the kind of reminder that I use the most these days. I use the free Google Keep app and usually set a reminder to pop up 1-3 times a day to help me to stay on track.
2. Reframe the situation and see it from a wider view.
When you’re thinking and thinking about something then ask yourself:
Will this matter in 5 years? Or even in 5 weeks?
Zooming out in this way will help you to see things with clearer eyes and from a more level-headed perspective.
It will help you to not let medium-sized issues become something that causes more stress or concern than is necessary.
And to more quickly let go of situations where you’re honestly making a hen out of a feather (or out of simply nothing) and to not waste any additional energy on them.
3. Get out of your own head.
When you’re stuck in your own head and thoughts then it can be hard to break out of an overthinking loop about something.
A simple solution that works well but can be a bit counter-intuitive is to then direct your focus fully outward instead of inward.
Two good ways to get outside your own head are:
- Help someone else out. Listen and encourage someone close to you that is in a negative situation. Help a friend to plan for a party or for an upcoming meeting or date. Or help out physically by for example lifting moving boxes as your friend is moving into a new house.
- Exercise. I find that lifting weights or going somewhere on my bicycle and simply focusing on the exercise and my surroundings and nothing more to be a great way to get out of my own head and to find new energy and a sharper focus once again.
4. Simply small step it.
If overthinking becomes a way to procrastinate or to not face the fear of getting out of the comfort zone you’re in then small step it.
Find just one small or tiny step you can take to move forward. One small action that takes 1-5 minutes. Do that and focus only on that one step until you’re done.
This will get you moving, build momentum and often leads to more small steps being taken (as the first step is most often the hardest one).
5. Just realize and accept that you can’t control everything.
Not even if you think a situation through 50 times or more.
To try to control everything or cover any possible eventuality through overthinking so you don’t risk making a mistake or looking like a fool can be appealing. It has sometimes been the biggest reason for why I’ve thought things through all too many times.
But I’ve also learned that accepting that it simply doesn’t work is the honest truth. To prepare and plan is helpful but going overboard with it isn’t.
A better and healthier way forward is in my experience to understand that making mistakes, failing and sometimes looking like a fool is natural part of stretching your comfort zone.
It has happened to everyone that has wanted to live life fully and to anyone you may admire.
And for most of them those experiences have been very valuable.
Because such situations have helped to them to learn game-changing lessons, to grow and are often invaluable ingredients to their success.