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5 Things You Need to Stop Doing to Simplify Your Thinking and to Start Taking Action Today

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

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 my self-esteem plummeted.

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 overthink things.

So in today’s article I’d like to share 5 things you need to stop doing to step out of your own way, simplify your thinking habits and make it so much easier to actually start taking action on what you want.

1. Stop setting your day up for stress and confused thinking.

Crazy and overwhelming days are nothing one can avoid entirely. At least not if you want to live a full life.

But if you have bad habits for how you plan and live your regular day then that can lead to a lot of unnecessary stress, suffering and overthinking.

What to do instead:

  • Get 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 every hour.
  • 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.

2. Stop thinking without any limits.

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.

But that is not very likely to happen. Instead you just keep thinking and thinking and hoping that something will happen or someone else will take action.

What to do instead:

Getting the day off to a good and action-oriented start, as described above, is one thing that has helped me to become more of a person of action.

Setting deadlines for decisions works well too.

  • Set a 30 second deadline. 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.
  • Set an end of the day deadline. 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. Stop getting lost in the future or the past so much.

When you focus too much of your attention on what happened and replaying it over and over or on imagining the future then that usually leads to worries. To feeling paralyzed in fear by the things you magnify in your mind from the past or a possible future.

What to do instead:

  • Be here 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 in my experience that seems to happen pretty naturally and in a more balanced way when you focus on spending most of your time in the present moment.
  • Reconnect with the present moment when you get lost. If I do drift away into the past or future during my day then I usually sit down for a minute or two and use all my senses to take in what is happening around me. The sounds, the sensations, what I see and what I can smell. That usually brings me back to the now again.

4. Stop working without any firm boundaries.

If you have no boundaries for your work hours then you can easily get lost in working too much and in stressful thoughts about your job/school going round and round in your head.

Even when you are spending quality time with your family. Or as you toss and turn and try to go to sleep.

What to do instead:

  • Set a stop time. 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're in school or have 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.
  • Remind yourself or the consequences. 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. Stop thinking that you'll stay focused on this challenge without any help.

It's easy to get lazy or overestimate your own memory when trying to make a change in habits.

Don't go down that road.

Because it will make it a lot less likely that you stick with it until you have made a change in habits that truly sticks.

What to do instead:

Be conscious of your challenge. Find ways to stay aware and to remind yourself 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. Especially during a tough day when you are likely to revert back to your old and familiar habits.
  • 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.

Image by Davide Restivo (license).

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • kavya

    everyone says that start a day with plan .why are you saying that don’t start a day witha plan

  • Ashok Patidar

    Excellent, Henrik. The 5 points you mentioned above will certainly help me. I am a bit of over-thinking kind of person, but your tips will help me come out of this. Thank you very much for your assistance.

  • anirudh

    Great work…..me doing the same after your guidance.
    U are a wonderful motivator

    Thanx a lot

  • Joan A. Di Masi

    This is great! I like the way you set it up and give some really workable suggestions after each point you make.

  • I think one of the biggest things you can do is to take breaks. Many of us are becoming just large to do lists and we never take the time to relax and enjoy life. The stuff we do or try to accomplish isn’t usually that important in the long run. Try to enjoy the moment and do things that you like and it will go a long way to for you to take action.

    I think it is important to have firm boundaries too. It can help you stay motivated and get something done on time. It is easy to not have firm boundaries and next thing you realized you have wasted four hours on something, three of which were on social media.

  • NL

    I love your blog & wisdom.
    I would like to know how do you protect your self from family who attack you verbally because they are depress or stressed? I try walking away but they still know ways of pressing buttons. I am exhausted & can’t handle this any more.

    • Tejal

      if you get an answer to this question. please share with me too. i follow what henrik suggest, but sometimes its just not enough.

    • Thank you, NL!

      I am sorry to hear about your situation but I am in this case the wrong person to answer since I have no experience with a family member or someone close to me who tries to push my buttons in that way.

      I hope you will find advice that can help you out in a practical way, perhaps in articles online about this problem and maybe by doing a search for books about it on Amazon.

      My best to you!

  • “Irons rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.” ~Leonardo da Vinci, Notebooks, 1508

  • pannag

    Your articles are always talk very practically and your solutions are also very easy to follow. I love to read your articles always.

    Especially we thought negative always when we start about any new work we want to start. But we don’t work on it to make it successful.

  • Boniface

    Very helpful.

  • Gretchen Hopkins

    I have been enjoying positivity blog from Anchorage Alaska for the last five years or so. This blog entry seems particularly insightful with lots of options and applications for so many people. You are doing such a great thing for the peacefulness of mankind. I hope more than 60,000 people keep passing it on your blog on again and again and again!

  • Rojan pradhan

    This blog really helps i regularly read the post of positivity blog once again thank you for posting wonderful posts

  • Philip Bilson

    great article with practical helpful steps. thanks Henrik.

  • Rajiv Sikka

    Your blog was nice but lately, you see to be repeating a lot. Maybe if you decreased the frequency and researched more, it would help.

  • Azah

    I really like ur article. It seems describe me so well. I‘m over thinkers.. Will try thing u suggest ;)

    Thanks, Love,

    Azah

  • I completely agree with your first point. If the morning is off, at least for me, the whole day is a wash. Everything goes wrong, everything is out of place, etc. If I have a nice peaceful morning, then the day goes a lot smoother.