Here’s a question I was asked recently: “How can I stop myself overthinking things that I shouldn’t be worried about?”, and here’s my response:
Unwanted thoughts can be changed. It is a question of training your mind so that you are in control of your thinking.
The overthinking habit
Overthinking can become a habit. First, to break the habit you have to notice it is happening, so you can do something about it. It will be useful for you to learn to interrupt the pattern as soon as you notice it happening.
There are many ways to do this:
- Distract yourself. Switch to thinking about something else, move, get involved in a task or something you enjoy doing.
- Learn mindfulness. Mindfulness is training for the mind. It will help you bring your thoughts under control.
- Perspective. If ‘overthinking’ means that you are worrying about something, take 10 minutes to write the problem down and then write out as many possible pros and cons (two columns) that you can think of in 10 minutes. When your time is up, put the problem away and do something else that involves you moving and doing something.
- Change focus. Have you noticed that when you really focus on something (as you are doing now with the unwanted thoughts), there is no space to think about anything else? Think of a couple of things that you really enjoy/are looking forward to, and focus only on that for a few minutes.
- Exercise. This is the simplest and easiest. Run, go to the gym, swim… Whatever you choose, exercise is great for emotional balance.
- Control: It can be easier to control worrying than you’d expect, but you need to go about it methodically. You may think that your mind does its own thing, but with the right steps you can take control.
There are other suggestions I could make, but this will get you started. Take up at least a couple of these suggestions, practice regularly, and you’ll soon begin to see results. If the problem persists, consider seeing a counsellor, or taking an online CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) course.
If the overthinking involves a wider problem (stress, or anxiety, for example), then it would be a good idea to seek professional help from a counsellor.
Unwanted thoughts can be changed. It is a question of training your mind so that you are in control of your thinking. It may seem tricky at first but if you do some or all of the things above you’ll be on the right path.