Trapped in your head?
How to stop over-thinking
Do you sometimes feel trapped in your own head? Do you find that your thoughts sometimes swirl around your mind, hindering your ability to make decisions or take action? Overthinking is something I often wrestle with during difficult times and comes up regularly with the clients that I work with. I recognise the pained expression, the wincing, the cogs desperately whirring as we try to rationalise why we’re feeling a certain way and solve problems; either real or imagined.
Thinking has, many a time, made me sad, darling; but doing never did in all my life… My precept is, “Do something, my sister, do good if you can; but, at any rate, do something” – Elizabeth Gaskell – North and South
How over-thinking holds us back
When we bury ourselves in thought, we suffocate. If thoughts are going round and round our heads it reflects a state of ‘stuckness’. We may be doing any of the following when we over-think:
- Plan meticulously for a future event which may or may not happen. We try to control as much as we possibly can in the hope that we can avert or minimise disaster. Whilst a bit of forward planning can be useful, getting too fixated on the future can seriously hinder your ability to enjoy the here and now. It also risks breaking the Golden Rule (See below).
- Ruminate over the past. This is a killer and a habit that I have worked hard to break as it results in so much misery. It is human nature to want to understand why things happen but chewing over past events is almost never productive. The past cannot be changed so to spend time dwelling on something that we cannot act on is doomed for failure. The only thing we can change is how we interpret a past event so ask yourself: what learning can I take from what happened? And try to let the rest go.
- Striving for perfection. Some of us won’t stop until we have obtained ‘perfection’. Of course that means different things to different people but it keeps us trapped in a cycle of thinking about how to improve. This can lead to ongoing feelings of inadequacy and can kept us locked into ruminating instead of moving forward.
The common theme with all of the above is the way in which over-thinking keeps us stuck. It is another example of a protection response. In terms of the primitive options our unconscious reverts to under stress, this falls under the ‘freeze’ option. We are not taking action in relation to our problem, we are simply thinking about it and nothing is changing.
The Golden Rule for how to stop over-thinking
Is changing the problem within your control? If yes, take action. If not, let it go.
Steve Chandler says ‘worry is misuse of the imagination’ and whilst I am still a work in progress, I could not agree more. Once we understand that worrying about things we cannot control is completely futile, its amazing how much mental energy can be freed up to focus on the things that fulfil and energise us. For the things we can control, we must act. This graphic sums it up perfectly:
Try this technique
Why not try this simple technique to break your over-thinking cycle. The more you practice it the easier it becomes. It enables you to change your emotional state and helps you get back in touch with your body rather than getting lost in your mind:
- Take a moment to take a deep breath. You may want to close your eyes but it’s not necessary.
- With whatever negative thought, belief or emotion you’re experiencing take a moment to consider where you feel it in your body. Our minds and bodies are closely related and often our bodies try to tell us when we’re struggling.
- Imagine the thought/belief or emotion emerging from your body and ask yourself the question: “if this had a colour, what colour would it be? If it had a shape what shape would it be?” Your brain will naturally fill in the gaps. Don’t worry if you don’t have a strong visual picture, it’s fine to just have a ‘sense’ of what it is.
- Then ask yourself – ‘if this shape were spinning in a direction, what direction would it be spinning in?’ As you start to spin the shape, notice whether the emotion gets stronger or weaker. If it gets stronger experiment by slowing it down and spinning it in the opposite direction. Once you’ve found what direction equates with ‘weaker’ continue to spin or slow down until the feeling reduces or disappears entirely.
- Experiment further – consider shrinking the shape down or changing its colour to see if it has any further impact on the feeling.
Don’t let over-thinking lock you in
If you would like to explore how to stop over-thinking in more depth get in touch today for a free, no-obligation chat.
May 13th, 2017