How to Stop Overthinking—28 Practices

Jul 05, 2023 6 Min Read

Many of us get caught up in overthinking. It’s very common.

We analyze things excessively. We worry too much. We replay things over and over in our head. We ruminate.

It’s a big problem for many people.

In my Traps Test, with responses from more than 600 people around the world so far asking about more than 60 common traps that inhibit people’s quality of life, overthinking is the number-one trap. (See my article, “18 Signs You’re Overthinking,” to determine whether you struggle with this.)

The question then becomes how to stop it.

How to Stop Overthinking

Fortunately, there are many things we can do to address our overthinking. Below are 28 practices from which we can choose.

  • Catch ourselves in the act of overthinking. If we can bring this habit into our awareness, then we can begin reprogramming our brains with more enjoyable and productive ways of thinking. Author Melody Wilding recommends using a pattern interruption technique such as silently saying “stop” when we start overthinking. Or we can swipe our hand to the side, symbolically casting our overthinking away.
  • Recognize that a key to success in life is taking more action more often. One of the biggest mistakes we make in our lives is having a thought-to-action ratio that’s way too high. Change the focus from problems and worries to solutions and actions.

Discover: Taking Bold Action Is What Brings Our Dreams To Life

  • Decide to become a person of action instead of an overthinker. Enjoy getting lost in doing things.
  • Recognize that our thoughts are like a dial, not a switch. This insight from David Thomas, author and Director of Family Counseling at Daystar in Nashville, teaches us that we can’t switch off our thoughts, but we can turn the volume down on rumination and negative thoughts.
  • Practice making quick decisions. Start with small things and count down from three: “three, two, one… choose.” Then go with it. Get used to a faster decision cycle and note the results.
  • Determine what’s creating fear in us. Get better at recognizing how many of our fears are false phantoms, much like the childhood monsters we feared under our beds. And get better at overcoming our fears.
  • Focus intensely on something. Listen to music and focus intently on something in it, like the lyrics or the guitar line. Or study a drawing or painting and examine the shapes, lines, and colors.
  • Learn what our overthinking triggers are and avoid them. They could be certain social media accounts, news sites, or sticky situations with certain people.
  • Give ourselves a time budget for how long we’re allowed to think about something. Then choose to move on after that.
  • Develop our confidence and learn to trust ourselves more.
  • Determine the things that we do have control over and focus on them. If we’re worried about an important upcoming meeting, we can do a great job preparing for the meeting and then make sure we get a good night’s rest and arrive early to set up. Then we can be satisfied that we’ve done our job.
  • Get better at letting things go. We’re probably placing way more weight on things than the situation warrants. People think way less of us than we imagine.
  • Change our thoughts into questions. For example, we can shift a thought from “I can’t believe I said that” to “What could I say differently next time?”
  • Get some exercise. This leads to a reduction in stress hormones and comes with so many benefits, including better mood and higher greater energy levels.

Read More: 18 Signs You’re Overthinking

  • Get out into nature. Our brains become calmer and sharper after we spend time in nature, according to researchers.
  • Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or yoga.
  • Do things that interest us and that occupy our attention (e.g., fun activities and hobbies).
  • Connect to our senses. Try the “54321 grounding method,” in which we take deep breaths and become aware of our surroundings and then look for five things we can see, four things we can touch, three things we can hear, two things we can smell, and one thing we can taste.
  • Journal. Writing our thoughts and feelings down can stop us from ruminating. It can restore a sense of control. Journaling doesn’t have to be formal or structured. We can just write down our thoughts as they arise.
  • Help others with small acts of service or simple acts of kindness. This is a great way to add more meaning and connection in our lives while also getting us out of our own heads.
  • Lean into positive relationships. By being with others, we can connect, have fun, support each other, and silence our mental gremlins.
  • Replay happy memories. Relive good times. Talk with an old friend or flip through a cherished photo album.
  • Find sanctuary—places or practices of peace that reconnect us with our heart. (See our article, “Renewing Yourself Amidst the Chaos.”)
  • Go out on adventures. They make us feel more fully awake, alive, and free. It’s hard to ruminate when we’re climbing a mountain or trekking in new areas. (See my article, “Why We Want Adventure in Our Lives—And How to Get It.”)
  • Bring awe into our lives. How much can we worry when we’re gazing at the cosmos or studying the intricacies of a spider web? (See my article, “The Power of Awe in Our Lives.”)
  • Engage in prayer or worship. By doing so, we can rise above the immediate concerns of our overactive mind and tap into something larger than ourselves.
  • Meditate. It can calm our sympathetic nervous system and decrease our anxiety, stress, and emotional reactivity.
  • Talk to a friend—or a professional therapist or counselor. Getting things off our chest can reduce our propensity to keep thinking about them.

Clearly, there are many things we can do to stop overthinking. The point isn’t that we must do all of them. We should experiment with the ones that are most appealing and see which ones work the best.

We should also note here what doesn’t work in trying to overcome overthinking. According to the research, we can’t just tell ourselves not to have certain thoughts. That can lead to more thoughts on the subject at hand. For example, if we’re told not to think of something, our brains will do the opposite and think about it. Instead, we need to replace negative thoughts with different and better ones.

This article was also published on Gregg Vanourek's LinkedIn.

This article is also available in Chinese.

Edited by: Irfan Razali

Share This

Alt

Gregg Vanourek is an executive, changemaker, and award-winning author who trains, teaches, and speaks on leadership, entrepreneurship, and life and work design. He runs Gregg Vanourek LLC, a training venture focused on leading self, leading others, and leading change. Gregg is co-author of three books, including Triple Crown Leadership (a winner of the International Book Awards) and LIFE Entrepreneurs (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose and passion).

Alt

You May Also Like

chess woooden pieces

When Talking the Talk Is Enough to Change Culture

By Phanish Puranam and Özgecan Koçak. Revolutionise your culture for success. Explore strategies to shape beliefs and drive effective collaboration within your organisational culture.

Apr 04, 2024 5 Min Read

Man

What is Coaching?

At the recent DoGood Leadership Conference, we had the chance to catch a few moments with leadership coach Paul N.

Aug 19, 2018 2 Min Video

Be a Leader's Digest Reader