How to Beat the Destructive Habit of Overthinking

Written by on April 5, 2015 in Self Awareness

The Destructive Habit of OverthinkingOverthinking has become such a natural part of life for some of us that most of the time we’re not even aware of it even as the thoughts go round and round in our mind.

Statistically more women overthink than men, but at 43% there are still plenty of guys spending a substantial amount of time unable to make a decision or let go of a situation and move on.

As tempting as it may be to attribute overthinking to a simple decision making problem, but the root causes and behaviors are a bit more complex.

Overthinking is a destructive habit that often leads you to stress over problems that never even existed in the first place. ~Marquita Herald

Common Overthinking Behaviors

  • Information Overload: We feel overwhelmed by so many choices that we freeze up unable to move forward or backward.
  • Obsessive Focus: We focus on one specific issue or idea that we keep replaying over and over in our mind.

Spending a lot of time in your head thinking things over (and over) is not only exhausting, it rarely produces constructive solutions. In fact sometimes you can end up talking yourself out of some pretty good things before you even realize what’s happening.

Consider just a few of the adverse side effects of overthinking:

  • Added stress
  • Bouts of uncertainty
  • Depression
  • Bruised self confidence

If there is any good news about overthinking it’s that it’s a habit that is learned over time, which means it’s also possible to unlearn it to achieve a better response.

You can spend minutes, hours, days, weeks and months overthinking the past. Trying to put together pieces, imagining what could have been should have been, or would have been … if only. Or you can pick up the pieces and move on as a stronger, smarter person. ~Author Unknown

5 Steps to Beat the Habit of Overthinking

Admit That You Have a Problem with Overthinking

If you have difficulty letting things go, replay conversations or experiences over and over in your head, struggle to make decisions or if you find yourself spiraling into negativity and depression when any unpleasant thing happens, then chances are good that you are an overthinker.

If you are really not sure, ask friends and loved ones to be honest with you, because they are usually the ones who will see it even if you cannot. Just be sure that whoever you ask is someone you not only trust, but that tends to have a balanced view of life, because the world is full of people who will help you manufacture tornadoes in order to blow out a match.

Identify Specific Tiggers

Identify the people or situations that cause you to doubt yourself or that you have trouble letting go of. This may take some time and thoughtful reflection, but it’s the first step toward learning to manage troublesome situations and if necessary avoid or eliminate the things that trigger overthinking.

Focus on the Present

Find an activity, hobby or exercise that requires so much attention that your brain is forced to be distracted from overthinking. Any activity that shifts your attention to the present moment will stop the overthinking wheel from turning long enough to allow you to regain some balance. Meditation is an excellent option as are practices such as yoga and Tai chi.

Another way to immediately shift your focus is to wear a rubber band around your wrist and every time you catch yourself beginning to overthink something literally say “Stop!” out loud and snap the rubber band against your wrist.

Establish a Time Limit

There’s no question that sometimes a situation does require a certain amount of evaluation, so establish a time limit. Set a timer, grab a pen and notebook or your journal and write whatever comes to your mind for the amount of time you’ve set aside. This will take some practice, but it’s very effective. In fact I use the time limit approach to avoid backsliding into my “perfectionist” tendencies.

Take the First Step

Overthinking can bring your life to a grinding halt. When you find yourself in this situation the only way out is to go forward. In other words, take a step, any forward moving action. It can be a very small step, but you need to regain some momentum to force yourself out of suspended animation.

The Bottom Line

Our thoughts are powerful and have a way of becoming self fulfilling prophecies. The more self-aware you are, the more empowered you will feel and the easier it will be for you to beat the destructive habit of overthinking.

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.


Thank you for sharing!

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  1. Arpan

    The best way I found not to overthink is when you make yourself busy with productive works. This is the really best way to not think about something
    Arpan recently posted…6 things you will discover if you are travelling solo in IndiaMy Profile

  2. sherill says:

    Hi, this is really a great reminder for me, sometimes I tend to over think about some issues in my life and leads me nowhere. I loved reading your post and this one made my day. Thanks, I’ll follow your advice. Great Read.

  3. Meredith

    I like the tip about setting a time limit! That’s a very productive way to keep the overthinking in check without denying yourself completely. I also really like that quote at the beginning. He says it so well.
    Meredith recently posted…You Can Make a Difference with Give Her LifeMy Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by Meredith and taking the time to share your thoughts. I’m glad to see so many people found value in the time limit strategy, works like a champ for me. 🙂

  4. Beth Niebuhr

    I certainly do fall into the overthinking trap sometimes. It haunts me in the middle of the night. Not conducive to sleeping so I get up for awhile in order to change the subject in my head.
    I voted for you.
    Beth Niebuhr recently posted…Why Women Don’t BuyMy Profile

  5. Pamela Chollet

    I have an expression for overthinking, “Don’t pick at it till it bleeds”.
    These are helpful suggestions Marquita. I totally agree with,” first admit you’re an overthinker”. I believe, overthinking, might be a symptom masking the behavior, learned helplessness. If a person believes they have no control to over a situation, they can just keep thinking about what to do, and never have to try and do something about the situation.
    Pamela Chollet recently posted…PERSONALITY QUIZ: Are you Anxious or Relaxed?My Profile

  6. William Rusho

    Thank you for the informative post. I know I had suffered from over thinking younger in life. It affected me in every aspect of my life. I think the worse was being an athlete, where reaction is more important that thinking. I would think too much, and iteratively let the sport act pass me by.

    • I’m very glad you found value in the article William and I certainly agree that overthinking is something that we tend to grow out of over time because if there is any benefit to “maturing” its the increased ability to put things into perspective. 🙂

  7. andleeb

    Couple of days before, one of my friend has a little problem with other friend.
    First friend started over thinking and continuously repeating what confusion occurred between two friends.
    First friend who was so stressed called me and told me whole story and in 20 minutes of our sitting she was continuously repeating same thing from different points. I told her, if she will be thinking continuously about the thing, she will be stressed. I told her first thing is go and solve the issue, talk to other friend. If it can not help then stop thinking about issue, as you tried your best and it was not the way other friend is taking, so you can not do anything about it.
    Leave it, automatically time will prove it.
    After reading this post, I will tell her about the steps how she can control her situation.
    Many times, it has happened that, what I was thinking I came across the solution in your post.
    Thanks for a great share.
    Voted for you and until now you have 18 votes and you are on the top… All the best.
    andleeb recently posted…#Kashmir: Fresh waters of Pallandri.My Profile

    • I’m so happy that you found value in the article Andleeb and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and the experience with your friend. Oh, and thanks so for your vote. 🙂

  8. Jeri

    Guilty as charged when it comes to the tendency to overthink things! I have found it very helpful to put a time limit on certain trains of thought. Also too, it’s so true that changing activities will job the brain into thinking about other things. That’s why I totally crave my jogs. Also too I’m getting closer to starting to meditate and practice mindfulness as a way to focus more on the present rather than dwelling in thoughts about the past or what’s to come.
    Jeri recently posted…#PubTip: 5 Reasons to Crowdfund Your Next BookMy Profile

    • Good point about changing activities Jeri – anything that will shift our mind away from the mental reruns will help to regain our center. I don’t job but I do walk a lot and also agree that just being outside and in the fresh air is wonderful and clears the mind.

  9. Mark

    What a timely and excellent message M!

    BTW, I commented on your last blog post and bolted your site so fast that I had completely forgot to cast my vote over on the other site!LOL!

    But I just took care of that little matter this time around! Some lady living in the Hawaiian Islands got my vote!

    So you may may not know of her and or be familiar with her totally excellent work!LOL!

    Anyway, first of all, I absolutely love your quote!

    And in your five steps you listed to help us overcome over thinking. Step # one resembles AA.

    Not that I would necessarily know from personal experience mind you!LOL!

    But being able to readily admit and or own up to something that’s potentially and or is downright harmful to us.

    That takes an awful lot of courage, true soul searching and consistent effort.

    But it’s so critically important and one of the very first hurdles that has to be cleared and or effectively dealt with first.

    Otherwise, moving on to your next four crucial steps, is that much harder.

    And probably a little less likely to happen.

    Thanks for sharing some excellent suggestions for effectively dealing with an ongoing issue, that definitely at one time or another, has plagued us all!
    Mark recently posted…Why Sometimes Even Savvy Entrepreneurs Just Gotta Cut Loose And Have A Little Fun!My Profile

    • As always value your insightful commentary Mark. You are right about step one, but I do believe that’s a universal truth that came even before AA – accepting the truth and owning the situation. Thanks for contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  10. Tim

    Over-thinking is my biggest contributor to sleeplessness. Mind churn at its finest. I will put a limit on it and see and how I do.
    Tim recently posted…ApartheidMy Profile

    • I hear you Tim and even with the other strategies I will admit I (also) lose sleep over things, but more often than not that has to do with writing because I usually work things out in my head before I write them down and I’ll wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it almost like I’m writing dialogue. Always been that way so I suppose it’s just my process. 🙂

  11. Patricia Weber

    In particular I like the ideas of focus on the present and set a time limit. While at first we might think (in particular for business) that social media is our friend, as we get sucked into the vortex it seems it is the biggest culprit adding to our overwhelm. But I’ve learned not to overthink and let my intution guide me. So when I get invitations (used to get more than I do now) to join another network, I click the link, look around, see what it is about, and then – stay or go. I love your approach for maybe tweaking my routine for writing blogposts! Yep; I can overthink those too. Thanks Marquita.
    Patricia Weber recently posted…Managing a Conference the #Introvert WayMy Profile

  12. Dave

    Yep, my name is Dave and I am most definitely an over-thinker.

    And destructive is a very strong (but accurate) word for this habit. I suppose there are different degrees to it, but I am probably on the far end of the scale. I spend a lot of time inside my own head and thoughts, so much so that people close to me have no idea what’s going on half the time – now that’s a sobering thought for me to consider!

    I don’t even need to ask someone. I already know I fall into this bucket of over-thinking. So, I guess that’s a good thing to already be aware of it, right? 😉

    I think taking the first step is the key to squelching the debilitating habit of over-thinking. For me, taking that first step is great and important. But, it isn’t quite as helpful unless I build momentum to taking the next step after that – and the next one after that. I think there is another that prevents me from building that much needed momentum – something you haven’t brought up and maybe is specific to my situation. That thing is self-confidence.

    It is much easier to take the next step and remain balanced when you have confidence in what you are setting out to do. It’s almost like a chicken and egg problem. You need success to obtain self-confidence, but you need self-confidence to take the next step towards your definition of success. It’s a tangled web we weave 😉

    Even though I have always known that I over-think, bringing it to the front of my mind has been very helpful – so, thank you. Now, I just need to make sure I don’t over-think ways to curtail my over-thinking 😉

    Thank you Marty!
    Dave recently posted…Calculated loveMy Profile

    • Me thinks you tend to be a l-i-t-t-l-e too hard on yourself sometimes Dave. You make valid points about confidence as well as the whole chicken/egg thing, but what if you NEVER feel confident enough? I believe that sometimes we use (lack of) confidence as an excuse. I think we’ve referenced the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, and ultimately that may be the bottom line. Considering this question, I think you’ll find my next post on “active waiting” relevant and hopefully helpful.

  13. Lenie

    My favourite statement: Our thoughts are powerful and have a way of becoming self fulfilling prophecies. The more self aware you are, the more empowered you will feel and the easier it will be for you to beat the destructive habit of overthinking.
    This is so true. I recently met a lady who will not say the word ‘cancer’ because she believes that allowing the word to settle in your mind it takes root, very much like your self-fulfilling prophecies.
    I did cast my vote for you – looks like you’re the leader so far so good luck, let us know how you make ut.

    • Well said Lenie! It’s amazing the things we can talk ourselves into / or out of. Thank you so much for the vote of confidence. This is not something I would normally do, but if it helps to bring attention to ERL it’s worth a little discomfort and I will definitely share the outcome. 🙂

  14. Never thought to put a time limit on my thinking! It’s a good idea though for those times that I do find myself overthinking a situation. I am blessed, however, with a few friends who keep me in line:)
    Jacqueline Gum recently posted…Easter… Where’s The Justice?My Profile

  15. Suzanne Fluhr

    I recently discovered the Zentangle method which is a meditative technique through drawing which I find very helpful in relieving obsessive thinking. It has been helpful enough for me that I am taking a course next week to be certified to teach it.
    Suzanne Fluhr recently posted…A Visit to Masada – Israel’s Alamo*?My Profile

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