Overthinking: Are you plagued by the question, “What If?”
Desiree Anderson presents strategies to tackle overthinking.
I don’t know about you, but I love the Star Wars films.
Yes, some are better than others, but there’s nothing quite like the pure escapism that comes when those opening titles begin to scroll. The films are full of action, adventure and ‘daring do’ being done. One thing’s for sure, in these movies the main characters don’t sit around worrying about ‘What ifs?’
- What if it all goes wrong?
- What if Darth Vader is a better lightsaber battler than me?
- What if Princess Lea doesn’t like me?
- What if the Death Star doesn’t get blown up?
- What if Obi Wan took what I said to him yesterday the wrong way?
You get the idea.
In fact, I’ve not been entirely accurate. There is a character in these movies who overthinks what’s about to happen – someone who assumes everything is going to end in disaster: a robot called C-3PO. Whatever task the gang is about to attempt, C-P3O will be the bearer of doom, proclaiming the extremely low probability of their success. So, what do the heroes do?
They ignore him and get on with it.
A PLAGUE OF INDECISION
C-3PO is not unusual. So many of us find ourselves plagued by eternal ‘What ifs?’ Our thinking often brings us to a complete standstill as we run over the same questions again and again.
- What if I’ve been perceived badly by others?
- What if I didn’t act in the correct manner today / yesterday / last week?
- What if our plans aren’t successful?
- What if I don’t have the skills to deliver?
Having a cursory knowledge of the answers to these questions is perfectly healthy. But to obsess upon them to the degree that they actively take us out of the current moment and stop us from achieving our goals is totally unhelpful.
I call the ‘What if?’ questions that so preoccupy the minds of overthinkers ‘Sleep Stealers,’ because that’s what they do. They keep us awake during the night and distracted during the day. The irony is sleep deprivation and being mentally preoccupied often manifest themselves with far more negative impacts than the supposedly ‘concerning things’ we’re obsessively thinking about.
A TIME TO THINK
Don’t get me wrong, being cautious, planning and having an awareness of potential outcomes are all useful skills. Yet, it’s imperative to realise that there’s a time to think and there’s a time to act. At some point all of us must stop the cerebral process, make a decision and get on with implementing it.
CONFIDENCE IS THE KEY
Overthinking is often a sign of low self-esteem. Worst still, the paralysis it brings can lead to an individual failing to achieve their goals, meaning that their already small store of self-belief dwindles. It’s a vicious cycle and, let me be clear, an issue I fully understand. Over the years, I’ve dealt with the repercussions of never feeling good enough. I’ve felt like an imposter, even in circumstances where my own expertise is clear for all to see. It’s taken time and commitment for me to park this confidence problem. I’m in no doubt that seeing yourself in a more positive light is central to shaking yourself out of inaction and achieving your goals.
THE GOOD NEWS
So, here’s the good news. It’s completely possible to manage overthinking tendencies. Following these steps will help to diminish the ability of ‘What ifs?’ to bring you to a standstill.
- CHANGE IT UP
If you find yourself in a spiraling thought process, ruminating on the same issues over and again, a change of context can really help break the cycle. How do you do that? You could get out of the building and go for a walk. Maybe take some exercise? Music is often a great help. Why not put on the radio and have a good old boogie? Essentially, you need to trick the brain by distracting yourself with something you like. It could be playing Lego or watching Strictly. Whatever works for you, don’t think, just do it.
- BE GRATEFUL
It may feel counterintuitive when you’re stuck in an overthinking pattern, but reminding yourself of positive things in your life, and what you’re grateful for, can really help. Take the time to write down a list of everything that has actually gone well for you today. Then compose a list of what you’re grateful for. Before you know it, you’ll be focusing on positives, rather than the negative thought cycles that were colonizing your head.
- REFLECT WITH KINDNESS
This may require you to step out of your comfort zone. Stand in front of a mirror and look at yourself with kindness. Think about all the hurdles in life that you have overcome. Acknowledge all the good things you’ve done. Tell yourself how great you are. This isn’t arrogance, it’s simply treating yourself with respect. You deserve it. As Ru Paul famously says: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”
- PLAN IT OUT
Taking the problem out of your head and into the real world can really help. Get some sticky notes or large pieces of paper and coloured pens. Fill the paper with everything that’s going around inside your head. Get it all down there, even the silly stuff. Seeing the problems written down can often diminish their impact. Next, come up with at least 3 ways you’re going to solve each problem. Spend the time you would have spent ruminating on actioning the solutions to your problems.
- SHARE THE PROBLEM
As the old saying goes, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved.’ There’s nothing like the relief that comes with getting a bottled-up thought process out into the open. Speaking to a wise friend or a coach will add a fresh perspective to whatever is doing the rounds inside your head. Together you’ll be able to come up with a strategy for dealing with the issue(s) that are troubling you.
IN A NUTSHELL:
Let’s be honest, being aware of ‘What ifs?’ won’t make them go away. A tendency to ruminate will always be part of those with a pensive disposition. But the impact of unhelpful thought processes can be diminished by changing your scenery, focusing on the positives, being kind to yourself and bringing the concerns out into the light of day. I’m not saying the process will be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Remember, very few elderly people, when asked what they would change about their life say: “I wish I was more cautious.”
If you’d like to learn more about strategies to tame the Sleep Stealers, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m off to spend some quality time in a galaxy far, far away…
Founder, Crest Coaching & HR