Breaking The Over-Thinking Habit!

October 25, 2011

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” ~Marcus Aurelius

For most of us, we live our lives unconsciously prisoners of our own mind. Women especially tend to brood over events in the past or anxieties about the future. Why is that so?

I believe for the most part, overthinking is a habitual tendency that comes from not seeing a solution or feeling like you have no control over a situation. In our modern world, we are used to going out there and getting what we want, my generation especially (Gen X) are typically independent and ambitious. Women in this generation have grown up having a great amount of choice over their own lives. So our instinct to have control over the outcomes our lives spills over into our emotional lives as well. When we feel feelings that are either too strong, overwhelming or feelings we don’t quite understand, it sends us into a tailspin of overthinking in an attempt to control them, to work them out.

Over thinking comes from looking for relief from the wave of often negative emotion that is triggered by life’s circumstances.

We may think that this over thinking is our only course of action to in our quest for peace, for mental harmony, but over thinking any situation, according to psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, whose groundbreaking research shows the downside of stewing over life’s issues, only amplifies sadness, makes problems harder to solve and alienates others. Bottomline, it doesn’t solve your problems. Newflash right?!! Or is this something you already recognize in your life? Can you think of one instance where over thinking actually served you? I can’t…

So how do we get past this tendency of epic proportions?

I have read much of Ekhart Tolle and recommend his work highly. In this book, Practising the Power of Now, he talks about how when you are full of problems, there is no room for anything new to enter, no room for a solution. By making room, creating space around your thoughts, you can find “the life underneath your life situation.” So how do we do that? Here are 4 doorways.

  1. Pull yourself back into the present moment. Start by looking around you, noticing your environment. Notice the things, objects, people in your environment without judgement. Allow everything to just BE.
  2. Start noticing your breathing. We can only hold on to one thought at a time, by focusing your thoughts on your in and out breath, you can literally turn off your thinking mind. Get sucked back into thought? Go back to the breath. This also pulls you into the present moment.
  3. Ekhart Tolle recommends that as you focus on the NOW, ask yourself what problem you have at this very moment? I remember just the other day, sitting hanging out with my kids, watching TV after school and I was lost in my head…over-thinking something that had happened a few days earlier. And I remembered Tolle’s advice and I just broke out laughing! HELL NO, I didn’t have a problem right now, I was in chill out heaven with my two little warm bunnies watching Mickey freaking Mouse…no problem here! All the thoughts vanished from my mind and I got PRESENT.
  4. Allow your thoughts to just be there. We have such a combative relationship with our mind! We engage with every thought that passes through our mind, believing and interacting with each one. One of the most effective thing that I do to free myself of my monkey mind is to simply not react. Let’s say I have a worry pop up, I recognize it for what it is – a ripple on my calm mental sea – and I just allow it to be there, I yield to it, just as the ocean does with a wave. I look at it straight in the face, notice it and you know what, it disappears just as fast as it popped up. Our thoughts are so less frightening that we think they are. Stress comes not from having negative thoughts, it comes from constantly interacting with those thoughts. Something that could help is to put up a post it note (or 2 or 3) around the house that says something like this:

I allow any thought that comes into my mind to simply BE.

Remember that over thinking will not bring you peace. Begin believing that you are not your thoughts, that there is freedom or “life underneath your life situation” as Tolle puts it. Also, over-thinking is a habit, not an affliction and just like any other habit, it can be replaced! Get a glimpse of  your life underneath and focus on that truth by practicing these 4 doorways to mental freedom I describe here and watch your life come alive! Good luck!!

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  • Reply Sara October 25, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    This is so true, but so easy to forget. I have been wracked with worry about my job for several months and it is consuming me in many ways. Thank you for the reminder to focus on the present.

    • Reply Sigrid October 26, 2011 at 4:18 am

      You are welcome Sara!

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