Last weekend was my mum’s birthday. One of the presence I bought her, was a fitness armband that allows her to clip her massive iPhone 8 Plus onto her arm during her workouts. As I made my purchase and walked towards the entrance, I passed the ‘accessories’ section that had all kinds of fancy stuff. I noticed a beautiful pair of loudspeakers from Bose. Before I looked at the others, I grabbed an employee asking them for their opinion about the Bose loudspeaker. I listened and was pretty impressed by what it could do. 360° surround sound, waterproof etc. the features and benefits were just great!
I then noticed a second loudspeaker that was standing right next to the Bose. It was the new SONOS Play 1 speaker that, from the looks of it, looked just as polished and beautiful as the Bose. The employees then explained all the benefits of the SONOS and how it was different from the Bose loudspeaker.
My conclusion was that both are remarkable pieces of technology with amazing features and benefits, at about the same price, both with a beautiful design. Yet, I still had no clue which one to buy. I was continuously repeating the tangible benefits of each loudspeaker, desperately trying to make a decision which one to buy. Clearly, I was overthinking the situation.
You may have been in a very similar situation. You may not. Either way, I’m confident in saying that we have all been overthinking many situations. Not just when buying another product we don’t really need in the first place, but also when thinking about more meaningful and deeper things in our life. Like debating about whether my boyfriend has deeper feelings for me or if we should do an all nighter the day before the exam. As we often feel haunted by anxiety in situations like these, the only way to deal with them is to call our mom’s or soul-mate and let them be our savior.
You may have noticed from your own life experience that the best to solve a problem, is to invest time into understanding it first. Remember what Albert said…?
“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem, and 5 minutes thinking about solutions” – Albert Einstein
Allow me to explain to you, where overthinking comes from…
The Neocortex is the part of our brain that looks like a bunch of tangled up Spaghettis. Those Spaghettis have a major function. They are responsible for language, complex and analytical thinking. In other words, it is the part of our brain that allows us to think rationally and objectively about the world. Things like facts, figures, features and benefits and anything that we rationally know is true are processed in our Neocortex. Like the fact that Donald Trump is the president of the United States.
When we overthink, the Neocortex is overloaded with rational information and evidence. Think back to my situation where I couldn’t decide which loudspeaker to buy. I was confronted with a heap of information about facts, numbers, product benefits etc. that I ended up not knowing what product to buy. There was too much pressure put onto my Neocortex (sounds funny when you read it).
Neuroscientists have emphasized that overthinking happens when we only make use of our rational part of the brain, the Neocortex and not the part of the brain that controls our feelings and emotions. When we try to reason only with our Neocortex, we will find that much of the information we have, often just makes us doubt our initial decision as things start to contradict themselves. We will start to doubt our decisions because we are desperate to trying to justify one course of choice or action but then are often aware that we also know things that speak against this decision. This is where overthinking comes from.
This leads me into my first technique to helping you overcome it…
#1 Trust your gut, not your rational brain
Research from neuroscientist over the years has investigated the results of making gut decisions. We all know the common piece of advice… “follow your gut feeling”. But what does that mean? It turns out, that this saying is quite misleading as we all live under the misconception that we should listen to our gut or stomach in order to make the best decision. In actual fact, it is the limbic system in our brain that is connected to our gut. The function of our limbic system is for us to feel emotions and feelings. The limbic system unfortunately is not compatible with language, meaning that we often cannot articulate the way we actually feel about something.
It turns out, that indeed, decisions made by our gut, are often the decisions that yield the better outcome. Even when we rationally know, that our decision goes against rational facts and figures, making decision through what ‘feels’ right is usually the right decision.
When we make a decision solely through the rational facts, yes, these may be helpful to an extent, but eventually, we will find rational aspects that will contradict itself and slowly make us overthink situations.
#2 Observe yourself and recognize when s*** get’s real
Self-awareness is the foundation of every great character. The beginning to tackling overthinking is for you to recognize whenever you do overthink. The key is to always catch yourself in situations that may stress you out or may make you evaluate or debate things in your heads to such an extent that you end of overthinking the entire situation.
Once you have mastered this skill, you have literally done 50% of the work. If you can’t recognize or know when you’re doing something that isn’t good for you, how are you going to work on it?
I got more self-aware by spending a lot of ‘alone time’. You may have noticed that whenever you’re by yourself, you often begin to think about your own life and yourself. The key is to go even deeper. Key is to think about your thinking.
#3 Go with your first choice… not your second
In school and in university our professors tell us to always go with the first answer we select on a multiple choice exam. This little saying has very good reasons to it.
I cannot emphasize the power of our limbic brain that controls for our emotions and feelings. As already stated above, research has consistently found decisions that are made through the limbic brain tend to be more accurate and in most cases yield the better results. These decisions usually ‘feel right’ when we first make them, even if they go against all odds of what our rational brain tells us.
In this respect, before you overthink your answer next time, just go with the first one.
#4 Reframe your mind
Overthinking just brings the mess of muddled up thoughts and emotions into our brain that don’t do us any good.
Another great tactic I like to use to battle overthinking is to change my thinking so that my thoughts are put into a different frame of mind. Whenever I catch myself overthinking I stop and go back to the beginning. I like to ask myself question like ‘What is it, that I really want to get out of this?’ or ‘If I would go for x, would I regret y?’.
Question like these help us put things into a different perspective and help us gain clarity in fuzzy situations.
#5 Drop everything and chill out
I’m sure you worked on a piece of coursework, left it for a few days and came back to it. Yes, you do get a completely new perspective of your previously produced work and yes, chances of either you liking your work or redoing it are pretty high.
The exact same goes for overthinking.
When you overthink, literally stop and do something else for some hours. Watch Netflix, read a book or go for a run. Let it go for some time. Perhaps even some days. Once you feel ready to retackle the initial thought you had, you can restart your brain with a new and fresh outlook on your problem. Please… don’t overthink it this time…
These are give great strategies I’ve began to use. Give them a try and if you have any questions, just drop them in the comments below! 🙂
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