Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Richard Paterson of Think Less and Grow Rich.
“A crowded mind leaves no space for a peaceful heart.” —Christine Evangelou
I’ll never forget a wonderful piece of advice I received from a Zen meditation teacher many years ago.
“Get stupid quick,” were the profound words of wisdom he offered.
He explained how the village idiot is the happiest person in town because he has the least going on between his ears.
If we wish to live a simple, peace-filled life, it is necessary to free ourselves of clutter, both inner and outer.
The mind certainly has its uses. It is undoubtedly helpful to remember which house you live in, how to get to work, or how to cross the road safely without getting run over. Not to mention the good we are able to bring into the world with it.
On the other hand, dwelling incessantly on your problems and shortcomings, wallowing in doomsday thoughts about the future, or blowing minor issues out of all proportion, only serves to clutter your inner space and crowd out feelings of peace and calm.
In this way, the mind can be a beautiful servant or a dangerous master, depending on how you use it.
I have spent the last 25 years helping people with busy minds find more inner peace and happiness in their lives.
Here are 9 tips to help you kick the overthinking habit:
1. Become consciously aware. Most of our overthinking happens on autopilot. The first step to freeing yourself is to notice when you are doing it. When you catch yourself fretting about the future or agonizing over a simple decision, stop for a moment, take a breath and gently acknowledge, “OK. This is what is happening just now.” Bringing your thought patterns into the light of awareness is an important first step.
2. Drop your resistance. The more you resist and fight the mind, the more overwhelming and all-consuming it becomes. Resistance creates more ammunition for the overthinking mind. If your patterns are there anyway, it is better to work with them than struggle against them. Step back and watch them objectively, with an attitude of non-judgemental acceptance. The less you resist, the more peace you will experience.
3. Question the mind. Take everything the mind tells you with a large grain of salt. Before you become enmeshed in an apocalyptic mind-movie where you get fired, lose your house and become destitute, all because you missed a deadline at work, acknowledge that you are probably painting an overly pessimistic picture. A great question that will put an end to 90% of your overthinking is, “Do I know for certain that this is true?” You’ll find the answer is almost always no. And you won’t overthink what you know to be untrue.
4. Keep things in perspective. What kind of things upset you and trigger overthinking? Being stuck in traffic? Being treated unfairly? Not getting your way about something?
Consider how important these things are in the bigger picture. Is it the end of the world if somebody said something mean about you? Is it really worth sacrificing today’s peace over it? Ask yourself: “Will this matter 5 years from now?” Or even 5 days from now?
5. Make time-limited decisions. Being indecisive by nature, decision-making has always been an area where I can easily get sucked into overthinking. When you take too long to make a decision, you can think yourself into a state of analysis paralysis. I now have some simple rules I try to follow. For small decisions, such as where to go for dinner or which movie to watch, I give myself 30 seconds or less to decide. For bigger decisions, the time limit is one hour. The trick is to then stick with what you decide.
6. Focus on the present moment. A quick and simple way to stop overthinking in its tracks is to gently shift your attention to the here and now. Engage the senses. Feel the weight of your body on the chair, notice the warmth in the palms of your hands, feel the sensation of your feet touching the floor. What sounds can you hear around you right now? What happens to your thinking mind when your attention is fully present in the moment?
7. Show the mind who’s boss. Overthinking is a bit like binging on Netflix. You find yourself unconsciously gravitating over and over to the same old channels—the ‘worry’ channel, the ‘self-doubt’ channel or the ‘wanting to control everything’ channel. But the truth is, you are the one holding the remote control. If you decide right now to hit the ‘stop thinking’ button, the mind has to comply. The next time you catch yourself mid-episode in a replay of “The 101 Ways That My Life Sucks,” tell the mind, “Enough! We are going to change the topic now.” You’re the one in charge.
8. Consciously distract yourself. When you catch yourself overthinking, it’s a good idea to get up and move. Go for a walk or a run. Do some yoga. Moving will not only shift your mindset but also help release any pent up tension and emotion caused by overthinking. Lose yourself in a project—learn to play guitar, learn a language or, best of all, learn to meditate. This will give you the skills you need to kick your overthinking habit for good.
9. Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a wonderful tool to help you stop overthinking and create a more harmonious relationship with the mind—and with yourself. It teaches us to embrace our thoughts, positive and negative, with an attitude of non-judgemental acceptance and to develop an intimate relationship with the present moment, where the natural state of peace is to be found.
“You know, it is a little known fact that thinking is entirely overrated. The world would be a much better place if we all did a lot less of it.” ―Laurie Viera Rigler
Richard Paterson blogs at Think Less and Grow Rich, a site dedicated to helping you break free from the clutches of an overactive mind to experience more joy, peace and well-being in your life. He is also the author of Kick the Thinking Habit.