Overthinking vs. constructive problem solving

Do you ever find yourself tossing and turning at night ruminating about a problem over and over again? Do stressful thoughts and worries cloud and clutter your mind, making you more and more anxious, upset and uneasy?

Overthinking comes in many forms but the most common are rumination and anxiety, both of which are mental habits that are linked to anxiety and depression.

In this post I’m going to share a method you can use to let go of overthinking so that you can have more freedom and peace of mind, and at the same time, solve your problems more effectively.

Keep reading to find out more about how to overcome overthinking, or press ‘play’ to listen to the podcast episode below.

What is overthinking?

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably experienced overthinking many times in your life.

You may have found yourself ruminating about something stressful or challenging that happened in your day. It may have been something someone said that really hurt your feelings, it may have been a situation where you felt embarrassed, or there might be a problem that you don’t yet know the answer to that just keeps replaying in your mind over and over again.

Or perhaps you found yourself stuck in loops of worrying about something over and over again. It may be a difficult conversation that you are dreading, a presentation you need to do or you might have been worrying about a person, your health, your relationship or a work problem.

The human mind is wired in such a way that it falls into both of these patterns of rumination and worry very easily, and while it’s totally understandable that we fall into overthinking, it simply isn’t helpful.

The cost of overthinking

When you’re overthinking you may have a background belief that thinking about this issue over and over again will be the key to figuring it out, but that’s usually not the case.

In fact, the longer you ruminate or worry about something, the less time and energy you have to practice constructive problem solving (more on this to come) and taking skilful action to solve things.

That’s one of the negative effects of overthinking. It actually makes you less effective at solving your problems and taking effective action. Another negative effect is that overthinking is also a stress amplifier.

Overthinking can generate enormous amounts of distress including sleepless nights, low self esteem, feelings of hopelessness and loss of mental clarity. Overthinking is also strongly linked to depression and anxiety.

Simply put, overthinking hurts and hinders us.

So how can we overcome it?

How to overcome overthinking

The first step to overcoming overthinking is to recognize when we are getting caught up in it. This is the crucial first step to breaking free from any unhelpful thoughts.

We really want to get good at recognizing the difference between overthinking and constructive problem-solving. Overthinking is about dwelling on the problem without a true intention to solve it or figure out the next steps in that moment.

Constructive problem solving involves intentional time spent searching for solutions.

Imagine you had a fight with your boss. Here’s the difference between overthinking and problem solving:

  • Overthinking sounds like this: “I wish we never had that fight. I’m so stupid. I should have said this or that. It’s going to be awful when I go back into work. I am probably going to get fired now. Why do these things always have to happen to me? I can’t handle this.
  • Constructive problem-solving sounds something like: “I will acknowledge the mistakes I made and apologize for those. I will ask for these three points to change in my work schedule. I will communicate more effectively next time by pausing and taking a deep breath before I speak.

So, any time we are caught up in overthinking, we can mentally note it to ourselves and then simply let it go. We can bring our focus back to the present moment, knowing that we can practice constructive problem solving at a designated time.

How to practice constructive problem solving

Let’s use a metaphor for how to utilize constructive problem solving in your life. Professors at universities hold office hours once or twice a week for about an hour. They don’t give their students 24/7 access to them because, if they did, it would become totally overwhelming and debilitating. They would never be able to get any other work done.

Likewise, if we give worries, ruminations and self-doubt 24/7 access to our attention, it will be just as debilitating and destructive. We can’t focus properly and we become overwhelmed, stressed and negative.

So what if, like those professors, we set up office hours for our worrying or problem solving? What if we make a deal with ourselves to set aside a brief time every day or every week to do some focused, constructive thinking about what could happen in the future and how to prepare for it, or how we want to handle our current problems?

After office hours, we simply let it go. If we can do that, then whenever we start ruminating or worrying outside of office hours, we can give ourselves permission to leave it for now, knowing that we already dealt with it yesterday or that there is a designated time and space to deal with it later today or tomorrow.

By giving ourselves office hours like this, we can let go of the habit of always overthinking and find more ease and calm in everyday life. We can also deal with life’s challenges in a clear, level-headed and effective way.

If this sounds like it might be helpful for you, I invite you to take up office hours for the rest of this week and see how it goes for you. I hope it brings more mental strength, more ease and peace of mind into your everyday life.

Thank You For Listening

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