As personal coaches, we know that people often over-think things so that we can gain insight into a problem and hopefully find a solution. But we seldom find that solution! Instead, our thoughts go around in circles and we get stuck in our thinking. It drains our energy, dampens our mood and pushes others away. Over-thinking is thinking too much, where thoughts are endless, passive, pointless and solution-less. We believe that if we ponder longer and harder we will find the solution, but we don’t and it zaps all our physical, mental and emotional energy. Other disadvantages are that we develop a sad, sombre mood, negative bias thinking, can have concentration lapses, distracted thoughts and a pessimistic outlook on life. That’s quite a few consequences which hinders us from leading an optimal flourishing life.
The main reason that causes us to overthink is social comparison. We continuously compare ourselves to our friends, family members, co-workers, sports buddies, total strangers and even fictional characters. Are we brighter, smarter, faster, richer, healthier, or more or less attractive? Research has shown that comparison can be useful and motivating but only if it inspires us. Upward comparison makes us feel inferior, resentful and distressed. In contrast, downward comparison brings on feelings of shame and guilt. Comparison is a zero-sum game as there will always be people better or worse off than us.
Try this five step personal development approach
However, if you have gotten yourself entangled in self-focused rumination, then try this five-step approach developed by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema.
- Stop comparing yourself to others by distracting yourself. Get up and do something totally different that refocuses your mind. Physical activity is powerful!
- Develop a STOP strategy. Set yourself a visual reminder or set a limited timeframe. When time is up start doing something else.
- Talk to a trusted friend who is a good listener and who can bring in a new perspective. Alternatively, engage with a professional coach to work through this with you.
- This step might be contrary to the previous strategies and paradoxical. Consciously set aside a 30-minute time slot where you can ruminate as much as you like, pause all your other thoughts for that designated time. However, be disciplined with the time and stick to it, that the clue.
- Finally, write or draw your thoughts on a piece of paper. We often observe patterns or gain clarity from this type of exercise.
Now, that you are aware of your overthinking tendency, give yourself permission to change your thinking pattern.