Written by Darius Foroux on Septembre 3rd 2019
How many hours per day do you think?
“I never thought about that,” you’re probably saying. So let me get this straight: You’re thinking all the time, and yet you never consider how much time you spend thinking. That sounds like an addiction to me. I know, because I’m addicted to thinking, too.
Overthinking is a common problem, but when it gets out of hand it can lead to sleep disruption, “analysis paralysis,” and even threaten mental health. It’s also a difficult one to diagnose, let alone cure.
When I eat too much, I can say, “I’m overeating. I need to eat less.” When I work too much, I can say, “I’m getting burned out. I need to stop working.” When I drink too much, I can say, “I need to stop. I need a bottle of water.” But when I think too much, it’s not enough to just say “I’m overthinking.” I need a different approach to unclog my brain.
The problem is that most people don’t consider overthinking a problem. When someone criticizes overthinking, we often assume that the problem is dwelling upon or spiraling through negative thoughts. We tend to assume, by the same token, that positive thoughts are good. But it’s a mistake to assume all positive thoughts are good.
What most self-help advice says is to scrap the negative thoughts and double down on the positive thoughts. On the surface, this sounds like good advice. But the truth is that when you overuse your brain, for positive or negative, it can get clogged just like a drain. The result? Foggy thinking. Which leads to bad decision- making.
You are not your thoughts
Thinking isn’t considered a habit to curb because it’s so closely connected to our core identities. No one said it better than Marcus Aurelius in Meditations: “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”
What he’s saying is that our lives are shaped by the quality of our thoughts. I believe in that. However, most of us assume that we are our thoughts.
We say: “Well, I can’t help but think these things. That’s just me.” No, that’s not you. You can decide what thoughts to ignore. I like how Eckhart Tolle puts it in The Power Of Now: “The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not the possessing entity — the thinker.”
The only way to stop identifying yourself with your thoughts is to stop following through on all your thoughts. Instead, decide to live in the present moment — where you don’t have time to think, only to experience.
How do you live in the present moment?
Thinking is a tool. Instead of using that tool constantly during the 16 or 17 hours that you’re awake, pull it out to use it when you need it.
But how do you do that? Here’s the four-step process I’ve used to stop overthinking:
- Raise your awareness throughout the day. Realize that too much thinking leads you away from your goals, not toward them.
- Start observing your thoughts. Every time you begin a thought, don’t follow through on it. Instead, simply notice that you started thinking. When you do that, your brain won’t get carried away.
- Limit your thinking to dedicated times. For example, when journaling or setting your daily priorities, sit down and really think. Give yourself a specific amount of time — say, 15 minutes. During those moments, it’s perfectly fine to follow through on your thoughts. What we’re trying to stop is the constant thinking.
- Enjoy your life. Let go of all your thoughts about yesterday and tomorrow. No matter how much you want to achieve in the future, and no matter how much you’ve suffered in the past, appreciate that you are alive now.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you to “enjoy doing the dishes.” That’s not my style. When I’m doing something I dislike, I’ve learned to just do it without judgment.
But when I’m doing something I actually like, no matter how big or small, I genuinely enjoy it. When I’m listening to music, watching a movie, or spending time with my family, friends, or my girlfriend, that’s when I’m in the moment.
I don’t think about my goals, failures, or things I have to do tomorrow. I’m just here. Right now. Just like the moment that you’re taking to read these words. When it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Realize that on a deeper level, and you’ll never even dare to leave the present.
Are you with me? Don’t think too much about it.