Hi, my name is Claire, and I am a recovering overthinker.
What does that mean? That means I have spent far too many years thinking far too often and far too long about what others thought of me. And the day I realised that none of that energy was worth it was the day my life changed for the better.
Overthinkers are often hugely empathetic and passionate people. However, this care and concern for others, and the insatiable desire to feel that we are doing well, can sometimes overtake the actual doing of things. It can paralyse you and ensure that you invest more time dissecting conversations, what you did or didn't say, over the positive contributions that you made to the conversation.
Overthinking can make you anxious and stunt your ability to learn and grow, because you don't see growth, you only see failure.
There are an endless number of books out there that will tell you how to ban overthinking, or offer a '5-Step Guide' to stop thinking about what others think of you, forever. I call bullshit on that -- and I can, because I am an overthinker. I don't believe it is something you can just 'cure'. It is a part of you, but when understood and used in the right way it can be a strength instead of a weakness.
I was doing a coaching session last week with someone who wanted to 'beat' overthinking. The truth is, you can't. But you can learn how to use your overthinking for good and not as a stress trigger.
It is not the overthinking itself that causes stress or anxiety, it's whatyou are thinking about when you are overthinking. I still catch myself from time to time caring about things I shouldn't, people's opinions of me or whether I did or didn't say something.
But now, when I catch myself, I ask three things:
Firstly, why am I thinking about this, and is it worth investing energy on?
Secondly, will this thought or event be a blip on my radar in six months' time?
And thirdly, what evidence do I have that either a) person 'x' actually has the opinion of me that I think they do, or b) my contribution to something was below par?
You might not be able to ever fully beat the overthinking, but you can control it and own it, instead of it owning you.
Here are some things I've learnt about overthinkers, as a recovering (but not recovered) one:
We aren't insecure -- we just think. We think a lot.We think about us, about you, what we said to you, what we said at that meeting (or didn't say). Is that why you haven't replied to our email, or returned our phone call? Is that why my ears are burning? Like I said, we think. A lot.
Sometimes we care too much. When we think we might have upset you we feel really bad and want to make it better. They key for us though, is to learn that sometimes we are helping people more by telling them what they need to hear.
Sleep can be the hardest part of our day. It seems to be the time when all the day's events decide to replay themselves.
With all the thinking that we do, we often come up with ideas and find solutions. Research has discovered that overthinking has some positive effects. The challenge is harnessing this thinking, for the positive not negative.
You might not be an overthinker in all aspects of your life. Sometimes people are only overthinkers in one segment of their life -- i.e. work, friends or family -- depending on where their insecurities lie. You might find with family or friends you are confident, clear and don't overthink, yet switch to Monday in the office and your brain goes into overdrive.
Overthinking has become an epidemic, and with the social-media tap heavily flowing and constant communication not disappearing anytime soon, we need to get stronger and more resilient at managing the reams of information that are thrown at us.
So, if you're an overthinker, here are four things you can do to help you get out of your own way (or head, in this instance), and invest your energy on things that count.
When you catch yourself overthinking, do the following:
Write it down. Journal what is going on in your head and get it out of there.
Talk to someone. But make sure they are someone who will call you out if you go around in circles with your overthinking talk.
Use positive distractions. These will stop you from thinking about things you don't want to be thinking about. If you are lying awake in bed just hoping you will fall asleep, get up and do something else for a while, focus your energy on that, and then try again.
Most importantly, ask yourself the three questions above, and try to dissolve the thinking pattern.