Are you guilty of having an overactive mind? That is, does one innocent thought become a series of introspective, overly reductive self-criticisms? I’ve always had a tendency to overthink things, and in many ways, it has been a gift: I recognize and admit when I am at fault; I’m open to incorporating different belief systems into my overall ethos; and self-improvement is an important component of my personhood.
But having a mind on constant overdrive can also be quite detrimental–even paralyzing–if taken too far. An overactive mind can stymie the natural evolution of relationships if one party is examining each and every event and exchange that occurs (Why wasn’t I invited to his party? Am I acting too clingy?). This line of thinking can also create and reinforce a self-reproachful dialogue; we attack ourselves if we don’t do everything with “perfection” or with a positive attitude. So how do we limit our propensity to over analyze?
1. Recognize that your thoughts and ideas are not reality.
It’s true! The first step towards harnessing an overactive mind is to see that our thoughts, no matter how real they may seem, do not have practical value. Simply recognizing this as fact can give us some perspective and prevent our minds from spiraling out of control.
2. Write it down or say it out loud.
Whenever you notice yourself being overly analytical, write out your stream of thoughts or call a trusted friend. Record or voice each thought as it arises, being careful to notice how quickly we let our ideas snowball. It’s comical–like a game of telephone, almost–to see how our initial thought leads us to a set of completely unrelated thoughts. Once you write it down or say it out loud, it’s much easier to recognize the absurdity of your thought patterns.
3. Find a productive outlet.
All that energy used to conceive of every possible situation or potential disaster could be otherwise spent be utilized for a creative project or activity. Pick something that requires most, if not all, of your attention: reading a book, taking an exercise class, cross-stitching (my new favorite!), or baking an elaborate vegan cake for a neighbor are some ideas. Note, however, that these activities aren’t meant to serve as distractions for emotions that deserve evaluation. There is a fine line between avoiding emotions and recognizing when our excessive thoughts are no longer serving us.
4. Seek help.
I am a huge proponent of therapy. Where else can you voice your concerns in a completely non-judgmental setting? If you’re seeing a good therapist, you should feel supported, encouraged, and challenged. Therapists are trained to listen to our thoughts and emotions and provide perspective, hopefully allowing us to see our internal musings in a new light.
Meditation is another great way to observe our thoughts from a distance. When meditating, it is helpful to see thoughts as passing objects–like parade floats, or cars on a highway–and receive them as gently and non-judgmentally as possible. Difficult, perhaps, but good preparation for dealing with recurring thoughts outside of a meditative practice.
In this case, choose something that will help settle your thoughts or stop you from thinking in binaries. While you can use phrases like “Be calm” or “I’m doing my best,” my favorite mantra is “Gentle discipline.” The phrase is often used in Buddhist meditation, but for me it serves as a reminder to live compassionately, while still maintaining a level of accountability with myself and others. I even made a cross stitch to hang in my room as a reminder 🙂
Do you have a tendency to overanalyze? What are your favorite ways of coping?
Also by Molly: How to Confront Your Fears and Self-Discover
Photo: Chris Ford via Flickr; Molly Lansdowne