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A Proven 5-Step Formula to Stop Overthinking

How to make the decision-making process less painful


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Kristina Segarra

3 years ago | 5 min read

Have you ever had a feeling that you’re trapped by your thoughts? Like your mind locked you up like a prisoner? Or maybe you felt like thoughts were racing through your mind? Or maybe you were sitting down with a cup of coffee ruminating about an unpleasant event that happened in your past?

These scenarios are common. For a second, you wish there was a magic fairy waltzing in the window to take your worries and anxieties away. You may be thinking: “What’s going on in my mind?” “Why I don’t seem to be able to stop this negative thought process and liberate my mind?”

Why We Overthink

There are two reasons people are trapped by their own thoughts, according to Kimber Shelton, a psychologist and owner of KLS Counseling & Consulting Services in Duncanville, Texas. They may be prone to perfectionism or desire control. “We want to figure out every single angle and be able to control what would happen if this should occur, and we get stuck in this process of overthinking,” she says.

Chasing perfection

If you’re prone to perfection, you may tend to overthink and consider every possible scenario that could happen before you make a decision. In a sense, you’re like a hamster spinning its wheel. Your mind keeps going around in circles. You can’t put your mind at rest by coming to a meaningful conclusion.

It’s not just the decisions people make, you may be stuck ruminating about your past too. Your mind plays back the past events, like a song on a loop mode. You may think about an unpleasant situation or an embarrassing incident that you can’t make yourself forget. Suddenly, your mind takes over and you lose control.

We all get wrapped up in our thought process from time to time. As Shelton says, when you are trapped by your own thoughts, you may be striving for perfection. You want to make a decision that aligns with your perfect ideal of self. After all, your perfect mind wouldn’t settle for a less than perfect decision. Or when attempting to solve a problem you’re looking for the perfect solution, which in some cases, may not exist. But somewhere in your mind, it does.

Desire for control

Some people try to be in full control of their actions and decisions. They’re scared of making the wrong decision and their minds are so overrun with anxiety they have to think about things repeatedly before making their decision.

But often overthinking leads to a waste of resources, not just your time but your mental energy too. Some decisions don’t require so much brainpower to make. Yet some people overcomplicate their lives by spending way too much time making simple decisions.

The good news is, you can break up the cycle of overthinking with these easy mindful tactics.

How to Stop the Overthinking Process

Psychologist Deborah Serani created a simple five-step process that can help you escape the endless cycle of overthinking.

Step one:

The first step, Serani said, is for you to become aware of when you’re overthinking. Sometimes we may not know we’re overthinking because we are not tuned into ourselves.

Judging from my personal experience, when I overthink, my mind is racing and I can’t think straight. Dwelling on something for too long puts me in an uncomfortable spot. You may also show a few physical signs: your palms may be sweaty or your heart may beat faster than usual.

Step two:

Once you’ve recognized that you’re overthinking, take a step back and analyze the situation. Ask yourself: “What am I overthinking about? and “Do I have any control over the situation?”

Step three:

Identify your level of control over the situation. In some cases, you can fix the situation rather quickly by isolating the problem.

Step four:

Once you’ve identified the problem, give yourself a time limit on how long you will spend problem-solving. In some cases, depending on the problem, you can fix it rather quickly. For example, if you’ve backed up on your work and have too many activities lined up, you can simply cancel or postpone one of them. Or if you’re running late for your appointment, you can quickly call the person and let them know you’re running late.

Step five:

Cheer up and celebrate. After all, you need to feel proud you were able to take the situation under control and remind yourself of your problem-solving abilities. As Serani says, “You’re going to celebrate the fact that you took a situation, recognized that you were overthinking and that you tried to solve the problem.”

What Not to Do

Some people who are problem dwellers tend to be so wrapped up around the problem. They get so overwhelmed and frustrated that they give up and cancel everything they’ve planned. They essentially waste their time worrying about the problem rather than fixing it.

The mentality of a problem dweller is, Serani says, “I can’t believe I’m stuck in traffic” or “I can’t believe I’m going to be late for this appointment; this doesn’t look good for me professionally.” To give up on the whole situation is the worst thing you can do for yourself. So rather than ruminating over the problem, put yourself in control and redirect your thought process towards solving the problem. In other words, you can train your mind to jump into “solution mode” rather than into a “problem-dwelling” mode.

Key Things to Keep In Mind

You may not extinguish the problem at once, but at least you’ll feel proud you took some baby steps and began to tackle your problem without overthinking.

Have patience and give yourself some time. Your first couple of attempts to practice this method may not be the most successful. Serani says it’s normal and you should continue following the same practice. Just with anything in life, practice will make you better.

The Takeaway

It’s easy to be trapped by your thoughts and lose control of your mind. This can lead to overthinking and make you waste too much time in the decision-making process. When faced with any decision, big or small, follow this simple 5-step plan to make your decisions. This will stop the overthinking process and help you regain control over your mind and solve the issue at hand.

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Kristina Segarra

I'm a freelance writer, musician and a mom of two kids. I love writing on health-related, self-improvement, and writing topics as well as world events.


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