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How Not to Overthink in 4 Badass Steps

How not to overthink, a full guide with actionable steps to stop overthinking right now

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This is the ultimate guide on how not to overthink. Here you will see what you can do to finally act, make a decision, and ensure it is the best decision you can make. We will focus only on actionable advice, things you can do right now to get out of overthinking.

Most guides on how not to overthink will feed you with dubious advice that is not actionable. Don’t get me wrong, they give good advice like “be nice to others” or “think positive”, but how can you act upon it? Can you just switch a button in your head to start thinking positive? Probably not. Here, instead, I will provide you with things you can actually do to avoid overthinking. And, unlike other guides that throw at you a bunch of things, what you find here is a step-list. You have to do them all. Let’s get started.

In short, how not to overthink goes like this:

  1. Study and understand the reasons that make humans overthink
  2. Describe your thinking, in writing
  3. Pause for a day (if possible) before doing anything else
  4. Look back at your thinking that you wrote down from an external perspective
  5. Pull yourself together and act, realizing that all choices will have consequences

This may seem simple and yet incredibly difficult. But have no fear, read this entire article and you will know an actionable way to make it a reality.

First, Understand Overthinking

Know your enemy and you are halfway there. Know yourself as well, and you will not fear any obstacle. This is to paraphrase Sun Tzu, the famous general in ancient China who supposedly wrote The Art of War.

Today, your enemy is overthinking. Let’s visualize that as something that happens outside your control, which generally is the case. Before we can start to discuss how not to overthink, we need to realize where overthinking comes from. In other words, we need to understand the reasons behind overthinking, truly and deeply. Only then we will be able to find a way to fight against it that is effective.

Overthinking comes from a combination of two things: uncertainty of outcomes, and hard-to-compare outcomes. In addition, there is some predisposition to overthink (or not) in our personality.

Uncertainty of Outcomes

At the root of overthinking, we find uncertainty of outcomes. That is, in a given decision or situation, you don’t know for sure what results you will get by acting in one way or another. This situation is easy to spot, and spotting is the first step on how not to overthink.

A few examples can make things clear:

  • You are interviewing for a job and, no matter how much effort you put into preparing, you can never predict if you will get the job or not with 100% certainty
  • You find the courage to ask your crush out, but you have no idea how he/she will react
  • You want to invest your last-year bonus, but don’t know which index fund will be most profitable
  • You are preparing for a speech to give to a small audience, like at a business conference or at a wedding, but you don’t know if they are going to like it or not

We could go on and on, but I am sure you start to see the pattern. Uncertainty of outcomes means that the outcome is not only the product of your actions, but it is also influenced by external factors: other people, the weather, even chance.

This makes our brains go wild, because we seek stability and control. We want to predict what will happen; we want to be reassured that the outcome depends exclusively on your action. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. If you can control the outcome, you will make sure you get a good outcome. So, we naturally evolved to prefer and seek situations in which we can control the outcome.

How not to overthink when we face uncertainties
When you can’t see where you life is going, it is easy to fall into overthinking.

For example, while Joe The Hunter and his friends were busy looking for elephants to grill in the savanna, Dan The Farmer and his friends were setting up a farm to grow wheat. Eventually, Joe could not find any more elephants and his tribe perished, while Dan and his tribe flourished. Controlling things makes sense from an evolution point of view. In the modern world, this does not always play to our advantage.

Hard-to-Compare Outcomes

Do you prefer ice cream or watching a movie? Having a roof over your head or having sex? Do you prefer your grandma or going to a vacation? You are probably likely to pick one preference over the other. Yet, you see is not immediate when things are unrelated, because it’s hard to compare. It is much harder to compare ice cream to watching a movie, rather than comparing chocolate ice cream to vanilla ice cream.

Life is no different. Every day, we often have to commit to one outcome rather than another, and yet it’s not easy to identify which outcome is inherently “better”. Overthinking sneaks in when you don’t know what is better.

How not to overthink when choices are hard to compare in life, work, dating, family
In life, choices and outcomes tend to be hard to compare and cannot be placed on a scale easily.

Your brain starts spinning like a drunk hobo dancing in the subway station, because it naturally things “Damn, if I don’t know what is better it is only because I have to put more effort into this”. This is the root of overthinking. The problem with this – and we all know it deep down – is that the situation is just what it is, and no matter how much thinking you are going to put to it, you will never ultimately discern which outcome is superior.

If you still are not sure what hard-to-compare outcomes might be, a few examples will clarify:

  • Taking a high-profile and high-risk job in a new city or remain in your comfortable job
  • Having sex once with that super-hot one or stick with your sexless relationship of a lifetime
  • Quit the 9-to-6 job you hate, losing financial security to pursue your passion, or stick a few more years and pay the bills
  • Try a new place for vacations this year, which might be better or worse than the place you are used to go to
  • Pursuing that project you really wanted to do but that might fail, or keep spending your evenings on Netflix

As you can see, all these examples are hard to compare and carry a little bit of uncertainty as well. As in most common cases, the hard-to-compare scenario arise when you have something you are familiar with to let go, for something that you don’t know and could potentially be better or worse. This is important if we want to know how not to overthink.

Personality and Overthinking

Yes, personality also plays a role when it comes to overthinking. There are people who are naturally more inclined to overthink, and other that rarely even think at all. Yet, this has nothing to do with how dumb you are, or how reflexive you are. We need to make a clear distinction: being reflective and overthinking are not the same thing.

Being reflective means taking your time to think, reflect indeed, and ponder on all possible scenarios. Once you are done with that, or you are not making any progress, you stop thinking and act. Instead, overthinking means thinking over and over the same things, even as you make no progress toward a decision, being unable to stop.

How not to overthink when your personality is anxious
Personality plays a role in overthinking. If you are anxious, you are more prone to overthinking.

Sorry to say, this is an article you found on a blog online. It can’t change your personality, for better or worse. But still, we need to consider your personality when we plan how not to overthink. Ignoring your personality would be dumb and would hinder the efficacy of our steps to quit overthinking.

People who feel more secure and self-confident tend to overthink less than people who are more insecure. Who would have thought, right? If you stumbled upon this guide on how not to overthink, probably you are not one of the most self-confident individuals. Yet, that does not mean you consider yourself a worthless piece of rubbish. There is a spectrum between the tanned muscular cocky guy and the depressed emo lying down in the bathtub with his veins slid open. Only you know where you rank on this spectrum.

No matter where you rank in self-confidence, the advice in this guide on how not to overthink applies to you in the same way. The more self-confident you are, the easier it will be for you to apply it. The less self-confident you are, the more you will need to put some energies into this, but you can get it done.

How Not to Overthink

In this part of the article, we focus on the actionable advice on how not to overthink. You will find the steps that you need to get your thoughts in check.

1. Describe Your Thinking, in Writing

The first step on how to not overthink starts with actually overthinking, while being mindful about it. Instead of having your mind full of different and contrasting ideas that clog it, write it down. Slow down your inner voice and write it down what it says.

This is not like having a journal. Having a journal is good and can have positive long-term consequences, but in the short-term effects may be limited. Here, instead, we focus how not to overthink right now. Hence, you should write down your thought process. Write down the worries, fears, desires that are driving you.

If you have a choice, write down the possible outcomes of all choices, even accounting for possibilities. Imagine you are overthinking because you are unsure if you should ask out the person you like. What might be the possible outcomes? They might be something like this:

  • She accepts and we go out, then we are together, and we live happily ever after
  • She accepts and we go out, then we are together but inevitably break up because of our differences
  • She accepts and we go out, but she loses interest quickly
  • She does not say yes or no, but slowly disappear from my life
  • She rejects me and offers to remain friends
  • She rejects me and disappear

This is an example, of course, you should list what you think might possibly happen, even if the remotest thing. It is okay also to list “Something that I cannot know now might happen”, accepting uncertainty. Do not think about immediate consequences only, think long term. Always ask “This happens… and then what? And after that?”.

How not to overthink? Start by writing down your thoughts
The first step to stop overthinking is writing down your thoughts.

Let’s make another example to make things even clearer. Imagine you are overthinking about switching jobs.

  • I stay in the current job, I get economic security, but my career stagnates, yet I can settle in this town and buy a house
  • I move to the new job, I get even better economic security and pay, my career skyrockets and I will be on the move for a while
  • I move to the new job, but I am not good enough and, in a while, I get fired. I will not be able to find another job ever again, become homeless and go live on a park, maybe getting high now and then
  • I move to the new job, but I am not good enough and, in a while, I get fired. I find another job similar to the one I already have now and nothing special happens, I might have to move again
  • I stay in the current job, my skills get noticed and my career continues to grow, and I can settle in this town as well

Writing those kinds of sentences is not that difficult, even when you are overthinking. Yet, it is not enough. For each outcome, write down how you would feel about it. What would you like? What would you hate? How likely is it to happen, in your view? Is your view based on some facts, or just a gut feeling?

There is no right or wrong answer. The first step on how not to overthink is just to list your thoughts with no judgement. Once you have this done, start to look at it.

2. If Possible, Give it a Day

Once you feel satisfied with what you wrote, formalize that you are done with writing. That is, write everything in one session, and after that no addition/changes allowed. You just wrote what you wrote, that’s it. (Considering this, it may be worth to set aside a proper amount of time to write everything you want to write in a single session).

To stop overthinking and before acting, take a good rest. For example, go for a walk.
To stop overthinking, take a small break. One day is enough, if you can.

Now, the next step on how not to overthink is to just let your craft reset for a day. This might not always be possible, sometimes your decisions need urgency and cannot wait tomorrow. Yet, in most cases they can wait easily. If you can have a day, use it, it will make things even easier. If not, do not worry, and move to the next step.

3. Read Your Thoughts

How not to overthink? Just read your thoughts. The idea of writing your ideas and worries and then reading them serves the purpose of dethatching yourself from them. It allows you to have some sort of external perspective, like you were looking at someone else’s life.

This sense of detachment is different from individual to individual. Some people may really feel like they are looking at another person’s life, while other may feel almost just the same. Luckily, in our approach on how not to overthink, the level of detachment you have is not important. What is important here, is the fact that you have a piece of paper with your thought on it, and you can use that to make your decisions.

Read it out loud if you can, and do not rush it. Read every word, and let it sink in. I know it might be boring, since you know what you wrote after all, but still force yourself to do it. This will help you clarify your perspective, as complex or unstructured as it might be.

Be ready, because right after you read your thoughts it is time to move to the hard part of this guide on how not to overthink. It is time to act. Right now, not in 5 minutes, not tomorrow, but right now.

4. Now, Just Act

The key how not to overthink is to act. And I can imagine what you might say now: if I could just act, I wouldn’t be looking for a guide on how not to overthink online. Yes, you are right, but at its core it is what it is.

To not overthink, you need to realize that you will never find a “solution” by keeping thinking indefinitely. In fact, you won’t even reach a better solution by thinking a little more. It is called marginal improvement. Imagine you spend an hour to write a 1-page essay. Now, imagine you spend two hours to write the same essay. It might be twice as good because you dedicated twice the time. However, if you spend for hours, it might not be four times as good, maybe something like 2.5? Now, if you spent 10,000 hours for the same essays, it won’t be dramatically better than if you spent a couple of hours. In other words, each additional hours add less and less value.

The same is true with thinking. The more time you spend thinking (or, rather, overthinking), the less value this time is adding to your decision. So, the only thing you can do is stop thinking and act. And I know, this takes the gut.

Yes, it takes the gut. But it is time for you to grow up and hold the uncomfortable truth in your hands. You need to realize that most choices in life have drawbacks, to get something that you want you might give up something else that you also want. That’s life, and it might suck, but those are the rule of the game. Not only that, sometimes it is not clear to us what we want. We might pursue something, only to realize later that what we had to let go is actually want we wanted. But you know what? Even if that’s the case, it is not the end of the world.

It is not the end of the world. The world was going on just fine before you were there, is going on just fine now that you are part of it, and it won’t give a damn whether you get what you want or not. To the contrary, it will continue to go on just fine, now, tomorrow, next year, and even when you will be gone – when we all will be gone.

So now it is really time to own your life, decide, and bear the consequences. If you were looking on a guide how not to overthink to avoid any discomfort or sadness or pain, well, that’s not it. No guide can offer you that, because negative feelings are part of the human experience, and you should run away like a chicken. You own your decisions and be ready do deal with the feelings that might arise.

Now that you stopped overthinking, just act
Like a popular shoes brand likes to say: just do it.

Okay, okay, I get the point, but what if I still can’t choose? Then, my friend, you haven’t heard the point enough, or maybe you did not consider it worthy enough. But if you need one more little push, let the fate choose for you. Throw some dices, a coin, and do whatever they tell you to do. Are you frightened by the fate selecting for you? Then just act now and on your decisions!

Note that you are the only one responsible for your actions. No matter what, if among your choices or ideas you are considering harming yourself or others, never do that. If you feel such emotional distress, seek professional counseling.

How Not to Overthink in Summary

In summary, how not to overthink is easy. You need to gather your thoughts in writing, process them the next day and then act on them, without worrying too much or waiting too much. If you make this a habit, with time your overthinking will slow down, and you will be in control of your life.

How not to overthink? At its core, it is all about doing rather than thinking.
The cure to overthinking, even on the long term, is simply doing in spite of doubt.

If you want to improve yourself and your mind but are overthinking, starting a therapy with a professional might be a good thing to do. You can seek a psychologist not only to “fix” yourself, but also to become a better version of yourself.

Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded ICTShore.com with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.
Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded ICTShore.com with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.

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Alessandro Maggio

2022-09-15T16:30:00+00:00

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