Ruminations - how to stop unhelpful thoughts
The phrase “too much of a good thing” can be applied to more or less anything, even thinking. While thinking things through is a good idea, overthinking can have detrimental effects on your mental health in a variety of ways. This blog will examine some of the main ways that thinking too much can negatively impact your quality of life, and offer advice on how to stop.
It is often said that when you’re trying to make a decision, you’re usually right the first time. While this is clearly an oversimplification, the message behind this saying is that the longer you dwell on something, the more reasons you will come up with to doubt your choice. When faced with multiple choices, each will have its pros and cons, but while the pros are usually easy to find and count, the cons are near-infinite in almost any decision.
For example, when deciding whether or not you want to buy a car, the pros are essentially limited to enabling you to drive to work, see friends, and go further afield with ease. The cons are that you will have to pay for fuel, parking, NCT, insurance, you could crash, you could hit someone, you could hit a dog, it could break down, you might buy the wrong one, you’ll be committed to it for years, you may not be able to make the payments if you lose your job, and so on. This sort of thinking is known as Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and can often leads to more serious conditions such as depression and panic attacks.
In reality, we know that most people buy and own numerous cars throughout their whole lives without the world falling in, but if you dwell on the subject too long, it can seem inevitable that it will. So the decision is put on hold, which leads to...
Fear And Mistrust
With the cons outweighing the pros by so much, even the simplest decisions can cause immense levels of fear. If a friend or colleague asks you to help them, you could end up making them happy, and winning some brownie points. Or you could mess it up for them, they may hate your efforts or even laugh at them, it could reflect badly on you, or get back to your boss. The longer you think about something, the more frightening it can appear, leading you to become wary and back away from the situation. What people rarely consider in these scenarios is that playing it safe is actually harmful, as you end up more isolated, less approachable, less reliable, and even less successful, because you are not willing to take the risk.
Similarly, when you start to overthink about how people will react to certain situations, or what their motivations are, you are allowing yourself to sow mistrust, and even paranoia. If a colleague offers to help you, it’s easy to come up with all sorts of fantastical stories about why that might be so. They may be trying to take credit for your work, so you hold back your best ideas. The boss might have asked them to help, which could mean your job is at risk. Or maybe they just don’t think you’re very good at your job, and that’s what everyone is saying about you. This sort of thinking severely impacts your performance, and can even become a self-fulfilling prophecy, which then “proves” that your negative thoughts were right to begin with. When this happens, it can quite often lead to...
We all experience regret in our lives, but coupled with overthinking, this can be a powerful weapon against good mental health. Looking back, all those pros have suddenly become cons, because they were missed opportunities. That’s not to say that we’re wrong, but it doesn’t mean we’re right either. The grass will always look greener when we look back on such decisions. You’re not likely to look back and be glad you turned down a promotion just because you may have gotten fired by now, but you will look back and think about how much farther along you could be now. You might think about the extra wages you lost, but you’ll spend less time thinking about the longer hours and extra stress, because you won’t have experienced them. These thoughts will then make you feel bad about your decision making abilities, which will manifest again next time you have to make a decision.
There are several things you can do to overcome this. The first step is to remember at all times that there will always be more cons than pros, but the overwhelming majority of cons will never come to fruition. The second is to realise that there is no end to a train of thought. It will run as long as you let it, so you need to set a firm end and stick to it. This could be deciding to come to a decision with a friend by the end of a conversation, by allowing yourself 30 minutes to create a list of the 5 most likely pros and cons, or by giving committing yourself to a time limit by telling someone else you will have made your mind up by a certain time. It’s also important to remember that most of the decisions you make are not as influential in the grand scheme of things as you think they are.
It cannot be applied to every scenario, but a handy psychological trick to help yourself make a decision is to flip a coin. Usually when you are faced with two options, you have a preference on some level, even if you’re unwilling to admit it. So flip the coin, and you’ll often find that before you look, you’ll know what you really want when you find yourself hoping for either heads or tails.