(this is part two of a blog series. Read the first part here).
Living in the NOW is one of the most effective ways to deal with an overthinking mind? I would like to share with you some tools I use to help me live in the NOW and hopefully you too can become a thought catching Zen master!
First things first: how do we become more aware of our overthinking mind? Any time you find yourself doubting, complaining or feeling stressed or anxious, step back and look at how you are reacting to the situation. When you are aware of your overthinking mind, you are planting a seed of change! The more you do this the easier it gets.
Once you are in this new space in your mind I suggest that you feel into the overthinker by acknowledging that he/she/it is there. You can, for example, say, ‘Hey, I see you’. By doing this you are acknowledging it…and whether we think so or not…we all want to be acknowledged on some level including our overthinking mind. Often by just acknowledging the thought, your overthinker will say, ‘Hey thanks for noticing me’ and then go away. However, sometimes it might not be as easy as that. Below are some suggested ways you can work through the overthinking once you’ve acknowledged it.
A great tool that is practiced by many to live more in the now and be more aware of the overthinker is by practicing meditation. There are many meditations out there such as focusing on your breath, on your walk, on sounds around you, on your body, and more. All of them offer you the opportunity to be in the now and to observe your thoughts while being in the now. If you have never meditated before, no worries, this is your chance to quiet your mind. There are many apps out there that offer free meditations. I use Insight Timer and Buddhify. But there are many others out there so go have a look.
- Cultivate Awareness.
Another tool is to print one of these posters below and to hang it somewhere you will see it daily. This is a form of subconscious positive affirmation. Just by seeing it daily you are planting a seed of change…subconsciously. How easy is that!
- Visualize the good things!
Remember how often we overthink the future? All those scary and negative things that will happen in 1 day or 1 month or even a year? I don’t know about you but I’m no fortune teller and so it is impossible for me to predict the future. So, instead of thinking the worst, try and think positively! Think about all the things that could go right. Visualizing is a really good tool for this. For example, if you’re not looking forward to attending say wedding of an acquaintance, try and think of all the things that you will hate about this wedding, but then also think about all the possible good things that could happen. For instance, maybe they’ve hired an awesome DJ that played every single one of your favorite songs! Or, maybe you meet a great business connection or see an old friend you hadn’t seen in years. Or maybe the meal will be amazing, and the full-fat chocolate cake is calorie free! The trick here is to twist your thinking so more positive thoughts are in your mind than negative!
- Change your perspective.
What helps me a lot when I overthink, especially when overthinking the past, is that I try and ask myself, ‘What would I tell a friend’? For example, I am worried about the fact that I shouting at my kids when they flooded the bathroom by putting a towel in the sink and left the water running. After I clean up the mess, I start to feel guilty for shouting. This sends me down that emotional shame spiral. That is, until I become aware of it and I ask myself what would I say to Jennifer (who is a good friend) if she had done the same thing? I for one would not advise her to beat herself up over it! I would say acknowledge the guilt but move on. I would then probably remind her of all the great things she does as a mother and to be kind to herself. So, just as you would a good friend, show yourself kindness…be a good friend to yourself…not an enemy.
- Accept the situation or change it.
There are only two ways you can go when it comes to overthinking: the downward overthinking spiral OR living in the NOW. So once you’ve acknowledged those feelings asking yourself, ‘Will I accept the situation or change the situation’? Just like Eckhart Tolle says (yep him again): ‘All else is madness’! So think about whether you can accept the situation you are in? Think maybe in a way that you even choose the situation you are in? How would you handle that? And if you cannot accept it then change it. The most important thing here is to not overthink the situation so it will haunt you for hours or weeks!
- Explore the fear, then distract yourself.
Distraction in itself is a good one, but I would first suggest acknowledging and feeling into what negative emotions or thoughts you are having and tell yourself, ‘I see you negative thought’. After acknowledging it try then to distract yourself! For example, listen to your favorite song that lifts your spirits and makes you dance (obviously nothing by Radiohead)! Or get creative. I love to paint! It’s my go-to feel good distractor. Do whatever makes you feel better. My feel good song is Jenny don’t be hasty by Paulo Nutini’s. I honestly can’t stop myself from moving to this song. After a bit of distraction, those negative thoughts don’t seem so big.
- Will it matter in the future?
One very good tool is to ask yourself, ‘How much will it matter in 4 years’? This question is particularly good if the overthinking has gone on for a while and you’ve worked yourself into a good old negative rut! Again, first, try to be aware of the overthinker, then acknowledge the overthinker, and say, ‘Will this actually matter in 4 years’? The answer will most likely be that it actually won’t even matter next month or maybe even tomorrow? So, overthinker, get out of my head!
- Timebox overthinking.
Give the overthinker a timer. We all have these worries and overthinking thoughts. What if we can acknowledge them by giving them a specific time to come out? For example, at 16.30 I will have my overthinking time, where I will allow myself to overthink for 5 minutes. This means that whenever my overthinker comes before or after 16.30 I tell him/her that it’s not their time yet, but that I reserved a special time for her/him.
- Be grateful!
Gratitude is a great way to invite more positiveness into your life and ultimately decreasing your overthinking. You can make a daily or weekly list of all the things you are grateful for, hang it up, exchange it with a friend or colleague or whomever you think can handle all this gratitude. What I often do is when I lay in bed I name 3 things that I am grateful for today. I try to name small things like the hug my daughter gave me this morning, or that I was able to be aware of a fear today, or that I came home and my husband did the groceries. And this is a great way to acknowledge all the amazing little things around me!
- Follow your instincts and act.
Trust your instincts and throw the Teddy! I bet you’re wondering what that means. Well, you know how we all sometimes have great ideas, ideas that come from deep down, from our inner child, from our instincts. These ideas are often spontaneous and great, but how often does the overthinker come in and beat the shit out of this great idea? Well too often. So, I suggest that you challenge yourself and act on your instincts. To do this you must respond like a reflex: within 5 seconds and see what joy or maybe craziness this will bring to your life? An example, not so long ago, my brother-in-law threw my son’s teddy bear at me while we were cleaning up. My first instinct was to throw it back at him, and before my mind could come up with reasons why not to throw it back at him, I just did it and we had so much fun just throwing a teddy bear around. Then my sister and husband joined in, it got ridiculously fun that is until my son decided his Teddy had had enough and shouted, ‘Leave my Teddy alone’. You see this precious moment would not have happened if I would have not reacted quickly on my instincts. A possible missed opportunity…missed living your best life.
I truly hope (and believe) that you will find several tools that will work for you. So go on and take the challenge and experiment with them. A great way of discovering what works is to keep a journal. Write down what fear you experienced and how you dealt with it? When you write things down it helps you to clear your head, make important connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and as a bonus, it might make you feel less stressed! And less stressed is exactly what we all could use now and then?
Wishing you a lot of luck in your path to become a professional ‘Thought Catcher’!