I’m very picky about what kind of T-shirts I wear. Probably more so than I am with formal clothing. Any graphics or words on it need to truly reflect who I am. So naturally, I don’t buy them often. Too much thinking involved. But several months ago I bought one that read: Hang on. Let me overthink this. Yes, I think this represents me (to a tee. Hehe. I had to say it).
Sometimes overthinking is comforting. Maybe addictive. How could any problem possibly get past me if I overthink? Isn’t adding more options to my mind’s catalog of possibilities going to eventually lead me to The Answer? Even if I’m not physically able to attend to any problem in the moment, at least overthinking is getting me somewhere, isn’t it?
Apparently these beliefs are sorely flawed, and even harmful. Looking at overthinking as necessary or helpful soothes one corner of anxiety (‘Okay, it seems like I’m getting somewhere by overthinking’), but adds a mountain of new anxiety (‘OMG EVERTHING I’M THINKING ABOUT IS FREAKING ME OUT AND IT WON’T STOP’). It can become so intense it paralyzes us and prevents any actual good ideas from turning into action. It even stops me from buying more T-shirts.
If any of this sounds familiar, prepare to feel suspicious as I tell you that the greatest tool you can use to interrupt the overthinking mind can be summed up in one (yes, one) word: Mindfulness.
I like Dr. Shauna Shapiro’s definition: Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention with kindness. Overthinking and rumination propels us into a world outside of our present moment. We’re sucked into an unpleasant past or future. Not only that, our analytical mind spends time in the past/future finding reasons to judge, blame, pressure, and shame ourselves for something. The negative emotions we swim in lead to more intense rumination. As usual, this is the brain’s misguided effort to be helpful. Oh, feeling some discomfort? You must have a problem to solve. Let me help you solve it by sifting through your memory to find everywhere you went wrong. I’ll even present you with visions of worst-case-scenarios so you can spot all your current weaknesses as a person, and flaws in your decisions. No, don’t try to sleep yet, I’ve got a lot of material to go over with you. You’re welcome by the way.
So, the key to reversing the overthinking and rumination is to draw attention to the present moment, and to practice converting self judgement into kindness in the process.
How to draw attention to the present moment
You don’t need to sit still or go into a full-swing quiet meditation in order to do this. All you need to practice mindfulness is the here-and-now, which is always available to you, whether you’re eating, walking, or even multitasking. Start out by trying to spend 3 minutes focusing on one of the following while you’re doing whatever you’re doing in the moment:
How to redirect self judgement
During your 3 minutes of directing attention to the here-and-now, the style of your inner dialogue matters. There is an art to the way you answer the above questions, and how you respond to yourself when you get distracted:
Practicing mindfulness is like practicing the piano; it takes repetition over time in order for it to start feeling second-nature. One day of practice won’t do it, but improvement is possible. Again, 3 minutes a day is enough.
Thank you again to Kalene Khan for contributing this post!
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