Overthinking: How To Retrain Your Brain To Think Less


Do you agonize over the simplest decision? Do you replay again and again in your head past dialogues or hypothetical ones you wished you had? Do you worry about the consequences of your actions to the point where it’s keeping you awake at night?

You are an overthinker.

Just like more than half the female population in the US and more than 70% of 25 to 35 year-olds.

The good news… thinking IS a good thing.

It helps with processing information, making informed decisions, solving problems. The more you think, the more you stimulate your brain, the more intelligent you become.

The bad news… overthinking is most certainly NOT a good thing.

It can unnecessarily complicate a decision and make the decision process inefficient. It can feed your worries and lead to fear, failure, stress and depression.

The most important step on the way to retrain your brain to think less is to ask yourself 3 questions:

  1. Have I got any influence over this?
  2. Am I overcomplicating things?
  3. What is the worst that could happen?

Have You Got Any Influence Over Your Problem?

If you have NO influence over something that may impact you or people you love…. do NOT spend a minute worrying about the result.

Accept that it’s beyond your control, that you cannot impact or change it.

Accept the possibilities.

Prepare yourself for them in a positive and constructive way.

You might be thinking about an exam you’ve just taken, an interview you’ve just had and you’re worried about the result. It’s now too late to do something about it. So, give your brain a rest and stop worrying, stop thinking. Have a plan of action ready for each outcome if it helps and leave it at that.

OK, I know ‘Stop thinking about it’ is a lot easier said than done.

Here are some useful tips to help:

  • Tell your mind to stop worrying, to stop thinking these unhelpfful thoughts. You’d be amazed how much power we actually have over our brain.
  • Keep checking your thoughts. Put an alarm on every 30 minutes. When it rings, ask yourself what you were thinking about. If the thoughts were unhelpful, let them go and decide to thhink about something else, something positive and constructive.
  • Use distractions to keep your mind occupied with other things: mindfulness, exercising, Tai-Chi, relaxation, breathing, meditation are all excellennt distractions. They will ground you firmly in the present where only what you’re doing right now matters and not what you did, not what you still have to do, not all the issues you still have to solve. Concentrating on the present is a powerful antidote to overthinking.

Are You Overcomplicating Things?

Sometimes, we tend to overcomplicate things not just because we don’t want to forget anything but also because we think an important decision should require a lot of thinking.

A very interesting experiment was conducted by Columbia Business School. They tested the decision process of people faced with a complicated choice and those with a simple choice. The people with the complicated choice tried to simplify the problem in order to solve it, which you would expect. The ones with the simple choice did the opposite. They made the problem more difficult by increasing the importance of some criteria that were deemed non important by those with the complicated choice.

When an important decision (new job, change of career, new car,…) seems too easy, people artificially reconstruct their preferences in a manner that increases choice conflict. When it comes to big decisions, people try to achieve a match between the expected effort of making a choice and the effort they think they should make in order to reach the decision. The research paper terms this the “effort compatibility principle”.

So, when you’re next faced with a decision, remember the effort compatibility principle and ask yourself whether you are overcomplicating things unnecessarily.

Sometimes the obvious choice IS the best choice.

What Is The Very Worst That Could Happen?

If you have a problem you’ve been mulling over for a while, just ask yourself the question now: What’s the very worst that could happen if I don’t solve the problem? if I pick the wrong solution and screw it up?

Make sure it’s the very worst.

Then think about it… is it worth worrying about?

It might be so small that you’ve just realised that it does not matter.

It might be more important but you could live with it because it’s not actually that bad.

Be OK with that worst outcome. Give yourself an alloted amount of time to make a decision, to understand the consequences and the risks and think of appropriate responses if necessary so you know how you would deal with it.

Then stop thinking.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes we spend SO MUCH time thinking about a problem and its consequences that, if we had spent that same time solving the problem instead, it would already be sorted.

Value your energy, your time and your positivity. Overthinking is a drain on all of those.


Overthinking: How To Retrain Your Brain To Think Less — 2 Comments

  1. Hey Isabelle,

    I do tend to overthink, but not in a way explained in the post. I tend to think a lot of other things – about life, about universe, about my purpose and all sorts of things. Sometimes, I wonder whether they are really worth my time; sometimes, I wonder whether I should just stop thinking about them.

    Right now, I believe that I shouldn’t (I also believe I should stop thinking about those things, since I believe in possibilities. Anything can be true :D). Thinking or over thinking (Is it really over thinking?) about these topics helps me to improve my own perspective with things, which in turn helps to improve my life 😀

    I don’t quite worry about making decision. I have learned the importance of failures, thanks to blogging :D(and I prefer failures and mistakes over success, because they teach me more). So, no problem with managing my worries – I don’t worry that much.

    Anyways, thank you for sharing your expertise on the topic, Isabelle 🙂 Appreciate it!

    • Hi Jeevan, It sounds like you’re not actually overthinking, you’re just thinking a lot about things that matter to you. It’s positive and constructive. The overthinking I mean here stems out of worries – founded or unfounded – , out of fear of the unknown, out of decisions that are made overly complicated. It’s negative and potentially destructive. You, on the other hand, have got the right attitude towards taking risks that come with making decisions, accepting failure and not worrying.
      Best wishes

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