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Overthinking No More!

Overthinking No More!

How often do you get trapped into overthinking, which Sonja Lyubomirsky describes as “thinking too much, needlessly, passively, endlessly, and excessively pondering the meanings, causes, and consequences of your character, your feelings, and your problems”.  The good news is that she identifies practical, concrete strategies you yourself can use to put an end to negative overthinking and anxious rumination.

happy and sad eggsLyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, explains that when we are feeling down, we often think we should focus inside ourselves to understand our feelings and situations “to attain self-insight and find solutions that might ultimately resolve our problems and relieve unhappiness”.

But science tells us otherwise. Overthinking continues or worsens our sadness, increases our negative thinking, weakens our ability to solve problems, reduces our motivation and initiative, and makes it harder for us to concentrate.

So what can we do to turn away from negative thinking and move towards greater happiness? The first step is simply to become aware of your thoughts as thoughts, not facts. Then try some of Lyubomirsky’s proven strategies, listed below.

Distract, distract, distract

When you catch yourself ruminating, do an activity that absorbs your attention and gives you a good feeling. Maybe it’s something as simple as listening to uplifting music, reading an absorbing book, watching a funny movie, dancing or going outside for a brisk walk, or meeting a friend.


You may find it helpful to think, say, or even shout to yourself, “Stop!” when you find yourself overthinking. Some people snap an elastic band they wear around their wrist. It’s wonderfully freeing when you first realize that you can stop thinking about something negative and decide to think about something positive instead.

Set time aside

Dear Abby has suggested setting aside 30 minutes a day to do nothing but ruminate. That way you can tell yourself during the day, “I’ll stop thinking about that now, because I’ll have time to think about it later.”

Talk to a sympathetic and trusted person

Simple telling someone you trust about your troubles can give you a break from negative feelings and thoughts. No one is expected to handle life’s problems all by themselves, and reaching out to another human being can help us feel less lonely in our sadness or difficulties.

Write down your thoughts

Set aside some time each day, or once a week, to write down what you’re thinking. This is for your eyes only, so grammar and spelling don’t matter. Writing can help you get your negative thoughts organized and perhaps see patterns you hadn’t noticed before. A journal, scraps of paper, a computer file – anything will do to record your thoughts.

Act to solve problems

Identify immediate small steps you can take to address a problem you’re having. Don’t wait for someone else to act. Taking action yourself will improve your mood and make you feel better about yourself.

Dodge Overthinking Triggers

Write down a list of situations (places, times, and people) that seem to spark your overthinking. If you can, avoid those situations or change them just enough to stop their ability to spark another round of negative thoughts.

If you like, learn how to meditate, and create a positive sense of well-being that will help see you through situations that you’re sensitive to.

Take in the Big Picture

Whenever a worry strikes, ask yourself, “Will this matter in a year?”. Consider your problem in the context of space and time: see yourself as a mere dot on earth, which is part of the Milky Way, which is a speck in the Universe.

If something will matter a year from now, identify what you can learn from the experience – about patience, perseverance, loyalty, or courage.

For more ideas about how to be happier, check out Happiness – with practice, below.

Reference: 2008. Sonja Lyubomirsky. The How of Happiness. The Penguin Press, New York. 366 pages.


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