As you may have guessed from a site with a name like The Thinking Gentleman, I rather like thinking. Critical thought is an absolutely necessary tool for navigating our lives – and, it seems, a rapidly disappearing skill in our painfully image conscious modern world.
All that being said, there is certainly such a thing as overthinking – a self defeating habit which, if we are not careful, quickly devolves into a hamstringing self preoccupation, inactivity, and general ineffectiveness.
So what do you do if you’re naturally inclined that way? Well, luckily for you, I know the conundrum myself quite well, and I’ve been doing some thinking on your behalf! Here are my two cents on how to stop overthinking and get some balance in your life.
On thinking and doing
Overthinking is an imbalance…too much thought, too little action. In every life, there is thinking and there is doing – and the two must be in balance. As my favourite quotation from Henri Bergson puts it: “Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought.” Thinking and doing should be mutually reinforcing habits.
An overthinker, however, has shifted too far towards the intellectual, to the detriment of his physical, acting self. It follows that the best way to redress the balance is to find ways that encourage us to embrace the physical, the here and now aspects of our existence, for which I would like to offer three specific suggestions.
How to stop overthinking: Three actionable steps
- Do more physical activity
People who spend their days engaged in sedentary, intellectual work (so many of us these days) are at particular risk of overthinking. After all, their working lives are already skewed towards thought over action by their very nature. As a result, we need to make a conscious effort to get physical and redress the balance. For me, that means going to the gym and playing sports as much as I can – a chance to get out of my head and have a rest from all the thinking! I speak from experience when I say that implementing an exercise regime for yourself is a great first step.
- Daily meditation
Overthinkers are suffering from mental distraction and overly busy minds that stop them from acting effectively. Mindfulness meditation is a great tool for these sorts of people, because calming down busy minds and helping us learn how to be present in whatever we are doing in the moment is exactly what meditation is all about. This is something I have always struggled with as a naturally intellectual person, and I can only say that I’ve become an unlikely convert to meditation over the past couple of years. Even though I was extremely sceptical at first, I find it to have a significant calming effect, and I encourage you to try it out, too. I use Headspace, but there are some good free ones out there as well, Insight Timer, for instance. And if you’d like to learn more about the topic of mindfulnes in general, this is a very thorough and detailed introductory guide.
- Be grateful for the present moment
When we’re caught up in the cycle of overthinking, we forget the present moment because we’re thinking of what we want to be, might be, could be. And that’s where the topic of gratitude keeps coming back. I think it can be a particularly poignant message for people in the self development world, to say: It’s great to have goals, and dreams, and ambitions, but you have to be grateful for where you are now and what you have already – and be content with it. As we said, it’s all a case of balance.
So, there you go, how to stop overthinking in three easy steps. Of course, it’s nowhere near as easy as that, and it’s something we all need to keep working on – but now hopefully you at least have an awareness of the issue, and that’s the key to the battle. Stay smart!