How to Stop Thinking
Too much of anything is bad–even good things. Too much water can drown you, too much sex can cause a heart attack, and too much thinking can actually get in the way of our plans. Learning how to stop thinking is the best way to free up some mental room to get the results you want from any area of your life.
But how does someone actually stop thinking? How do you know how much thinking is the right amount?
Thinking About Thinking
The old joke about self-help books is that if any of them were effective, the genre would die. The joke here is that if a self-help book is successful, it will spread like wildfire and heal the nation of its productivity ills. Since self-help books are going strong, you can assume that none of them have “the answer.”
I don’t think we should blame self help authors, or motivational speakers, or our clergy–I think the way our human brains process information is to blame. Most people can’t get better because they think too much.
Thinking Gets In the Way
Thinking about a problem for a long time is not always the answer. Most of our problems can be solved with action, and action alone.
Let’s say you want a raise. You feel you’re a valuable asset, that you are “due” for a raise, and you think the time is now.
What will be solved by spending two or three weeks planning, thinking, and brooding about asking for a raise? You should simply walk up to your boss, present the information, and wait for a response.
This is a simplified example to prove a point, but most of our problems in life can be solved this way. Here’s why:
1. Thoughts don’t do anything.
You can think as hard as humanly possible, but you won’t get a thing done. People who “over think” problems tend to be procrastinators, so this abundance of thought is an easy way for them to escape getting something done.
In the simple example above, we see the uselessness of thought. Without taking the action of asking for a raise, you’ll never get it. Thinking is easier to do because it doesn’t require you to step outside your comfort zone.
Thinking is a lot like using a mind-altering substance–no one is going to yell at you for thinking, just like no one will yell at you for having a single beer. But over think everything (or drive thirty or forty beers) and your loved ones will get concerned. Limit your thinking, increase your action.
2. Thinking makes things more complicated than they are.
Even when your life is really complicated and you’re facing a ton of problems, there’s no need to over think yourself into a frenzy. Thinking too much makes your problems worse, not better.
Thinking about something for too long increases its complexity. If we think about something enough, we turn it into a twisted mess, a knot so tight you need surgery to undo it. In the “asking for a raise” example, for instance, you may end up developing a lot of resentment with your boss by over thinking your desire or need for a raise. If, instead, you calm yourself and simply ask for it, you could avoid all that head trauma.
Humans are good at making life harder for themselves. People who over think things end up struggling with themselves so much they have no energy for the real fight out here in the real world.
Stop making your own life complicated–the rest of the world does a good enough job.
3. Over thinking can cramp your style.
Does it seem like a person’s performance on a test would be better or worse when they spend the night before worrying about their grade? Over thinking makes you tense and nervous, and by the time you’ve started to second guess yourself, your performance in any task will be much worse than normal.
How Do I Stop Thinking All the Time?
Thank God there are simple ways to stop thinking so much. If you keep these three tips in mind at all times, you’ll find yourself thinking less and living more.
The first step in curing your over thinking problems is to notice when you are doing it. Just like any bad habit, to break this one you need to be aware of when it is happening.
There’s any number of ways to remember this. Try making notes for yourself that say things like “STOP THINKING” or “Don’t Overthink” and put them in places where you’ll see them. This simple trick could snap your thinking habit quickly.
When you catch yourself over thinking, stop the thought process and go do something physical. Take a short walk, wash the dishes, or make a phone call to a friend. Any action is better than obsessive thought. The idea here is to prevent the thought-cycle from getting out of control.
Rather than waiting months to make a decision, give each decision you have to make a timeline. Have to pick dinner? You’ve got fifteen minutes. Need to relocate? Give yourself a week to pick a new job or new city to live in. The idea here is to set deadlines and then meet them, rather than leaving every decision open-ended.
Join the Real World
People who think too much tend to live in a dream world. Try focusing on the real world around you instead.
Great artists, musicians, and athletes talk about “getting in the zone”, a place where they can perform and create without having to think. They trust themselves by nature, and their bodies and minds fall in line and perform.
The lesson here is to live in the present. Try to break up your routines, trying new restaurants, making new friends, and revitalizing your sense of self.
“Living in the present” sounds very New Age and kind of cheesy, but for people who think too much, it can be a real release. Your body knows the right thing to do, and will perform if you ask it to. Letting go of your over thinking problem may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but just have to let go of all that thinking that can cripple you. And have trust in your capabilities.
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