Over thinking is great… shoot, that’s not my full thought… how could I be so stupid? Please, let me try that again: Over thinking is great insofar that it can help catch mistakes. Even better, it shows the person cares. I love working with people who are over thinkers because helping them tune it down is a lot easier than getting people who don’t care to start. Over thinkers are people who want better and to be better while other people tend to be… jerks; sometimes over thinkers can be also jerks like when their over thinking makes them resentful and/or extra guarded, but normally over thinkers are nice people in public. The main problem with over thinking is the person gets stuck, and they have a tendency to punish themselves. They rarely over think in a way that makes them feel better about themselves… although that’d be amazing: “I don’t feel good about what I did. I better start thinking about it, so in an hour I’ll feel fantastic.” Over thinking is more of a spiral downwards with the more we think, the worse we feel, and the worse we feel, the more we want to think about it.
Two weeks ago we looked at how to be emotionally healthier, and knowing how to process properly to prevent over thinking is incredibly helpful for that goal. Many times we over think because we’re looking for a sense of resolution. It’s like a TV show that leaves you with a cliff hanger. Our brain wants to feel like things are resolved, which is why binge watching has become an addiction for a lot of people – they crave resolution. This is the same addictive situation that happens for over thinkers. They keep having thoughts as their brain looks for a sense of peace that they can’t find. This is fantastic news because that means the key to reduce over thinking isn’t that complicated – find resolution. By knowing how to properly process, the risk of over thinking can be greatly reduced.
Before we jump into how to do that, let me point out that life isn’t that complicated (e.g there are seven basic music notes, seven basic facial expressions, and three primary colours), but we tend to overcomplicate it with bad choices and over thinking. One of the worst choices we can make is to ignore facts for feelings: (wife) “It feels like you were trying to hurt me.” (husband) “But that’s not what I was doing.” (wife) “But it feels like it.” (husband) “So either I’m a liar or you’re making a bigger deal out of this.” (Insensitive yet logical husband now stuck in a fight he wanted to originally avoid.) When it comes to processing things, we really need to stick to the facts and not twist things with emotions, feelings, self blame, and self punishments even though that’s what a lot of over thinkers’ brains want to do – I must blame myself.
How to Process the Future
One of the most tempting times to over think is trying to figure out the future. I find there are two basic ways to help with this. The first is particularly helpful when it comes to making decisions: Make a list of all the potential options no matter how dumb or terrible they are. For instance, for any hurtful situation the basic options are we can work on healing, stew for awhile and then work on healing later, bury our head pretending it never happen until it bites us in the butt, bottle up our feelings and see if we explode or implode, or stay hurt/resentful forever. That’s it. From your list of options you can cross what you don’t want, and then pick between the couple options that are left. It’s a lot easier when you see the options in a list. In a bigger situation like when a relationship is struggling, your basic options are:
- End it
- Do a trial separation
- Keep things as they are and continue suffering
- Keep things as they are until something terrible forces you to do something (e.g. the cops get called)
- Keep things going with a timeline in place to see if it naturally improves
- Try therapy (make sure the therapist is a good fit because the wrong therapist can make it worse)
- Try a therapy book like my 52 Lessons for a Better Relationship (free download on my website)
- One person tries to be as nice as possible for a month to see if that causes a change in the other person. (Ideally both people will try to be nice for a month, but there’s normally one person who wants to make things work more than the other)
- Start trying to connect more like with weekly date nights/double date nights, regularly engage in an activity/sport together, and/or start to have a half hour designated connection time a day for conversation (conversation starters can help)
With your list, eliminate the ones that don’t appeal to you and then consider the remaining options and choose the one that is the most tolerable. It’s like voting for government – you vote for the person/party you think will do the least damage… or you vote by who is the least annoying person to hear speak in the news. We may not like our options, but we still have to choose. Not choosing is its own choice.
The second way to process the future is to ask yourself: What’s the best case, the worst case, and the likely case scenario? The important thing is to not go too extreme like “I win the lottery” or “The person is late because they’re dead in a ditch.” By giving healthy parameters, we have a better idea of what to expect, which can help us consider how to be best prepared. And that’s it. We don’t need to think anymore about it. Parameters can prevent unnecessary thinking and worry.
How to Process Mistakes
I was recently talking to someone who was scared of failing a test – pretty normal. I pointed out the basic options if they failed: “Let’s say you fail the test. That means one of four things happened: You didn’t study hard enough, you didn’t study the right material, the teacher gave an unfair test, or you’re stupid.” The fear for most people is the test will prove our fear that we’re stupid, but the reality is if we study properly and we don’t do well, the teacher gave us an unfair test. The reality is failing a test doesn’t necessarily mean we’re stupid – not studying and doing your work however means we acted stupidly. If you fail, learn from it (i.e. study better) and move on – that’s it. Beating yourself up has no value in improving the situation even though that’s what over thinkers want to do.
The other way to process mistakes is to consider what you actually feel (beware of the potential lie like you feel guilt when you shouldn’t) and then accept it until you can move on. For instance, do you feel betrayed, rejected, stupid, disrespected, angry at injustice, sad at someone’s lack of care, frustrated by unfairness, disillusioned this could happen to you? It’s good to pinpoint what you feel and then not feel bad for feeling that way. If there’s something you can do to improve the situation, do it; otherwise, feel the emotion for a few hours to days depending how heavy it is and then move on. Never be mean to others or that will make it worse, but that’s it – feel it. Don’t hide from it with booze or pot; that only prolongs the pain. Life isn’t that complicated – healing means feeling.
How to Process the Past or What You’re Going Through
When processing a difficult situation or hurt, we need to consider what we can learn from it and then what you can be thankful for in that situation. These are two steps from my “7 Steps of Healing/Forgiveness.” They’re helpful because they give value to what we go through, which is the best way to heal. If we can learn from something even losing a loved one, at least it doesn’t seem like they died in vain. For instance, my dad passing when I was 25 was the greatest life lesson I could’ve been given and it was at a time I could better process it and use to be more compassionate and understanding to others. I’d rather my dad be alive than have had the lesson, but at least I can honor him this way. After considering what you can learn and be thankful for, that’s it. Distract yourself and give your brain a break for awhile and remind yourself of the lesson as needed.
This week may you consider how to reduce your over thinking.
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people