Did you know that a study in the journal Science found that people prefer giving themselves electric shocks rather than being alone with their thoughts for just 15 minutes?
If you’ve ever found yourself lying in bed, your thoughts spinning endlessly, or spending hours analyzing every word in a conversation, you’re not alone.
But why does our brain trap us in this confusing mental maze? What makes us our own toughest interrogators?
Overthinking is a common mental habit many of us fall into. But why? Why can’t we simply live in the moment and get out of our heads?
Join us as we explore into the psychological causes of overthinking—a mental habit that steals our peace, wastes our time, and keeps us from truly enjoying life.
Related article: Happiness is contagious
The Search for Perfectionism
The concept is admirable—strive for the best to reach greatness. But what happens when this pursuit becomes an obsession?
Welcome to the world of perfectionism, a mental maze where the way out always seems elusive.
Imagine this: you’re composing an email, and instead of hitting “send,” you repeatedly review it, examining every word and punctuation mark.
You’re cooking dinner, and instead of relishing the moment, you’re anxious about whether the dish will turn out “just right.”
You’re getting dressed for a casual outing, but you change outfits multiple times because nothing seems “perfect.”
Rewriting a text or email many times before sending it Double or triple-checking straightforward tasks Fixating on minor details in a project while missing the bigger picture Here’s the tough truth: perfectionism isn’t just about having high standards.
It’s a cunning creature that tricks you into thinking you must always meet unattainable expectations.
The irony is that your pursuit of perfection can often hinder you from achieving excellence. You become so entangled in details and self-doubt that you either miss deadlines or don’t even start.
So, how can you break free from this vicious cycle? Begin with self-compassion.
Recognise that you’re human, and mistakes are not only unavoidable but also valuable as learning experiences.
Next, set achievable goals. Excellence is within reach; perfection is not.
Strive to do your best but also know when to say, “This is good enough.”
Lastly, practice mindfulness. Being present can help you identify when you’re spiralling into perfectionist thoughts, enabling you to refocus and move forward.
So, here’s a question for you: Is your pursuit of perfection actually holding you back from reaching your full potential?
It’s time to question the old saying, “Practice makes perfect,” because sometimes, it’s imperfections that make life uniquely perfect.
Overgeneralisation means that when thinking deeply benefits one part of your life (like at school or work), you assume it will also work well in other areas (like dealing with conflicts with your partner or coping with grief).
Thinking is like a tool. Some people are so skilled at it and get rewarded for it in certain situations that they find it hard to stop using that tool in situations where it’s not so helpful.
It’s similar to the saying, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
For expert thinkers, everything can start to seem like a problem that requires lots of thinking to solve.
If you catch yourself overthinking, it’s a good idea to list different parts of your life and honestly consider if analytical thinking is genuinely the most effective approach in each of those areas.
Sinking in the Past and Future
Did you know that humans spend roughly 6 to 8 years of their lives dreaming?
But here’s a not-so-cool fact: many of us spend just as much time ruminating—stuck in the past or worried about the future.
So, for all those years, we’re not really living in the moment.
Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, who changed the way we understand decision-making, once said,
“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.”
And we love to think about things, replaying past decisions or fretting over what’s to come. Another wise saying comes from existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre,
“We are our choices.”
But what happens when you’re too busy second-guessing past choices to make new ones?
Going over a social situation where you felt awkward, wondering how others saw you Losing sleep over a meeting next week, imagining the worst-case scenarios We’re pretty hard on ourselves, aren’t we? And rumination is like a fast track to overthinking land.
But unlike a broken record playing the same song, you can actually switch to a different tune for your thoughts.
Try a ‘Worry Timer’—dedicate 20 minutes each day to all your worries. When the timer goes off, remind yourself it’s time to move forward. Change Your Thoughts—instead of asking “Why me?” try asking “What can I learn from this?” Get Engaged—do activities that need your full attention, like painting, playing a sport, or cooking a complex recipe. The goal is to get lost in the activity, leaving no room for rumination. Talk About It—sometimes, the best way to stop overthinking is to share your thoughts with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist. A different perspective can often shed new light on the matter. Practice Mindfulness Meditation—spend at least 5 minutes each day focusing on your breath and the present moment. There are many guided meditations designed to reduce worry and rumination. So, are you ready to take back your present from the clutches of past and future worries?
Remember, time spent dwelling on the past and future is time not spent truly living.
You can’t change your past, but you can certainly create a better future. Shall we turn the page?
Belief You Have Control
The idea that we’re in control. Isn’t that a comforting thought?
Imagine this: You’re waiting at a crosswalk, and you press the button repeatedly as if that will make the traffic light change faster.
Or perhaps you’re the type who always plans multiple steps ahead, needing to have Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C for any situation, just in case.
The truth is, we all have a natural urge to believe that our actions directly influence outcomes. The writer and psychoanalyst Carl Jung once said,
“Challenges are necessary for our well-being.”
Well, the illusion of control is our way of dealing with life’s challenges. But here’s the straightforward truth: Most of the control we think we have? It’s not real.
It’s like seeing water in a desert when it’s not actually there.
Have you ever repeatedly checked the weather forecast before an important event, hoping it would prevent rain? Or have you replayed conversations in your mind, analyzing every detail, thinking you could have controlled the other person’s response if you had said something differently? Let’s be honest. This false belief in control creates stress, leads to overthinking, anxiety, and exhausts your mental energy. It’s like running on a treadmill, putting in a lot of effort but getting nowhere.
So, how can we break free from this cycle?
First, recognise your limits. Understand what you can control (your actions and words) and what you can’t (basically, everything else).
Learn the art of “letting go.” It doesn’t mean you don’t care; it means you’re wise enough to step back when necessary.
Second, embrace the present moment. Sometimes, the best plan is to have no plan and simply handle life as it unfolds. And don’t hesitate to ask for help or delegate tasks.
Superman is a myth; real heroes know their boundaries.
Here’s something to think about: Could it be that your need to control everything is actually preventing you from enjoying life?
Remember, you’re the author of your life story, but you can’t control how all the characters will behave. Maybe it’s time to give up the director’s chair and just enjoy the show.
Fear of Conflict
Get ready for a surprising fact: the average person spends about two hours a day—or roughly five years of their life—dealing with some kind of conflict.
But here’s the thing: many of us act like experts at avoiding conflict, even with all that experience, don’t we?
Bill Eddy, a well-known authority on handling high-conflict situations, once said,
“The sooner you address a tough situation, the sooner it will be resolved.”
That makes sense, right? We often confuse avoiding conflict with maintaining peace, but the tension hangs around like an unwelcome guest.
Bestselling author Brené Brown adds another layer,
“Being clear is kind. Being unclear is unkind.”
In simpler terms, avoiding conflict doesn’t make you a nice person; it just makes things unclear and, eventually, more stressful.
Now, think about these everyday situations—
Not telling a friend that they hurt your feelings, and then letting resentment build up. Not setting clear boundaries at work, which leads to feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Staying silent in a meeting when you have a different opinion, and then obsessing over what you should have said.
By now, you’ve learned how to tackle perfectionism, challenge the illusion of control, and deal with rumination.
Now, here’s one more challenge: fear of conflict. Especially when not facing it means countless hours of overthinking every possible scenario if you speak up.
So, how do you break free from this cycle? It’s simpler than you might think—
Understand your fear—what’s the worst that can happen? Often, the imagined consequences are worse than what actually occurs. Communicate clearly and assertively, not aggressively. It’s not about winning; it’s about making sure you’re understood. Choose the right moment. Timing matters in conflict resolution. Don’t bring up a sensitive topic when the other person is clearly busy or stressed.
After all this discussion about overthinking, here’s the big question: Are you avoiding conflict to dodge a difficult situation, hoping it will magically resolve itself?
Spoiler alert: It won’t.
Isn’t it time to stop being a bystander in your own life and take charge? You’ve got this!
Alright, let’s get to the point. We’ve examined the mental obstacles that fuel our overthinking, but knowing is only half the battle.
The real solution? Taking action.
The remedy for overthinking isn’t just more thinking; it’s doing.
So, what’s my ultimate piece of advice?
Stop planning the perfect move and make a move—any move.
Life is messy and unpredictable, but it’s also incredibly thrilling if you allow it to be.
Here’s your challenge: Do one thing today that scares you. Speak up in a meeting, call that friend you’ve been avoiding, or try something new.
What’s the worst that can happen? Did you make a mistake? So what.
At least you’re living, learning, and moving forward, not just stuck in your head. Now, who’s ready to break the cycle and seize the day?
Still hesitating? Just ask yourself: What would life look like if I stopped overthinking and started taking action?
Now it’s your turn. Are you in?