Hello everybody, welcome to episode 153 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino and I appreciate you being here today for a question sent in by a woman who has found herself crippled by consuming thoughts about things that are out of her control, as well as worries about relationships with those close to her that are causing her to hold back. Can’t have this. We won’t stand for it around here. Let’s try and help her out. Here’s the question…
QUESTION: “On the emotional side of things, it's a whole mess. I have the tendency to overthink things and worry about non-issues or things i can't control. I worry about how the people closest to me view me and I hold back at times because I never want to be the reason someone feels down [like me, essentially].“
Overthinking Things You Have No Control Over
Ok, thank you for sending this in; a very good question that is a pressing issue, but hey you can’t just tell yourself to stop thinking about something can you? That never quite works.
Quick heads up before I start this: I’d love for you to check out episode 119 after listening to this. That was another question that dealt heavily with overthinking, and while in line with yours, it was a bit different and, to me, called for a different answer at the time.
I’d like to go on record as saying that my answer to that question and how I intend to answer this question are going to sound different, but both are truthful and applicable under different circumstances.
It’s like how you wouldn’t eat the same food with every type of wine. You’re drinking wine all the same, but because of the nuances wine has, it goes with different foods. Not that I’m sophisticated enough to properly pair wines with foods, but you get it.
“Stop Thinking About It” Does Not Work
Like I said, it doesn’t really work to just say, “stop thinking about it”.
First and foremost, I need you to know that turning your brain off of this probably longstanding habit is not going to happen instantaneously. You can definitely make slow and steady progress, however, and the most opportune time to harvest that progress is going to be in times of calm when you’re not overthinking the latest topic.
So whenever you can (and you may need to schedule this time for yourself), what I want you to start doing is reminding yourself of the objective truth of overthinking. I want you to put time towards thinking about overthinking and breaking it down for what it is.
Some of this can be in your head, but lots of it can be written down, too, and I’ll touch on things you should be writing down in a minute.
Breaking Down Overthinking Things You Have No Control Over
Let me start you off by dissecting overthinking a little bit. What do we know about it? Is it problem solving? No, it’s not problem solving.
I won’t lie, there are times that overthinking can lead us to useful discoveries, but the majority of the time, what is it for you?
Is it cycling through past events? I’m sure there’s a lot of that.
Is it usually about things you can’t control? Based on your question, yes it is, and let’s take a minute to acknowledge out loud that we can’t control what we can’t control. Trying to do so is futile.
Does Your Overthinking Consist of Thoughts, or Courses of Action?
Nearly all the time, it consists of thoughts. Even on the occasions that those useful thoughts pop up, we still have tend to have a very poor rate of turning those thoughts into action steps that actually cause good results.
But answer that for yourself. Has it helped you at all in the past? What percentage of times has it helped you versus harmed you?
Though we should pay respect to and capitalize on the benefits of overthinking, I imagine the harm is significantly higher for you so far if you’re taking the time to send me this question.
This type of mindful questioning will help you break down the idea of overthinking as an outsider, and the regular self-reassurance that overthinking is not useful will progressively keep you from going down the rabbit hole, as your brain starts to connect overthinking with wasted time more and more.
Write Down Your Thoughts
You may also want to add structure to this process by scheduling time to ruminate and especially writing your thoughts down. Both these strategies will help you put a lasso around these thoughts and calm your mind down a bit, and writing in particular will make it easier for you to accomplish the essential goal of identifying patterns.
If you can write down your thoughts for a while and then go back through your documentation, you’re likely to find that a lot of the same little pests keep coming up.
If so, you can then go a step further by giving them their own little profiles; separate pieces of paper just for them on which you fill out what actions you’ve put towards them, whether or not you truly have any control over them, whether or not they even relate to a core value of yours (spoiler alert, if they don’t they’re definitely not worth the time), and what these thoughts have both added to your life and taken away.
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Being Vulnerable with People You're Closest To
Now, I’d bet that some of these topics you find yourself thinking too much about are the people closest to you whose thoughts about you you mentioned worrying over. Lucky for them and you, you don’t have to rely only on paper to figure those ones out; you can talk to them in person.
I suggest you collect the concerned feelings you’re having for each person, and then get those feelings out by talking to them and being vulnerable.
This may feel scary, but you say these are the people you’re closest to, which means these are the people who are most important to share these types of feelings with when you’re in need.
Though there’s a chance these conversations might come off as difficult for you or them, there is no long-term disadvantage to talking with them and asking if you’ve rubbed them the wrong way, what you can do for them, setting boundaries if you need to and getting this off your chest.
As people who love you, they should be glad that you did. And if they aren’t, then the relationship needed to end anyway.
Being open like this will be a good way of catching up on where you both are emotionally, you’ll get a clear idea of what one another is thinking, and the relationship will undergo a nice recharge as you’ll inspire them to be just as open as you are.
Like I said, friends, a different look at overthinking than we’ve taken before, but just a fun fact if you want to call it that: a big part of offering advice and talking people through their struggles is not only realizing that the things we struggle with can be solved in different ways, but that each way will be more advantageous to certain people than it is others.
So always seek to find intricacies in the people who reach out to you for support and tailor your advice to how you feel they’ll best thrive as opposed to blanketing them with the most common or go-to pieces of advice you’re initially tempted to offer. And hopefully you’ll help them out as I hope I’ve helped the woman today and any listener who struggles with overthinking.
We’re done now though so please folks, if you have questions of your own you’d like our help with in future episodes, email them to us at advice AT oldpodast.com
I thank you all for being here for this one and I do hope you’ll stop in next time. You guys are the best. Talk to you again in 154.