“We are dying from overthinking. We are slowly killing ourselves by thinking about everything. Think. Think. Think. You can never trust the human mind anyway. It's a death trap.”
― Anthony Hopkins
It keeps us awake at night, distracts us from the present moment and generally steals our joy.
I've always been an over-thinker, I love to analyze and understand. I can sit for hours in a Coffee shop, just watching people go about their days. I form stories in my head about who they are, where they might be going, the type of lives they lead. My love of analysis was certainly reflected in my choice of academic studies- Psychology, English Literature, and Media Studies which can be simplified to; analyzing people, analyzing books and analyzing movies, newspapers and other media sources.
It wasn't until a few years later, in my early 20's when my over thinking became a burden. Overthinking plagued me with doubt, low confidence and anxiety. I would think when I was awake, I would think when I was a sleep, the noise in my head never stopped. Almost as if in my mind, existed a small radio, constantly playing, 24/7, dozens of stations running at the same time, competing for my attention; don't-forget-to this.FM, Doubt.Fm and lets-judge-everyone-else.Fm featured on my most played playlist.
Nowadays, the radio plays quieter and there are fewer stations competing for my attention. Through my studies of neuroscience, CBT and Mindfulness I'm more aware of how our thoughts or rather our faults in our thinking can be problematic. I'm sharing 7 Traps, we over-thinkers tend to fall into.
Good news- Simply by being aware of the thinking traps can help with over thinking, more good news- I'll be sharing tips for each of the thinking traps plus when you read to the end you'll get 3 bonus tips to help specifically with negative thinking (because, hey, over thinking sucks so much because it's negative). For now, thinking trap #1.
Walking out of the Boardroom- The Boss hates my presentation, I know it!
On a first date- I'm boring her, she's not interested in me.
Ah, mind reading! Moments when we know for certain what another person is thinking, or at least, we convince ourselves we know! Mind reading can be problematic when our prediction is negative, and it often is (I'll share why this is later on).
Tip. When you notice you are mind reading, ask yourself, what real and solid evidence do I have to show my prediction is true?
Our minds are pattern forming machines, constantly looking to make sense of the world we live in. This ability to form patterns helps us to learn but it has a downside- Generalisation. The problem with generalization is it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, meaning we subconsciously create the condition we believe to be true, based on our generalization.
Let use Sally as an example. Sally generalises by forever telling herself and her girlfriends 'All the good guys are already taken'. Sally doesn't date, does her best to avoid men and when a man does show an interest, she instantly gives them the cold shoulder before there's any chance of a romance blossoming. This self-fulfilling prophecy keeps Sally's generalisation a 'fact' and keeps her alone.
The language of generalisation is easy to spot; All, Always, Never, Nobody, No one.
Tip. Look for exceptions to your assumptions. In Sally's case, if she can find just one exception to her generalisation and find just one example of a good guy, she can begin to collapse her believe, changes her behaviour and becoming more open to meeting her dream guy!
3. Catastrophic thinking
Catastrophic thinking can turn a relatively harmless event into a disaster, very quickly.
John walks out an important test feeling sick to the stomach. 'I've failed', he thinks to himself (notice how John is mind reading here too, often our troublesome thoughts can combine more than one of the thinking traps). John's first thought of 'I've failed' quickly escalates into;
I've failed- which means I'm stupid- which means I'll never be able to get the job I want- I'll always be broke- I bet I end up moving back with my parents-living with my parent's again- who wants to date a guy my age who lives with his parent's?- nobody, that's who, great- I'm gonna end up alone, old and alone.
Years can flash by in a matter of seconds with Catastrophic thinking as our mind plays us the the-worst-case-scario movie. This thinking can make us feel very stressed, very quickly, so what can we do?
Tip: Stay present. Take some deep breaths. How bad is the situation really, right now?
What actions can you take right now (if any) that will help? If the situation really is a catastrophe, remind yourself of all you've been through in the past and overcome.
4. Black and White thinking
If I'm not the best, I am the worst.
People are either good or bad.
If I'm not thin, I must be fat.
Black and white thinking causes problems because the truth is- Life isn't so rigid.
In between the two polar opposites of Black and White, exists a huge spectrum or grey.
The same is true for Best-Worst, Good-Bad, Thin-Fat.
Black and white thinking is extreme thinking and can cause problems for us when we refuse to acknowledge the space between the two polar opposites.
Tip: Embrace the grey area and accept life isn't so black and white. If you notice black and white thinking happening, see if you can create a sliding scale for your chosen subject.
5. Emotional reasoning
Emotional reasoning means viewing strong feelings as 'evidence' for truth in our negative thoughts.
It's common knowledge certain thoughts create certain feelings. If I asked you to remember a time in your life that was particularly upsetting, it's likely you would begin to feel upset to some extent. So it's true that Thoughts affect our Feelings and it's also true that our Feelings affect our Thoughts.
Emotional reasoning may look like this;
I feel anxious > Something bad is about to happen
I feel sad > Something must be wrong
I feel attacked > Someone must have upset me
Tip: Accept your feelings may not be accurate of the truth in a situation.
Taking a step back from the situation, what hard evidence do you have to prove your predictions?
6. Filtering and Magnifying
Filtering refers to when we only see the information or evidence that best supports our theories and beliefs. Magnifying refers to magnifying the significance of the filtered information.
For example, Roger believes he is incompetent at his job.
Roger could receive regular praise from his boss and co-workers but that one rare negative comment from a client, really goes to Roger's heart and knocks his confidence. Due to Roger's underlying belief, he is incompetent at his job, his mind filters any praise, focusing on the negative comment again and again. Through focusing on the comment (perhaps replaying the scene where the negative comment took place) Roger magnifies its significance.
Tip: Look at the bigger picture, what evidence that goes against your belief that you may be dismissing?
If you relate to Roger's story and feel you tend to focus on the negative, perhaps filtering and magnifying it too, don't worry, you're not alone. The human mind has a built in feature called the 'Negativity Bias', simply put the mind is programmed in a way that it remembers negatives events more than positive ones. Negative thinking is normal. At the end of the article, I'll share some bonus tips on how to directly lessen negative thinking.
7. Emotive Language
I couldn't live with myself if I fail again
My life is over!
It would be the worst thing ever if nobody turned up to the party
It's easy for our language to become Emotive when we're feeling upset, angry and vulnerable. But by using overly Emotive Language, we could be adding fuel to the fire and making the situation worse.
You see, the words we use affect our state. We all know someone who we would perhaps describe as being 'melodramatic' that person who gets themselves into a right old state, simply by telling a story about the terrible so and so who has upset them recently.
Tip: Become aware of your vocabulary.
Be as Neutral as possible when talking about emotional scenarios.
Your 3 Bonus Tips for living with Negative Thinking.
1. Spend 15 minutes per day, purposely thinking Happy Thoughts. Set a timer on your phone in a place you will not be disturbed, sit comfortably, close your eyes and bring to mind happy thoughts. Happy times from the past, present, and future.
2. Before going to bed each night, write down 3 things you are grateful for including WHY you are grateful for them. I am grateful for ... because...
3. Keep a negative thought diary for a week. Whenever you catch a negative thought, make a note of it. There is something powerful about writing our thoughts down on paper, it's as if they lose some of their power. By writing down your negative thoughts over the course of the week you'll begin to see how much of our negative thoughts are habitual.
Thank you for reading, I do hope you have some valuable takeaways from this article, let me know what thinking trap resonates with you most by leaving a comment below!
Life Coach helping you to feel POWERFUL, see what is POSSIBLE and live with PRESENCE.
Would you like some help with what overthinking?
We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!