Overthinking is thinking too much, needlessly, passively, endlessly, and excessively pondering the meanings, causes, and consequences of your character, your feelings, and your problems: “Why am I so unhappy?,” “What did he really mean by that remark?,” and so on. Overthinking, or ruminating, ushers in a host of harmful consequences: It sustains or worsens sadness, fosters negatively biased thinking, impairs a person’s ability to solve problems, saps motivation, and interferes with concentration and initiative.
Moreover, although people have a strong sense that they are gaining insight into themselves and their problems during their ruminations, this is rarely the case. What they do gain is a distorted, pessimistic (tending to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen) perspective on their lives.
Becoming happier means learning how to disengage from overthinking about both major and minor negative experiences, learning to stop searching for all the leaks and cracks-at least for a time-and not let them affect how you feel about yourself and your life as a whole.
In our daily lives we can’t help noticing whether our friends, coworkers, family members, and even fictional characters in the movies are brighter, richer, healthier, wittier, or more attractive then we are.
The more social comparisons you make, the more likely you are to encounter unfavorable comparisons, and the more sensitive you are to social comparisons, the more likely you are to suffer their negative consequences. People who pay too much attention to social comparisons find themselves chronically vulnerable, threatened, and insecure.
Researchers have found that the happiest people take pleasure in other people’s successes and show concern in the face of others’ failures. A typical unhappy person, however, is someone who is deflated rather than delighted about his peers’ accomplishments and triumphs and who is relieved rather than sympathetic in the face of his peers’ failures and undoings.
First, you need to free yourself from the clutch of your ruminations- in other words, immediately stop overthinking and stop focusing on comparisons with others.
The first strategy to stop overthinking is simple and underrated yet incredibly powerful: distract, distract, distract. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it absorbs you, compels you, and isn’t potentially harmful. Sometimes all it takes to stop ruminating is get up and leave the scene.
The second strategy is the “Stop!” technique, in which you think, say, or even shout to yourself, “Stop!” or ‘No!” when you find yourself resuming overthinking. Use your intellectual powers to think about something else.
The third strategy is to set aside thirty minutes every day to do nothing but ruminate. Ideally, that thirty-minute period should be at a time of the day when you’re not anxious or sad.
The fourth strategy is to talk to a sympathetic and trusted person about your thoughts and troubles.
The final strategy involves writing. Writing is a way to unburden yourself of your negative thoughts-to spill them on the page, so to speak-allowing you to move past them.
Second, you need to gain a new perspective on yourself and on your life in general. Essentially, this step jump-starts you into trying to solve the very real, concrete problems that might inspire your overthinking. Don’t wait for something to happen or for someone else to step in and help you. Act right away. Even small steps will improve your mood and self-regard.
Third, you need to learn how to avoid future overthinking traps. For example, write a list of situations (places, times and people) that appear to trigger your overthinking. Another technique is to strengthen your identity and work toward building your sense of self-worth. Finally, if this is up your alley, learn how to meditate. Many people who meditate habitually claim that they find themselves feeling less burdened, worried, and stressed fro the rest of the day.
Whenever a rumination or social comparison prevails upon you ask yourself: Will this matter in a year? Your answer will afford you a big picture of your troubles and diminish your worries.