You may think I am a bit overdramatic, but I’m not.
A study from UC Santa Barbara suggests that thinking too much about something leads to poor judgement and decision-making. And poor judgement and decisions, can be harmful and even lethal in some situations.
Here’s a personal example. When I was about ten-years-old, I was trying to teach my brother how to skateboard. Normally, skateboarding is just something you do, right? You don’t have to think too much about it just do it. But while I was teaching my brother about it, I was thinking about all the things you had to do to get power, to turn, to stop, etc. I was concentrating so hard on the steps that I ran into a tree and sprained my ankle. So, it’s true I didn’t die but you can see where thinking too much can be harmful to your health.
Overthinking, especially when our moods affect our thoughts, impacts our normal functions. That’s bad, in case you’re wondering.
It’s why our inner dialogue is so important to our thought process. Think about it (pun intended). Thinking things like “I’m not good enough” or “nothing ever goes my way” is painful, and it keeps us thinking about the bad stuff instead of just doing what we need to do.
Here are some common negative thought patterns to be aware of:
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking
Any thought pattern that is based on extremes can signify trouble. If not succeeding translates into failure, then it is time to question your thoughts and reframe them into finding the lesson.
2. Jumping to Conclusions
Assuming the worst without the facts, is a classic example of being in a negative thought pattern. Questioning your thoughts can help interrupt these patterns. In most cases, your worries and fears are unfounded, and you end up worrying for nothing.
3. Emotional Reasoning
Feelings are treated as facts in your mind, rather than perceptions that change over time. For example, feelings of guilt mean you’re a terrible person and being afraid of something means you’re in real danger. That is why it is important to understand and work through your feelings.
4. Should Statements
You feel disappointed, guilty, frustrated or angry when things don’t go the way you had hoped or expected. Self-talk commonly includes words such as should, must, have to and ought to. In addition to having unrealistic expectations for yourself, you demand a lot from others and get upset when they fall short. I should have done … will get you nowhere. Tackle “should” statements by working on the things you can change and accepting the rest.
You blame yourself for results that are out of your control. You make the failure lack of results about you instead of about the action that caused the results. Focus on actions and behaviors and what you can change instead of focusing on yourself or any person for that matter.
I often talk about the importance of asking questions when we start to engage in this kind of unhealthy thinking. It’s really important to question them, figure out what it’s trying to tell us and move out of that thinking and back to the task at hand.
The Conscious Pause and Mindful Breathing are two exercises that helps us to be more mindful of our thoughts and more importantly our responses to what is happening at the moment. You can get them here.
I wanted to share with you something I wrote not too long ago for the Happier Life Challenge:
As I sat down to write this lesson, I spent a few minutes looking around my desk and office and focused in on some details. I realized I have some space on my vision board, that my bookshelves need some dusting, that my computer screen could be cleaner, the pine trees are beautiful outside my window, I really love that picture of my husband, and my desk is actually clean at the moment.
Now I want you to do the same thing I did just a few minutes ago. Take a second. Look around your environment. Look at the texture of your roof, look at the color of your computer cords, look at the light on your computer. Notice the details. Go ahead, take a look. What’s around you? Congratulations, you just brought yourself back into your current reality.
Now, you might argue that you were already here, and you are right – at least physically. But what about mentally? And if mentally, your mind is wandering in a million directions, like mine often does, and it isn’t really present, then can you consider yourself present in your reality?
When we bring our mind back into the present, it will help to disarm the power of negative and unhealthy thoughts and overthinking in general. When you start to recognize overthinking and unhealthy thought patterns, take the time to breathe and bring yourself back to now.
Unhealthy thinking is part of life. It’s how we handle and move through that thinking that matters and affects our overall happiness.
Take the time to recognize the signs as they appear and then breath and pause your way to better thoughts. Take a look at this video [1:24] of Jon Kabat-Zinn and Oprah as they talk about how mindfulness can restore balance to your life.
Pretty good stuff, right? Download the free exercises to help get you on the right track with your thoughts and prevent overthinking things from killing you.