For many years I was paralyzed by overthinking.
I’d over-analyze and think about even the smallest decisions, and the only major life decisions I made were because other people told me to, or I had the idea I “should” do them.
It didn’t turn out well.
I was overthinking my own value, why I felt so different and lonely but didn’t want to be friends with those around me, what to do in my career.
The list goes on!
Overthinking itself wasn’t actually the root of the problem: low self-confidence and low confidence in the future was the root of the problem.
If you have shaky confidence these are the top things to watch out for that can paralyze you with overthinking.
1) The opinions of others
For years I was a slave to the opinion of others without even fully realizing it.
Here’s the thing:
When you’re born and first grow up, the opinions of your parents and community form your norms and customs.
Of course you care.
But as you become a teen and young adult, it’s a time to find your own ideals and path in life.
I felt resistant to some of the values being pushed on me at school and in the media and wider culture.
But for years my own identity and ideas were formed in reaction against opinions and ideas that I didn’t like.
Many people I know are like this:
Even when they don’t agree or like what other people think and the opinions of people, they’re still a slave to them by trying to prove them wrong or be consciously not in line with opinions they find disagreeable.
This leads to endless overthinking and looking back over your shoulder:
“Am I becoming too close to the opinions I hate again? I’d better shift to stay authentic!”
Self-confidence and general confidence is all about leaving behind the need to compare your life path with the opinions of others.
You can listen, you can be respectful, but at the end of the day there’s no need to overthink what others think of your life and your decisions:
They have their own life to live.
2) The truth of their own temporary emotions
People who lack confidence often invest far too much stock in their own emotions and thoughts.
This may sound strange to some, but when you examine the logic of it there’s real truth here:
Your thoughts and emotions come and go:
One day you feel on top of the world and sure a new relationship will last. You start overthinking everything about it, planning what your finances will be and whether your partner will move with you when you go to a new city to take a master’s degree.
You even begin missing out on work and other responsibilities because you’re now deep in thoughts about all the various ideal ways this relationship can go. You feel high and amazing.
This is going to be incredible! But you want to make sure you don’t miss out on any hidden obstacles you didn’t foresee. For example, you know you often have bad breath in the morning and make a note to stop by the pharmacy and buy an extra-large jug of Listerine.
Check. You have all the sides covered. This relationship is finally going to be what goes right in your life.
A few weeks later you’re lying alone in your room sure that you got played for a fool and there had never been any hope.
You run back over and forth about what you did wrong. Maybe it’s what you didn’t do. Maybe it’s your weird haircut you got when she told you she likes longer hair.
Why did you do it? You feel like an idiot!
You put off socializing with friends and other invitations overthinking the breakup and strategizing why it occurred and how and when to reestablish contact with her.
This is all overthinking from a lack of confidence.
In the following situation let’s assume that this girl didn’t have strong feelings for you in the first place. You didn’t do anything wrong at all. But there was also no grounds for becoming so excited and overthinking the future.
You clung to the ideal and overthought the highs and lows out of a desire to “figure out” something that wasn’t ultimately in your control (her emotions and decisions).
That’s why overthinking the emotions and thoughts that you have can be a total trap: because they spin a big story inside your head that ends up largely unrelated to the reality outside in the world.
This ties directly into the next point…
3) Forecasting future emotions and experiences
In psychology there’s a term called affective forecasting.
What this means is the tendency to predict how you will feel in the future and what a situation, relationship or scenario will be like for you in terms of how you feel.
More often than not this is skewed and relies on how we feel right now.
This is part of why people end up overthinking decisions and steps in life in sometimes dramatic ways because they overestimate how awful or amazing something will be based on feeling awful or amazing while thinking about it.
Life often tends to find a real kind of middle ground.
When you’re not that confident you become prone to things like black and white thinking and affective forecasting.
These are honestly all forms of control and trying to define, label and affix emotional states so you can have something to rely on.
But emotions change, life changes and everything changes, which is why we need to center our confidence in ourselves and our purpose rather than changing experiences or ideas of the future.
4) Making a perfect decision
There is no perfect decision!
Even if somebody could mathematically prove what decision you should make next and how it will maximize your emotional, physical, financial and spiritual wellbeing, nobody could tell you what the future holds.
Today’s perfect decision is tomorrow’s nightmare.
Today’s tough decision helps you grow and ends up becoming a great decision!
When you lack confidence in yourself and in the future you often overthink trying to find the ideal decision that will keep you safe or have a guaranteed payoff.
But life just doesn’t work that way, and based on all my life experience the more we decide on what seems perfect or safest the more miserable we end up becoming.
Our growth happens in the discomfort zone, and seeking comfort and safety in a perfect decision is a recipe for misery and stagnation.
The silent plague of overthinking
Overthinking is an instinct that many of us have, but those with confidence are able to overrule it.
Real confidence is the willingness to embrace struggle and friction.
It’s the ability to hear the monkey mind chatter and continue on anyway with your goals and ambitions.
The mind will talk, the emotions will feel, but if they’re telling you to seek safe, well-known horizons, they are often leading you astray.
There’s a reason for this:
Our mind and emotions have evolved to seek pleasure and avoid pain, to ensure our survival and avoid our death.
Short-term goals and payoff, short-term ease and comfort will always come up before longer-term rewards that will be painful to get, or risks that we aren’t sure about but that have much greater chance to make us grow as a person.
The solution is to strike a balance: we all need some safety and stability, but at the same time be cautious of the inner voice of overthinking always telling you to play it safe and think around every corner of an issue.
Much of life is out of our control, and one of the few things in your control is the ability to become confident and sure about the path you’re taking.