Overthinking… I can’t think of a more destructive habit.
Sure, drugs, smoking, and having unprotected one-night stands are all risky, but you already knew that.
Overthinking is something we don’t often realize we’re doing until it’s too late.
Those pesky thoughts can show up uninvited at any time of the day, in any setting, triggered by the most meaningless of stimuli.
When the dust settles, sometimes the damage can be irreparable.
So, if you’re an overthinker, I suggest you start taking concrete measures to correct those tendencies.
But first, I’ll articulate how overthinking can negatively affect your life and chances of success.
Let’s dive in!
1) Wasted time
I was once a chronic overthinker.
I would blankly stare into the distance, pondering non-stop, going off on mindless, seemingly endless tangents. I coined it ‘toxic reflection.’
My pastime was creating intricate, doomsday-ish scenarios in my head of farfetched events that could have happened in the past or might happen in the future.
This would take up a large part of my day, draining me mentally in the process.
This also meant that I would spend a significant amount of time procrastinating, as my mind was too preoccupied and demotivated to take action.
I’d be so distracted and so fearful of potential outcomes, that I’d feel too numb, almost catatonic, from getting on with the day.
2) Increased stress levels
You don’t have to be a Ph.D. to know that stress is a major contributor to many illnesses.
And aside from that, who wants to spend their days unnecessarily stressed out over things they have no control over? Trust me, this gets old fast.
When you constantly analyze and reanalyze situations, your physical and mental well-being takes a hit.
You’re also compromising your ability to focus on the things that really matter in life, like goals and aspirations.
I know it’s hard, but letting go of thoughts and mindfully living in the moment is the move here.
Once you do that, expect to feel like a sack of rice has been lifted off your shoulders.
3) Decision paralysis
Overthinking and indecisiveness are close relatives.
When you’re so caught up in intensely mulling potential outcomes, the decision-making process becomes far more difficult.
Instead of going with your gut, your perspective becomes tainted and your judgment clouded.
You might lose sight of the bigger picture, placing lopsided importance on minor details.
This level of overthinking can mean missed opportunities.
Either you’ll make skewed decisions or none at all, which only results in regrets and “what ifs”, and therefore more overthinking. A toxic cycle.
Have you ever been really hungry in a food court yet overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice?
This situation isn’t foreign to me.
Sometimes, I walk out hungry, having not eaten; the process of making a decision becomes too much of a burden.
It’s a form of self-induced pressure.
Maybe I end up at home munching on leftovers or at a far less appealing venue, like Denny’s, feeling regret for not being more decisive when it counted.
4) It stifles creativity
Creativity is all about impulse and gut feeling.
So if you want to pursue a hobby or career in the arts, you better keep that overthinking nature in check.
The truth is that overthinking can suppress and dilute creative inspiration and ideas.
This is partly why there’s that romantic archetype of the “drunk writer”, i.e. authors who intoxicate themselves during the writing process to allow their most guttural, innovative, uninhibited thoughts to flow freely instead of second-guessing every minor detail.
As a creative, when you get too rational, this can be counterproductive.
5) It decreases confidence
For better or worse, one of the reasons society glorifies confident people is that they don’t overthink. They’re firm, they get results.
Overthinking, on the other hand, makes one question their abilities–a practice that doesn’t often end up in success.
Over time, repeatedly coming up short can chip away at your self-confidence and self-worth.
This is a shame.
The intentions and abilities may be there but we get so deep into our thoughts, that the former sort of gradually fades away.
I think writer Charles Bukowski said it best: “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”
6) It can ruin relationships
As you may have gathered by this point, overthinking tends to create problems that were really never there.
In the context of a relationship, this tendency can cause some real strain.
Excessively reading into mundane interactions or words will almost always end up in misunderstandings and conflict.
Think of the jealous boyfriend or girlfriend who will take any minor, trivial sign, like wearing a new fragrance or smiling while texting, and form baseless conclusions.
A word of warning: Paranoid accusations are like kryptonite for relationships.
As feelings of unfounded jealousy and insecurity arise, so do controlling behaviors and bouts of unwarranted outrage.
7) Sleep disruptions
By its very nature, bedtime will have far fewer distractions than the rest of the day.
Most people, look forward to relaxing and basking in the tranquility that evenings bring.
The overthinker, however, might consider nightfall daunting: a time when their thoughts can spiral freely with minimal interruptions.
This can mean frequent tossing and turning, and insomnia till the wee hours; which will likely affect your energy levels, mental state, and productivity the next day.
This can also mean turning to things like abuse of prescription meds or booze, or other unhealthy forms of self-medication.
In the past, my racing thoughts would get so bad that I frequently would stay up all night, often until I could hear the birds doing their morning rounds.
For years, I tried to self-medicate, namely through things like Valium or alcohol (or both), to silence my obsessive musings.
But I realized that this was a temporary solution to a real problem. In fact, substances exacerbated my anxiety considerably.
Knowing I am predisposed to overthinking, I had to actively find healthy antidotes to counter my inevitable ruminations, and harness that energy elsewhere.
So I started developing a routine, I’d wake up early and go on lengthy runs in the park.
The endorphin high of exercise would give me much-needed perspective and balance.
Soon after, I developed the ability to manage my thoughts.
As a bonus, getting up early meant I got sleepier earlier, which did wonders for my insomnia.
Moral of the story? You have the power to change things by simply being a bit more proactive.
While being an overthinker is not ideal, there are always strategies to overcome this tendency. Or at least mitigate it.
The first step? Get moving!
Actively seek out strategies that can give you clarity, like mindfulness meditation, exercise,
being around positive friends or family, or even setting aside a specific hour designated as “thinking time.”
If these things don’t work, then seeking professional help might be wise.
Once you make the shift, you’ll understand the difference between solvable and unsolvable anxieties and act accordingly, meaning a smoother path toward success.
Soon enough, there’ll be no stopping you.