You are serious about growing as a person and moving forward in life, and you put real thought into all the decisions you make.
But when does thinking become overthinking? This is when instead of being helpful, your thoughts just slow you down and keep you from getting anywhere.
I know this myself, because I’m a huge overthinker myself, or at least I used to be.
When I recognized these 7 signs in myself, I was able to start changing my thought patterns and find much greater mental peace.
1) You keep dwelling on the past
The first big sign that you’re overthinking everything in life is if you find yourself ruminating about the past.
The past cannot be changed (no, really???) so there’s no point in continuing to dwell on it.
But I know firsthand that this is much easier said than done. The past is a big part of our identity as it makes up our experience and helps form our values and opinions.
So it’s natural to think about it.
And, sometimes thinking about the past can be helpful — to understand something that happened or find a lesson to be learned. If the past didn’t serve us at all, what would memory be for?
But when this gets taken to an extreme, you are no longer able to live fully because your mind isn’t fully there.
2) You second guess every decision you make
Another way to overthink everything is by second-guessing your decisions.
If you had met me a few years ago, this would have described me to a T.
I used to make a decision, and then spend the next several days or weeks obsessing over whether or not it was the right one. Even if I could no longer change my decision.
I just couldn’t stop the process of analyzing what I chose, even though it was no longer helping me to do so.
Needless to say, this caused me a lot of stress and drained a lot of energy that I could have used much more productively.
Now, I take the time I need to gather information and then I make my decisions to the best of the knowledge I have at the time.
I accept the risk that maybe it will turn out to not be the best decision, and I let it go.
I only revisit them if I have something useful to learn — such as how to make a better decision next time. Otherwise, I keep my focus on the future.
3) You keep replaying past mistakes in your mind
You know those memes where someone is lying in bed and says “it’s time to go to sleep,” and then their brain says “or, we can replay every mistake you’ve ever made!” And then the person lies awake in bed for 3 hours?
As funny as they can be to read, this was sadly my reality a lot.
Mistakes are human, but they can haunt us like ghosts. Especially if they are tied to unresolved guilt, shame, anger, or pain.
These emotions are very hard to let go of, which keeps the memories at the top of your mind as well.
The solution? Unfortunately, there’s no quick or easy shortcut. You just have to put in the work and come to terms with your past.
Remember, it’s not your mistakes that define you — but rather, what you choose to do about them.
4) You rehash difficult or uncomfortable conversations
Another favorite topic of the overthinking brain is conversations that didn’t go so well.
You froze in the moment or said something stupid, but hours later you come up with the perfect retort.
Then you proceed to spend the next 30 minutes creating a detailed mental script of how the entire conversation should have gone.
The problem with this is that it can go on forever and ever, with thousands of possible variations. And if they said this, and if they replied that?
There is literally no end to this kind of overthinking unless you decide to let it go.
The only potential benefit to this is that it could maybe help prepare you for future similar uncomfortable situations. By analyzing them when you’re calm, you can be better prepared to know what to say next time.
But I’d suggest doing this with the help of a therapist or communication expert in order to keep the exercise productive. Or read a book on communication instead.
Otherwise, our overthinking brain can get a little carried away all too easily.
5) You fixate on things you can’t control
I’m all for positive change, and I’ll be one of the first people to tell you that you can make it happen.
But well, we have to recognize the limits of what is under our control.
Namely, other people’s emotions and decisions are decidedly out of our hands.
Fixating on things like this usually doesn’t lead you anywhere except anxiety.
Of course, you can have influence over other people, especially if you are close with them and they have positive feelings towards you.
But they have to be open to being influenced first, and sometimes people just have a different point of view than us.
There are also plenty of things that are out of people’s control in general, such as the weather.
You should take precautions where it’s possible and useful, but be careful not to get sucked into overthinking things that you cannot change or fix.
6) You imagine worst-case scenarios
Are you a half-glass full or half-glass empty kind of person?
Overthinkers are actually often glass fully empty kind of people. In other words, they continuously imagine the worst possible scenario for something.
When I used to do this, I would justify it by thinking I’m being realistic, and preparing for all possible scenarios.
And yes, there is benefit to being aware of the risks of a situation, and having a plan for what to do if things go wrong.
However, this doesn’t mean driving yourself crazy by fixating on these possibilities or being so anxious about them that you can’t enjoy the experience even if everything goes smoothly.
If you can relate to this, you’re definitely overthinking too much.
7) You take very long to make decisions or take action
Finally, you’re overthinking everything too much if it takes you ages to finally make a decision or take action.
I am still guilty of doing this. For example, recently I’ve been considering going to a music event abroad. I found someone online selling their ticket for cheap, but I’ve been on the fence about whether or not to go.
I’ve told myself that I’m giving myself time to think, but I haven’t actually made any progress in the decision making process. So essentially I’m stuck in limbo.
What happens when you overthink decisions is that the decision makes itself for you. In my case, I am unconsciously deciding not to go the event, by not taking action on buying the ticket.
So it’s especially important to become aware of overthinking of this type, as it can seriously hold you back in reaching your goals.
How to stop overthinking everything in life
Now that you can recognize if you’re overthinking everything in life, how do you stop?
Here’s what I’ve found has helped me most.
First, if you recognize that you’re overthinking, you have to break out of the process. Distract yourself by focusing on something else for a while.
When you clear your mind, you can come back to the topic later.
Then ask yourself, does this matter in the big picture? Will this be important in 5 years, or 10 years? How likely is it that other people are also thinking about this?
If it’s not a big deal, it’s probably not worth giving that much thought.
And if it is, you’d be better off actually doing something about it rather than just tiring your brain out.
If you’re not really sure, try asking a trusted friend. Sometimes, other people have given me key insight from a third person’s perspective that helped me shift the way I was looking at a situation that was bothering me.
But be careful not to get too stuck in getting everyone else’s opinion. You should listen openly to what others have to say, but ultimately what matters most is your own feelings on the matter.
Overthinking happens to all of us at some point — but if you find yourself doing it a lot, it can start to hold you back in life.
If you’ve recognized several of these signs in yourself, it could be time to take a step back and get more in touch with your feelings rather than trying to analyze things rationally.