The art of not overthinking: 8 simple ways to stay present

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Picture this…

You’re on a first date and it’s time to order. You’ve been staring at the menu for some time now, but you still can’t decide – do you get the chicken or fish? 

It seems like an easy enough decision to make, right?

But not if you’re an overthinker. 

You ponder every little detail (cost, bones, odor, sauce, portion size) like your life depended on it. 

Then there’s the check at the end of the meal to consider. 

Do you split it or let them pay?

You spend so long contemplating each possible scenario (and predicting future problems) that you neglect your date, along with the witty banter. 

The truth is, you’re not present. 

You’re stuck in your head yet again. What’s more, this isn’t the first time you’ve gotten caught in a loop. 

But here’s the thing. 

It’s not just your relationship status that’s at stake, your overthinking is affecting every aspect of life, including work and your personal well-being. 

It’s making you unhappy and it’s safe to say, it’s time to make some changes.

With that in mind, here are eight simple ways to stay present and master the art of NOT overthinking.

Let’s begin.

1) Take a deep breath 

Sounds simple enough, right? You breathe every day without a second thought. 

You can literally do it in your sleep (in fact, you do).

If we’re being honest here, it’s probably the only thing you don’t overthink. But what if I told you, you could use it to your advantage?

That’s right, deep (mindful) breathing exercises could be the answer to your overactive mind. 

Let me explain.

Did you know that the average person takes around 12-20 breaths per minute or 22,000 times per day (including sleep)? 

But it does much more than inflate your lungs with oxygen, it can affect other bodily functions too. 

For instance, your brain, heart rate, digestion, hormones, muscle recovery, blood pressure, metabolism, and sleep. 

Most importantly, it can reduce your stress levels

And while it’s largely automatic, it’s the only physiological function that can be controlled or manipulated. 

In other words, it’s both unconscious and conscious. 

And by using breathing techniques (e.g. the 4-7-8 method), experts believe this allows you to calm the mind, focus your attention, and be more present.  

2) Step away from the smartphone 

Nowadays we can do anything on our Internet-enabled devices. 

Order food, get directions, play games, share photos, keep in touch with friends, and (sometimes) make new ones.  

Whatever we need (24/7) is available at the click of a button. 

But while technology offers many benefits, it can also be a major source of distraction, overstimulation, and stress.

Bad news if you’re an overthinker.

Now I’m not saying you should toss your brand-new iPhone out the window. But it might be a good idea to limit your screen time

Not to mention taking time to connect with people face-to-face.

You can do that by setting boundaries or designating specific times to check emails, social media, and news updates.

Another idea is… 

Implementing tech-free zones in your home or scheduling regular digital detoxes to unplug and be more present.

There’s even an app for that!

3) Find a distraction 

Let me be clear here. 

When I say find a distraction, I don’t mean hide and avoid your problems. That’s the opposite of what you should do. 

It’s downright unhealthy.

However, finding something constructive to do with your overactive mind is an excellent way to center yourself. 

You know. 

Go for a leisurely walk, take up knitting, join the gym, or spend time in nature. Basically, anything that allows you to lose yourself and become fully immersed in the present moment.

And according to research, distracting yourself with activities can help interrupt negative thinking. 

Worried about worrying?

Well, to prevent any intrusive thoughts (or feelings) from getting in the way, write down (or journal) what’s bothering you and make a plan, then revisit it in 24 hours. 

Less, if it’s important or urgent. 

Not only does this prevent you from spiraling, but it also gives you time to look at your problem with fresh eyes and a new perspective the next day. 

Think of it as a cool-down period. 

4) Practice mindfulness meditation (and movement)

When you’re an overthinker, it can be difficult to hit the pause button and simply relax. Your mind is constantly racing, ruminating about current, past, and future problems. 

You just can’t help yourself. 

But setting aside a few minutes a day to practice mindfulness meditation may allay some of that internal chatter. 

It’s backed up by science

In fact, researchers found that mindfulness-based therapy (such as yoga and meditation) helped “dial down” stress, anxiety, and depression in individuals by changing their brain’s biology. 

It even helped improve people’s physical health, along with their immune systems. Just what you need during cold and flu season. 

But what exactly is mindfulness meditation?

Good question. 

Originally a spiritual practice, nowadays, meditation is more about training your attention, acceptance, and improving your overall well-being. 

In other words, being grounded (present) and having a clear mind.

It can be as simple as finding a quiet place to sit down, closing your eyes, and focusing on your breathing. Other methods include body scan and walking meditation. 

Or it can be more active.  

For example, mindfulness activities like yoga, tai chi, or qigong allow you to cultivate awareness of breath, movement, and sensation.

Not to mention, strengthening your body and releasing any pent-up energy (at the same time). 

And if those pesky thoughts do arise, mindfulness meditation helps you to acknowledge them (without judgment), while gently bringing your attention back to your breath and movements.

5) Start practicing “specific gratitude”

How often do you take the time to reflect and be thankful? 

Not very often?

Well, you might want to rethink your answer. 

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude has been proven to boost your well-being and promote a positive mindset

Simply put, it helps you to focus your mind and be more present. 

However, being thankful for the same old things every day can get extremely monotonous. Something that can make it less meaningful and impactful in the long run. 

Ultimately, it becomes automatic, which doesn’t help you to be in the moment. 

That’s where “specific gratitude” comes into play. 

And according to psychotherapist, Jenny Maenpaa, writing down something specific about the day (instead of a general “good health” statement) is a great way to remain focused on the here and now. 

Not to mention, it’s a lot more personalized and consequential.

6) Take a moment to focus on the big picture

We’re all guilty of getting lost in the weeds here and there. But when you’re an overthinker, it’s like you’re stuck in a maze with no way to get out.

The truth is, that you don’t have a plan.

That’s because you’re too busy sweating the little things instead of focusing on the big picture. 

But when your thoughts are almost deafening, it can be difficult to concentrate and be objective. What’s more, every negative thought becomes exaggerated. 

So how can you fight negativity?

Well, you need to reframe your perspective.

Not to be confused with toxic positivity, positive (or cognitive) reframing helps you to identify a negative thought and turn it into a positive.

It’s a technique often utilized by athletes during recovery.   

Not only does it help you to be positive, but it allows you to be self-aware, grounded, and mindful. As a result, you’ll be able to focus on more productive and high-level (big-picture) thinking. 

In other words, concentrate on being present. 

7) Start single-tasking (and stop multitasking) 

Is your calendar just as cluttered as your mind? 

In a world filled with distractions, juggling multiple tasks can be tricky. Especially if you’re an overanalyzer. 

Think about it. 

While multitasking sounds like it’s going to boost your productivity, it can have the opposite effect. In fact, constantly switching between tasks only makes it more difficult to organize thoughts. 

It can be distracting, to say the least. 

And if you find yourself overwhelmed, it’s important to focus on one thing at a time. 

Otherwise known as single-tasking, the simple act of fully immersing yourself in one task (and one task only) allows you to be more present. 

What’s more, this laser focus is more likely to help you free up some mental space so that you can reach your goals.

And in the process, limit your capacity to overthink things. 

8) Embrace your fears (and let go)

When you’re an overthinker (and worried about something) it’s easy to fixate on the worst-case scenario, likely second-guessing yourself out of fear.

The same goes for past mistakes.

But here’s the thing. 

You can’t change the past, nor can you predict the future. No matter how hard you try and (over) think about it, it’s just not possible. 

Instead, it’ll leave you mentally exhausted

That’s why it’s important to embrace those fears and accept that sometimes, things are simply out of your hands. 

It’s called having self-compassion. 

Sure, the unknown and the many possibilities it brings, can be scary. But at the end of the day, you can only control what you can control. 

The rest is up to fate. 

Once you realize that and learn to let go, you’ll be able to focus more on the now. Until then, remember these eight simple ways to stay present to help you on your way.

Leila El-Dean

Leila is a passionate writer with a background in photography and art. She has over ten years of experience in branding, marketing, and building websites. She loves travelling and has lived in several countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Spain, and Malta. When she’s not writing (or ogling cats), Leila loves trying new food and drinking copious amounts of Earl Grey tea.

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