Do you think of yourself as an overthinker? Cmon, don’t overthink it. Well, me too. As overthinkers, we churn over what we should have said or over-plan what we should do, and then we move on. It’s as annoying as that song you can’t get out of your head.
There are two sides to overthinking: it can help us be highly creative problem solvers, but when it doesn’t stop and we can’t turn it off, it turns into rumination. While many problems are resolved by giving them careful thought and deliberation (the good kind of overthinking), rumination is repetitive thinking — going over and over the same thought or problem without any resolution (the bad kind of overthinking).
Overthinkers have a very vivid imagination due to a highly active prefrontal cortex. We’re able to visualize multiple solutions to any problem. We tend to dwell on problems longer than the average person. We dig deep, analyze, and analyze in order to come up with many possible solutions.
But, rumination is repeating negative thoughts without mentally moving on. It doesn’t lead to new insights or understanding. It just spins us around like we’re trapped in an emotionally distressing hamster wheel. It can even become a routine: the more you do it, the harder it is to stop.
According to two expert psychologists, Dr. Margaret Weherenberg & Dr. Guy Winch, here are 3 things we can practice to stop the rumination cycle.
1) Awareness always helps. Identify those thoughts and flag them as harmful. Once a ruminative thought becomes repetitive, we need to recognize it and convert it into a useful problem-solving task. Dr. Weherenberg says “For example, convert, “I can’t believe this happened” to “What can I do to prevent it from happening again?”
2) Redirect your attention to something else that requires focus. “A two to three-minute distraction such as a puzzle, memory task, or anything that requires concentration can be enough to break the compelling pull of ruminative thought,” said Winch.
3) Interrupt your unneeded thoughts whenever they come up, and plan ahead for a positive thought to switch to. Even if the switch is simply to return your attention to the task at hand, remind your brain who’s in charge.
“The greatest weapon against stress in our ability to choose one thought over another.” — William James
Be nice to your brain! It takes time & practice to stop the pulling cycle of ruminative thought.