Did you know that a normal and healthy mind by default amplifies negative thoughts? Interesting, eh? If that’s the case, you might wonder, it’s a rather unhelpful build-in feature.
And yes, in part you’re completely right.
Thanks to our mind, wherever we go, or whatever we do, we can get caught up on pretty much anything we like (or dislike). And the older we get, the more we seem to drift off…We worry about the future or ruminate about the past.
When you start to overthink
You might experience this from time to time. If I would make an educated guess, particularly when you’re stressed. For example, when you’re moving house, lose or change your job, or when you about to do something that somewhat scares you. Your mind suddenly kicks in, takes control and tells you all kind of unhelpful stories. Lovely…
My mind tells me unhelpful stories as well, all the time. Let me just give you one example of when I just moved to the U.K. and started my first job here in Pembrokeshire.
My first job (well job…) was on the coast in Abbereiddy, nudging tourists of cliffs as a coasteering instructor. I loved it, but not everything came natural at the start. As you do in any new job, I got rather anxious doing some new things I wasn’t used to do. In my case, speaking to large groups.
Speaking in front of a group you don’t know can be, especially if you’re inexperienced, a pretty an award thing to do. I remember well, when I just started I found it quite frightening. Rather than standing on the side, watching my fellow instructors smoothly doing their safety briefings, one day it was suddenly my turn to give it a go. Although I sort off prepared myself in the time leading up to it, practicing the lines and rehearsing jokes, it did not take long before I made a slip of words.
Completely normal, but awkward nevertheless.
Making those mistakes, sometimes I would become increasingly aware of my own shortcomings; my stumbles and my funny Dutch accent. And that, well, that would typically open up a whole can of worms. I would start to think I couldn’t do it, wasn’t made for it. I would typically make more mistakes, sometimes even stutter.
Overthinking has a function
A normal and healthy mind by default amplifies negative thoughts and tends to aggravate our mistakes because our brain is there to protect us. Protect us from further harm. Whether that discomfort is physical or mental, doesn’t matter. Every time we find yourself in a stressful or challenging situation – times when we slip up – our mind moves up a gear and automatically goes apeshit. It wants to grab your attention. STOP WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING AND LISTEN TO ME!
It’s a safety switch.
In my case, every time I would catch myself slipping up again in front of a group, my mind would take over, feeding me lousy stories like: I’M NOT MADE FOR THIS MAN. MY ENGLISH IS SH*T. I’M A JOKE. THESE PEOPLE SURELY WON’T TAKE ME SERIOUSLY…
Although it’s all very tempting to give in to those automatic voices that are being force-fed to us, those quick fixes aren’t really solutions. They don’t work for us in the long term. For instance, opting out of public speaking wouldn’t do me any good. I needed to become better, get more practice. If it’s wasn’t for myself, it was for those tourists who paid 40 quid for a half day of thrilling and fun experience.
So, what’s the alternative to overthinking?
You might have different ongoing issues. You might not have to speak in front of groups, or you might not find it hard because you’ve got plenty of experience. Good for you 🙂 One thing is certain though, if you are fortunate enough to live long enough, life will eventually throw you are curveball. Because life inevitably involves pain, whether we like it or not. We lose loved ones, become unemployment, we have to deal with rejection, failure or frustration from time to time. It hurts, and it’s especially during these hectic times that we need the skills to get out of our head and stop overthinking. Press pause if you like.
Somehow you need to figure out a way your negative thoughts have less of an impact over you. That’s the best option because you can’t really stop overthinking. The harder you try, the worse it gets. To prove my point, try NOT to think of a pink elephant.
See….it doesn’t work. You think about pink elephants.
Instead you can make sure that, when your mind goes into overdrive, it has less of an impact over your focus and less of an impact over your actions. That way, you’re better equipped to still do what matters to you. Still face the group of tourists, in my example.
This is a particular skill we typically go over during coaching sessions, because believe it or not, most of us struggle with this. If your mind tells you your public speaking skills are inadequate, it might well be right in that moment, but that’s not the point. The point is if you continue to dwell on your lousy performance, you’re making it worse. It doesn’t make sense to continue to dwell on something that is unhelpful, it makes sense to figure out a way find to step out of that struggle and find way to neutralise the effect those nasty stories have on you.
There are ways to help you unhook yourself. Let me give try an experiment with you that might help you out. It might work or it might not, it’s an experiment. But what have you got to lose? Lets give it a try.
Overthinking? Try ‘Ridiculus’.
Let me ask you, does the word ‘ridiculus’ mean anything to you? Well, if you’re interested to find a way to get out of your head and overthink, I can recommend you watch the clip below to find out more. Do it now.
Like Hermione said, ”nobody knows what a Boggart looks like because a Boggart has the ability to shapeshift”. A Boggart shapeshifts into one’s individual fear. And since everybody’s fear is different, everybody’s Boggart looks different. The same applies to us. My fears are different to yours. Well, I assume.
In Harry Potter ‘Ridulus’ is a simple but effective spell to turn your biggest fear into something that’s too hilarious to take serious. And when we can’t take our fear serious anymore, fear wears off, it loses its sting. Professor Snape clothes were changed, hence the initial fear lost its power. A giant spider was suddenly been put on 8 roller-skates, as a result the spider suddenly wasn’t that scary anymore.
Your mind has a natural tendency to make your problems much bigger than they are. But you can turn this on its head, just like the learners at Hogwarts did. Try to turn your fear, your issue, into something fun and hilarious. As a result it might loosen its grip over you. For example, if you have a nasty boss, imagine him or her dressed like a drag queen next time you bump into each other and I’m sure it will have an effect. Your nemesis suddenly doesn’t feel like a nemesis anymore.
What’s your Boggart?
So, the time has come to ask you the very same question that Professor Lupin asked his pupils in class: ‘What frightens you most?’. Or in other words, what is your boggart? What do you get caught up in during the day? What kind of things do you tend to overthink?
Could you turn that image or those thoughts into something playful, amusing and funny such that it loses control it has over you? You can even draw it, or imagine it in your head. Do whatever works for you. Neutralising whatever unhelpful story you’ve got stuck in your head can be very effective way of getting unstuck. Instead of overthinking, it can help you create space and focus on the things that do matter.
Like I said before, this activity might or might not do you wonders. That’s why I’ve introduced it to you as an experiment. There are many more experiments like this. Some work for you, others do not. This varies per person. If you want more options to chose from such that you’re better equipped to face your demons so you can focus more on the things that matter, just give me a shout.