How to stop overthinking

Published on October 4, 2023

If you find yourself replaying over and over in your head an event or a conversation and you can’t seem to be able to stop it, I’ve got the answer for you. 

Rumination feels particularly draining because your thinking about it recreates a negative feeling. Everytime you replay that conversation in your head, you get angry. Everytime you remember what happened, you feel ashamed, annoyed, frustrated.

An emotion will typically take about 90 seconds to dissipate if you allow it. But the incessant ruminating recreates the emotion over and over again, leaving you feeling drained and upset.

Firstly, let me say this: it is absolutely normal and OK to feel a negative emotion after an upsetting experience. In fact, it would be weird if you didn’t. It is part of the human experience to feel both positive and negative emotions, no matter how much you wished that weren’t the case.

I teach my clients to do a simple evaluation in order to feel complete and at peace with an event. This allows them to come to a conclusion and close the loop of overthinking.

The evaluation goes like this:

What went well?
What didn’t go so well?
What would I do differently?

Say you had an argument with someone at work that left you pretty shaken. You will likely have all sorts of thoughts about what happened, what that person did and said, and how you acted. Those thoughts can completely hijack you and your emotional state if you let them run free.

Instead, consider doing the simple evaluation:

What went well? (always start with the positive because our brains are biased towards negativity and it helps to stop the brain’s default and be intentional about guiding your thinking)

You might say things like: I maintained my composure, I remained professional, my arguments were strong, we managed to come to a conclusion together, etc etc.

What didn’t go so well?

You might say: I raised my voice, I wasn’t exactly sure what they wanted from me, I am not sure what exactly upset me (I just know it did), I lost focus

What would I do differently?

If the situation was to arise again (or a similar one), I would stop and take two long breaths; I ask that we park the discussion for a few minutes or another time, to allow both of us to think clearly, I would assume they are well intentioned and articulate my answer with that in mind.

This is a very very simple process that allows you to see a way forward. At first, you will likely still think unhelpful thoughts like: I can’t believe they said that, how can people get away with this, that person is such a (insert expletive).

But as you well know, that default way of acting and being leads to nothing but more upset and rumination for you. So instead, consider creating a protocol for evaluating events that upset you, such as this simple evaluation. 


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