Thinking is wonderful when it’s not ruining your life. Wondering, pondering, and reflecting are necessary and important. But overthinkers know how often thoughts can lead to self-destruction.
I always valued the saying, “think before you act.” But that phrase can quickly become, “think until you can’t act.” Thinking becomes a refuge when you are scared to do something. It’s a form of self paralysis.
When you’re overthinking, you feel desperate. You are chasing after something you can’t catch. It’s a rabbit that always outruns you, and that rabbit is called certainty. Let’s look at how this plays out.
What Overthinking Looks Like
Several red flags can tell you if you are an overthinking rabbit chaser.
1. You Think to Get Rid of Anxiety
Alcoholics drink, overthinkers think. You hide in your head and fight your anxiety with thoughts. You’ve probably examined your problem from every possible angle, but somehow, it didn’t make the worrying stop. It never did, and it never will. You can’t accept that anxiety won’t go away until you stop fighting it.
2. You Have to Get Everything Right The First Time
People would not call you flexible. You have to meticulously plan everything before you do it. You can’t let anything play out messily, so you think until you have the perfect plan. You can’t accept that thinking is the opposite of spontaneity, and often creativity.
3. You Talk Yourself Out of Things
You believe thinking will get you closer to your goals, but somehow, you never reach them. You always find a reason to say, “That’s not a good idea right now. It’s just not the right time.” You can’t accept that there will never be a right time and that you will never have a perfect opportunity for what you are trying to do.
4. You Spend 90% of Your Day Ruminating
The minute you wake up, the ball starts rolling. You think your way through a problem. But then you think about it again, because you aren’t quite sure you’ve solved it. Now you’re thinking about it all day. You never take the leap of faith and say, I’ve figured this out. You can’t accept that you have thought enough about a problem.
The Nature of The Rabbit
The rabbit is a sense of safety, assuredness, and above all, certainty. This is what every anxious person is looking for when they overthink. They seek the knowledge that their imagined disaster will be prevented and that everything will be ok. They want sweet, cuddly certainty.
It’s not wrong to want to feel safe. But clinging to certainty puts you in a mental prison. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder illustrates this idea perfectly.
OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by a chronic sense of doubt about something (an obsession), and accompanying attempts to make that doubt go away (compulsions).
Take someone who is obsessed with hygiene. Their chronic doubt is that they are always covered in germs and never 100% clean. Their compulsion is to constantly be washing their hands, for example, to make the feeling of being unclean disappear. The certainty of being clean is the rabbit they are always chasing.
How to Stop Chasing The Rabbit (How to Prevent Overthinking)
The more you seek certainty, the more uncertain you feel. Nothing is certain, and accepting that is part of freedom.
OCD sufferers beat OCD by resisting the urge to perform their compulsions and sitting with the anxiety that wells up. This can be an intense and painful process, but anxiety always diminishes over time.
By voluntarily facing their fears, they realize that the world does not end when they stop washing their hands. And after it’s over, they go on to live freer lives.
What you, an overthinker, can learn from this is that you need to let go of the thing that makes you feel certain: thinking. Giving up an addiction to thinking is giving up an addiction to certainty. Here’s how you do it:
- Recognize Overthinking: If you feel yourself starting to overthink, engage with reality. Pour all your focus into what you are currently doing. You can’t always control your thoughts, but you can control your attention.
- Let the Rabbit Go: Let it all be messy in your head. Leave a mess uncleaned. Leave a problem unfigured out. You might find that the answers come to you once you stop thinking about them. Your subconscious mind continues to work even after you’ve walked away from a problem. That’s how you find Eureka moments.
- Follow the One Perennial Rule of Beating Overthinking:
Action, Thoughts, and Overthinking
You can’t stop thoughts from occurring. But they don’t have to stop you.
Taking action cuts through the noise in your head. We overthink most when we’re afraid to do something. So, act first, then calibrate after. Be willing to screw up, and use the feedback to learn and do better. Thinking alone will never lead to that kind of wisdom.
The more you step into anxiety without trying to prevent it or rub it off or run away, the more you’ll realize how capable you are, and how overthinking was only holding you back.
You’ll realize that you never needed certainty to be ok. You won’t have to self-sabotage for lack of faith that you can’t handle the consequences of your fears. This is true self-control, achieved not through overthinking, but through taking action and dancing with what comes of it.
So let the rabbit run. Have faith that you can handle whatever comes your way, so you don’t have to think yourself to death trying to prevent it.