I have so much noise in my head it’s ridiculous. I over-think, doubt, worry and imagine terrible things which are probably not real. I know I worry way too much about what other people are thinking and this causes a lot of my stress. What can I do to quiet the noise in my head?
If you spend an unreasonable amount of time in your head, and often get stuck going round and round with stressful (and mostly unproductive) thoughts, you are an over-thinker. This subconscious habit is most likely draining your energy and distracting you from the situation at hand.
Over-thinkers often waste energy rehashing their past mistakes (which they cannot change), over-thinking meaningless small issues in their present, or creating imagined scenarios that could (but probably won’t) play out in their future.
Thinking problems through logically is a wise course of action, but over-thinkers spend an unreasonable amount of time with doubts and fears, which get in the way of good problem-solving and can create analysis paralysis. Over-thinking can also contribute to depression, anxiety and co-dependence.
I will not address over-thinking, which accompanies these kinds of conditions, because they are out of the scope of my training. (Due to some questions from my last column, I’d like to clarify this.) As a life coach, my advice is not meant to treat, diagnose or advise those in need of a licensed mental health professional.
There is a great book on over-thinking by Susan Nolan-Hoeksema, Ph.D, called "Women Who Think too Much," which I highly recommend.
Hoeksema says the first thing you must do to change over-thinking is “to recognize that over-thinking is not your friend. It is not giving you deep insights. Instead, it is stealing away your power over your own thoughts and feelings.”
I agree, you cannot continue to let your thoughts control you, you must learn to control your thoughts — and they are controllable, though it may take some work and practice to learn how.
Here are some tips for getting control of your thinking:
1) Don’t take your thoughts so seriously. Just because it popped into your mind doesn’t make it true, meaningful, real, or worth the time to think about. The first question you must ask yourself is “Does this train of thought serve me in any way?”Does it do me any good to waste time and energy here?
2) Look at the big picture. Does this issue or idea really matter? In the long run, big picture of my life, does it even matter? Most of the things you lose sleep over aren’t.
3) What is this thinking distracting me from? Who am I missing showing up for because I’m lost in my own head? What am I not paying attention to that would serve me more?
4) Set aside a small amount of time to spend on this (that isn’t right now). This is a great technique that works for me. I pretend there is a closet in my head, I throw these negative, fear-based thoughts in there and slam the door. I then decide to spend 15 minutes on this concern later tonight, but until then I will leave them in the closet. If they sneak out during the day, I just throw them back in and lock the door. When the appointed time arrives that night, I set a timer for 15 minutes and really dwell on over-thinking the issue. I dive in and soak in the fear. I also use the technique below.
5) Get productive about it. Is there something I can do about this issue? Get out some paper and write down all your possible options in response. Include what you think the outcome of each option might be. If there is something positive and constructive that can be done — do it. If there is nothing you can do — decide to trust the universe that however it turns out, it will be your perfect journey.
6) Remember that you are more bulletproof than your mind thinks you are. No one can diminish who you are. No matter what they do or say, you are the same you. Your value is not on the line here either because life is a classroom, not a test. This means everything that happens to you is a lesson, but your value is infinite and absolute and doesn't change. (At least you have the option of seeing yourself this way if you want to.)
7) In every moment of your day, you get to choose your inner state and this is a simple choice because there are really only two options: fear or trust and love. To beat over-thinking you must start using your power to consciously choose trust and love. Trust that your value is infinite and your life will always be your perfect classroom, this means there is really nothing to fear. (At least you have the option of seeing your life this way if you want to.) Or you can choose fear. stress, over-thinking and create unnecessary suffering.
How do you want to experience this moment?
In my book, "Choosing Clarity," I recommend that you make some official personal policies or rules about what goes on in your head. Here are some policies relative to your thinking that would cut down greatly on your stress and worry:
Make a policy against worrying about what other people think.
What other people think of you is irrelevant. It doesn’t mean anything and it doesn’t affect you (unless you let it.) Opinions have no power. Their opinions don’t change who you are. Negative thinking is just a chance to practice choosing to trust in your real value.
Make a policy against worrying about how you look.
Who you are has nothing to do with how you look. Your value is not based on your appearance. Your love is who you are. Spend some time every morning trying to look your best, then go get them with your love. Your love is what people remember and care about anyway.
Make a policy against worrying about past mistakes.
The past is dead and gone, you cannot change it and it doesn’t define you or determine your value (unless you let it.) Past mistakes were just locations on your journey through life, they were classes you signed yourself up for, but they don’t mean anything about who you are now. Let go of the idea of SHAME that you Should Have Already Mastered Everything. You are a student in the classroom of life and a work in progress, and you are good enough right now.
Terry Josephson said, “No matter where you go or what you do, you live your entire life within the confines of your head.”
The good news is that you get to control the weather there.
You can choose peace anytime you want, though this may take some work and practice if you are really practiced at over-thinking fear. Start with trusting you are good enough, because your value is absolute. Then practice trusting that your life will always be the perfect classroom for you and that everything happens for a reason, to serve your process of growth.
These two choices bring peace.
“Being content is perhaps no less easy than playing the violin well; and requires no less practice.” — Alain de Botton
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness." She offers free coaching calls every Tuesday night.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.