Disclaimer: Book summaries are not a perfect representation of the material covered by the author and should not be taken as substitutes to reading the book. Having said that, enjoy!
Overthinking is those times we spend a lot of mental energy on things that don't deserve it. Don't Overthink It by Anne Bogel teaches you how to lay down a foundation to conquer overthinking, change your mindset to eliminate it from the get-go, and learn how to enjoy simple pleasures.
Signs of overthinking include:
- Repeatedly putting off decisions till later, hoping a better option will arrive.
- Seeking more options (even though we probably already have enough).
- Constantly reviewing the same information.
- Fearing the wrong decision.
- Second-guessing a decision after we make it.
Why We Overthink
Intellectually curious people are eager to learn and their pursuit of new knowledge can lead to overcomplicating decisions. They constantly look at as many angles as possible and try to reach the optimal decision.
Seeking more information is good but there is a point of diminishing returns. As we continue looking through information we tend to get overwhelmed. When we do finally reach a decision, we're even less sure of it because we keep thinking about all the other data points.
A perfectionist is never satisfied because of their impossibly high standards, leading to overthinking. Perfectionism can appear as:
- All-or-nothing thinking.
- "There is always more to do" thinking.
- Constantly focusing on imperfections.
- Frequently second-guessing decisions.
They can't tell what the best option is and end up doing nothing.
Set Yourself Up For Success
You have to believe you can change. That you can:
- Experience less decision angst.
- Can learn to make good decisions.
- Don't need to second-guess yourself.
- Can filter out unhelpful thoughts and habits.
- Can develop strategies for conquering overthinking.
- Can handle change when things don't go as planned.
Quick Antidotes to Analysis Paralysis
- Realize and accept there is usually more than 1 good decision.
- ACT...do something, anything. No matter how small. It's better than being stuck overthinking and not making a decision at all.
- Give yourself permission to fail. Think of each decision as an "experiment". The goal is to get a result, not necessarily win.
- Adopt a "let's try it and see what happens" mindset. It frees us to take an iterative approach to decisions and avoids perfectionist thinking.
Use Your Core Values to Drive Decisions
Think through what matters to you, your core values, and use them to drive your decision-making. When we have a broader vision for our lives, decisions become easier because each one you make is part of a bigger picture.
These should be carefully considered though as you don't want 100 core values. If you say one thing but do the opposite, then reconsider whether that thing is actually part of your core values. Fact-check yourself against your values when making decisions.
For help in clarifying your values:
- Examine what you spend your time, money, and energy on.
- Enlist the help of a friend or family member to get an outsider's perspective.
- If you like the answers from (1)/(2) then add those to your core values.
- If you don't like some or any answers from (1)/(2), think about what kind of person you want to be. These are personal to you, they don't need to be agreeable to everyone. Fact-check your decisions against your values and adjust, starting from (1) above.
Take Time to Make Time
Establish habits to help curb overthinking; tidy up your desk, sort the mail as soon as you bring it in, put your keys in their spot when you come home, etc.
Here are some tips to get your mind in order:
- Complete the cycle. Finish what you start. We begin cycles each day and each cycle we don't complete is another item in progress.
- Clear the clutter. Clutter is not good for mental function, so take the time to clean up your area. Where you work, where you live, etc. The less we have, the easier it is to keep our things and life in order. So reduce where you can.
- Don't duplicate work. If you can do something once and enjoy the benefits multiple times, do it. For example, if you constantly forget what you need to take when you travel, create a list of essentials once and refer to it every time.
- Take care of your body. Eat well and exercise regularly because a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. It also allows you to focus on one thing during your time exercising. Research has shown that lack of exercise is directly tied to overthinking. You don't have to go crazy with it, a twenty-minute walk 3 times a week is a great start.
- Take breaks. Give yourself regular breaks while working or thinking about something. Mental fatigue leads to overthinking, which leads to more fatigue, which leads to more overthinking..you get the picture. For example, take a short break every 1 or 2 hours while working. During the breaks, do not do mentally exhausting tasks.
Now that we have ideas for reducing overthinking, we can talk about what to do during those times that it does creep in.
There are times for slow and methodical decisions but at a certain point, waiting time becomes wasted time. This comes back to eventually needing to "just make a decision!".
- When you have 2 good choices, you don't need more time. Pick one and move on.
- Sometimes we can pretend we don't know what to do because we don't actually want to do it. We may be tempted to keep searching for a better option. When faced with 2 bad choices, the answer is the same as before, pick one and move on.
- Don't beat yourself up. When you've made a decision, you need to be ok with it and move forward with your actions and your mind. If you continue to dwell on the issue after you've made your decision then you're focusing on the negatives.
Choose What to Think About
Our thoughts can shape our world. We can't just magically feel relaxed or happy. With practice, you'll be able to shape your thinking towards what you learn here.
Setting your perspective to avoid overthinking:
- Pay attention to your thoughts, including how you talk to yourself. Adopt positive self-talk.
- Look for the good and practice gratitude. Set a reminder on your phone to remind you to be grateful.
- Consider a different point of view. Ask yourself: "What would I tell my best friend if he/she were in this situation?" and "What would I consider to be good here if I were to think it's good?"
- Brush it aside for now. When you notice those negative thoughts creeping in, just tell yourself "not now" and brush them aside. Capture the thought somewhere if you need to and move on.
- Ignore invalid thoughts. Not all your thoughts are true or speak to your true self. Do not give all your thoughts equal weight. Notice them and brush them aside.
- Schedule time to overthink. Schedule a time to overthink, but time-box it. This helps you clear your head of all the thoughts you're juggling or need to revisit.
- Write it down. Write down a thought you notice is eating up a lot of mental energy. When you revisit it, write down all your thoughts. Be careful that you don't go in circles. You can go as far as writing them down on a piece of paper, crumbling it, and throwing it out.
- Distract yourself. Use positive distractions to break the cycle of overthinking.
- Move your body. We talked about this before, but move your body to clear your mind.
Limit Your Options
Too many options can tire us and lead to feeling overwhelmed. Implement a mental conservation strategy where you streamline decisions and create routines.
Some strategies to streamline decisions:
- Eat the same thing. Less dramatically, use the flyer or what's on sale to limit your meal options.
- Adopt a signature dish. When you have guests over, perfect 1 dish that you can always make. Or always order that 1 dish from the same restaurant.
- Wear the same thing. Less dramatically, choose 1 theme for repetitive outings.
- Adopt a signature look. For special outings, choose 1 outfit to wear for all of them.
- Limit your sources. When you're buying things, for example, pick 1 store and order everything you need from there.
- Limit yourself to 1 time. When you find it hard to fit something into your schedule, limit your options to 1 time. For example, going to the gym can always be at 6 PM.
- Limit technology creep. Consider reducing your screen time, limiting technology interruptions, or implementing device-free times/zones. For example, those hundreds of promotional emails from stores you may order from once in a blue moon, yeah, unsubscribe today.
Outsourcing helps us save time, sometimes even save money, and most importantly saves mental expenditure.
To decide what to outsource, ask yourself:
- Am I able to do it?
- Do I want to do it?
- Would it meaningful to do it myself? Use your core values and what's important to you to drive the answer.
- Can I afford to do it? Not only in monetary terms but mental energy as well.
Deciding who to outsource to, ask yourself:
- Is this the right person for the job?
- Can I ask a friend for help?
- Do I need a pro?
Deciding when to outsource:
- Remember that life is lived in seasons where some time periods are stressful and others are not. When things are stressful already, outsource.
- When you need help getting started. Get someone to start to get you going quickly.
- When you need help wrapping up loose ends. When you're not sure you're doing something right, ask someone you trust (or an expert) so we can stop overthinking.
Let the Sun Shine In
When Plans Go Sideways
We can create a framework to handle when things don't go as planned. After all, spontaneous moments can lead to some of our best memories.
- Just pick something. The worst that can happen isn't usually that bad.
- Lean in, expecting good things. Instead of striving for the ideal option, aim to choose a good one. Then instead of resisting the change of plans, lean in, expecting good things.
- Build in margin for the unexpected. When we're operating at 100%, we're unable to deviate from our plans. Plan to meet deadlines early, knowing full well that if things go wrong your schedule won't be disrupted.
Rely on Rituals
You can turn your daily routines into rituals, which can help ground you and remind you of your values. They direct our focus and stop overthinking.
A ritual is something we do with a higher purpose in mind. They can be done regularly and built around small things in your life. We perform routines without attention. However, rituals we fully participate in physically and mentally, perfectly battling overthinking.
Rituals help us by:
- Practicing mindfulness. Be careful you don't focus your attention on things that fuel overthinking. For example, don't browse the news while having your morning coffee (if enjoying a cup of coffee is part of your rituals).
- Helping us to reset. An example is taking a 15-minute break in the afternoon to indulge in a walk before reviewing your to-do list for the rest of the day.
- Helping us get ready to sleep. Regular quality sleep is vital to avoid overthinking. Perhaps one of your rituals is to stretch before going to bed.
- Connecting us to others. A family dinner does wonders for our sense of connection and belonging.
It's Ok to Splurge
A splurge is an experience not part of our normal routines. Too often they're ripe decisions for overthinking.
Accept that special experiences are expensive. You will always face these decisions. Instead of thinking of ways out of them, embrace them and focus on what the splurge is really offering you. Will it lead to great memories? Will it decrease your mental overhead?
Invite Good Things To Your Life
Times when overthinking overtakes us can be exhausting. We can make small shifts in our life that help us control our overthinking. The point of these shifts is to continuously bring joy and ease of decision into our life.
- Be kind to yourself. It's ok to not be efficient all the time. It's ok to make mistakes from time to time. You don't need to constantly justify every decision with logic and data.
- Identify your small treats and don't hesitate to say yes to them. For example, if a good pair of shoes that cost more than you normally pay will make you happy and more comfortable, go for it.
- Make the good stuff a habit. Put recurring decisions on autopilot. Add guac to your burrito bowl? Default to yes.
The Ripple Effect
What we think about and how we think determines what our lives are like. Every minute we spend overthinking is a minute not spent on things that matter to us. This impacts the people around us as well. Remember, mental energy is a finite resource.
The good thing is that acts of renewal add up. As we go about our day, we can look for opportunities to bring positivity and good things to ourselves and others. We can use the strategies in this book to shape our thoughts and actions towards less overthinking.
I am definitely an overthinker and needed to read this. The book was an easy read and I mostly enjoyed it. It did feel scattered in its progression at times and had some repetitiveness, but each story and piece of advice was directly relatable. Word of advice, the audiobook does not have the best reviews so read the book instead. Overall, it's a great start to tackling overthinking and I can't wait to learn more about this topic.