What’s the one thing on your plate that you’ve been putting off making a decision on? Whether it’s a simple decision such as choosing which duct-cleaning company to hire or a more complex one such as whether to accept a new job offer, sitting on a decision can make you feel like you’re paralyzed. You tell yourself, “that’s enough, just pick one and move on.” But the second you make a choice, thoughts of “am I doing the right thing?” start to flood in.
Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do, says overthinking a decision is not only unproductive and hinders you from making any progress, it can also cause some serious health consequences, including increased anxiety and depression, poor quality of sleep, and unhealthy coping skills such as binge eating.
Morin dedicates an entire chapter of her book to the problem of overthinking, and although she says women tend to overthink decisions more than men do, ruminating on a decision has the same negative impacts on both genders.
Try these strategies to avoid the negative consequences of overthinking:
Put a Deadline on Your Thoughts
To avoid over-ruminating about a decision, give yourself a time frame to think about it. By telling yourself, “I’m going to make this decision by 2 p.m. today and whatever I decide is going to be fine” means you are giving yourself permission to think about it, but not allowing it to take over other parts of your day.
Morin suggests asking yourself what a reasonable amount of time is to be thinking about this issue. If it’s a small issue such as what paint color to paint your office, perhaps a deadline of 10 minutes is sufficient; whereas a larger decision such as whether to accept a new job offer in another city may warrant a couple of days of thought.
Schedule Your Thinking Time
One of the problems overthinkers often face is thinking about their problems all day long, or at inopportune times, such as during an important meeting. To avoid this, Morin suggests scheduling a specific time where you give yourself the freedom to think about the issue you need to make a decision about. If thoughts about the issue creep into your brain before your scheduled thinking time, telling yourself “No, I’m going to think about that after dinner, not during this meeting” can help you to push those thoughts away, knowing you’ll come back to it later.
Know the Difference Between Problem Solving and Worrying
While for most of us, overthinking stems from a fear of the consequences of taking action A or B, Morin says those who are chronic overthinkers often believe that they can solve a problem by continuing to pound away, thinking about it. But worrying, Morin says, is not the same as actively solving a problem. While dwelling on a problem, thinking “this is horrible, I can’t handle this” or rehashing things that happened in the past are an unproductive use of your time, thinking about what steps you can take to improve the situation or actively thinking of a solution to the problem are helpful toward moving forward. Becoming aware of when your thinking is unhelpful and when it’s actively problem solving can help you to ensure your time spent thinking isn’t just adding to your stress.
Take a Break
You know the expression “sleeping on a problem,” well, that’s because sometimes we’re better at solving a problem when we’re not thinking about it. “Sometimes we make better decisions when we let those ideas percolate in our brain,” says Morin. Letting the inactive parts of your brain work through the problem can let the answer come to you when you’re not expecting it.
When you find yourself overthinking about a problem, try to change the channel in your brain by moving on to another subject or changing your physical space by going for a walk, or moving your laptop to a conference room to work on something else.