I have a confession to make. I’m an overthinker and overthinking has completely consumed my life.
My overthinking is characterized by non-stop thoughts. Psychologists refer to this as rumination: “simply repetitively going over a thought or a problem without completion”.
It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. I can be completely immersed in something, and before I know it my mind is running rampant once again.
I’ll overthink everything.
Then I learned an incredibly powerful lesson from the world-renowned shaman Rudá Iandê on how to stop overthinking.
He showed me that I shouldn’t try to “fix” my overthinking to stop it. Instead, I needed to embrace my overthinking and learn how to turn it into my most powerful ally.
His advice was different than anything I’d ever heard about overthinking and instantly helped me to overcome it. I believe this lesson will help you to overcome it, too.
In this article, I’ll first explain why most of the advice people give you about how to stop overthinking is misguided. I’ll then share what I learned from Rudá Iandê about how to stop overthinking. Finally, I’ll share three powerful hacks I developed that will help you to stop overthinking and instantly turn your overthinking into your most powerful strength.
Let’s get started.
The worst advice for an overthinker: “stop thinking”
Overthinkers understand what it’s like. But people who haven’t experienced overthinking often miss the mark.
Overthinking is characterized by obsessive rumination. We get consumed by something and have difficulty switching off our thoughts.
Clinical psychologist Helen Odessky shares some insight on the experience of overthinking with Headspace:
“So often people confuse overthinking with problem-solving. But what ends up happening is we just sort of go in a loop. We’re not really solving a problem.”
The psychotherapist Amy Morin says this about overthinking:
“While everyone overthinks things once in a while, some people just can’t ever seem to quiet the constant barrage of thoughts. Their inner monologue includes two destructive thought patterns—ruminating and worrying.”
Overthinking is a condition experienced by more people than you may realize.
According to research in the Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, overthinking is a “national epidemic” among young and middle-aged adults but is a little rarer among older people: 73 percent of 25-35 year-olds overthink compared to 52 percent of 45-55 year-olds and just 20 percent of 65-75 year-olds.
According to the same study, overthinking is a major contributor to severe depression and anxiety—especially in women. In fact, women are more likely than men to fall into overthinking: 57 percent of women and 43 percent of men are overthinkers.
Although overthinking, or ruminating, is such a widespread problem, it seems that much of the advice on how to stop overthinking is given by people who don’t really understand it.
For example, if you google “how to stop overthinking”, you’ll come across an article by Darius Foroux where he provides the following 4-step approach to stop overthinking:
- Raise your awareness throughout the day.
- When you raise awareness, immediately start observing your thoughts.
- Only limit your thinking to specific moments that you need it.
- Enjoy your life!
Foroux asks you to “[a]lways realize that too much thinking defeats the purpose” and to simply “let go of every thought in my mind”.
The problem with this advice is immediately apparent to someone who overthinks everything:
You can’t simply ask yourself to stop overthinking.
If only it was that easy.
For example, imagine I ask you right now to stop thinking about black cats. What are you thinking about as you try to stop thinking about black cats?
Is this what you’re thinking about?
Trying to stop overthinking works in the same way.
You can’t just tell yourself to “stop overthinking”. You’ll just end up thinking about overthinking.
This is why Foroux’s advice, while well-intentioned, is unfortunately misguided. You can’t just become aware of how thinking “defeats the purpose” in order to simply “let it go.”
For an overthinker like me, it’s confusing to try to “let go” of my thoughts. Does “letting go” mean to quieten my “monkey mind” and use my physical senses to observe, smell and hear my surroundings?
Will it stop my thinking?
For me, “letting go” just makes me think more about it. I’ll analyze “letting go”, and wonder whether I’m doing it properly.
Overthinking becomes another problem for me to obsessively overthink.
If you’re an overthinker like me, I’m sure that what I’m saying will resonate with you.
“Letting go” of overthinking is a recipe for disaster and creates a spiral of thinking where we question ourselves and our ability to connect with the present moment.
If you want to stop overthinking, you can’t try to “fix it” by “letting go” to “stop thinking”.
Instead, you need to develop a different understanding of the relationship between your thoughts and your emotions.
I learned about this relationship from Rudá Iandê, which I’ll share below. I’ll then share my 15 powerful hacks to stop overthinking.
The relationship between your thoughts and your emotions
Rudá Iandê’s teachings are based on shamanism, which is a way of life focused on connecting with nature and all of creation. Thousands of people have sought out the teachings of Iandê over the last 25 years.
I’m one of those people, so I have first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be guided by Iandê in connecting with my deeper nature.
One of the key lessons I’ve learned from Iandê is on the relationship between my thoughts and emotions.
Understanding the relationship between thoughts and emotions has been the key to overcoming my overthinking.
In a recent video, I asked Iandê about the most common modern-day challenges he sees people encountering. He said overthinking is an extraordinarily common one.
Here’s what he said about overthinking:
“Overthinking results from a disconnect with our own emotions. We think we can command and control our own minds. There are theories about mind control. This is bullshit! Your mind is completely crazy. Everyone’s mind is. Our mind never stops. When we have emotions that aren’t integrated, our mind gets insane. For example, when you feel some sort of anxiety, fear or anger, you’ll notice your mind won’t stop. It’s a kind of mechanism your whole body uses to release energy that isn’t integrated.”
I used to try and control my overthinking by trying to direct my mind. Iandê’s explanation helped me to understand that I’m unable to control my mind.
The key point is this:
You can’t use your mind to control your emotions. Instead, you need to find a way to fully connect with your emotions beyond whatever your mind is telling you about them.
Iandê offers a technique to do this:
“One of the techniques I teach is to stop just for a while so you can understand and capture the vibration behind your thoughts. Go to that emotion. Once you go there, you can start using this energy and integrating the energy, rather than wasting and releasing it. You can turn it into something positive. That’s what shamanism is. It’s a kind of alchemy where we can play with our inner elements.”
(NOTE: You can watch the video for free. Rudá Iandê speaks about overthinking from minutes 18 to 25. The whole salon is worth watching: How to turn overthinking into your greatest strength (free salon).)
For me, Iandê’s words contain a powerful realization that helped me to overcome my overthinking.
The powerful realization is this:
We are able to connect with the energy or vibration that is generating our thoughts.
Iandê teaches how to do this in Out of the Box, the online workshop based on his lifetime’s teachings.
I certainly can’t do justice to Out of the Box in this article. But I am someone who has been taught directly by Iandê. I’m also an overthinker.
By turning my overthinking into my strength, I’ve developed three powerful hacks to instantly stop overthinking from being your weakness so that it can become your strength, too.
These hacks are my method for developing a different relationship with the constant firing of my thoughts that used to cause me so much angst.
3 powerful hacks to stop overthinking, with a difference
I hope by now you understand that you can’t defeat overthinking by trying to think your way out of it.
Instead, you need to develop a different relationship between “you” and “your thinking”.
You have an opportunity to differentiate between your personal power and your thinking.
This comes from detaching from thinking without trying to control it.
Keep this in mind as I share the three hacks I’ve developed to turn my overthinking into my most powerful weapon.
1. Create different identities for yourself and fully embrace them
This is going to sound a little crazy, but I guarantee you that it’s going to change the relationship you have with your thinking.
You need to create different identities in your mind for the thoughts you have and embrace them fully.
Let me explain.
I’ve created an identity in my mind for the “insecure Justin”. This is the character that is always there, ready to question what I’m doing. I’ve learned that insecure Justin often has many thoughts to fire off before a date or an important business meeting.
I’ve also gotten to know the “angry Justin” who is easily triggered when bullies overpower people to get what they want. Angry Justin also creates a non-stop stream of thoughts when my authority is challenged.
There’s a different Justin for almost everything.
But I don’t ignore these characters that live inside my head. The more I ignore them, the louder they become.
Instead, I listen to them. I hear them out. They’ve often got something valuable to share with me.
By creating multiple identities for my thoughts, I’m creating a different relationship between me and my thinking. Instead of me actually becoming the “insecure Justin”, I feel a little more separated from this identity.
I don’t reject that side of myself as there’s often a valuable lesson to learn.
I encourage you to create multiple characters that live inside you. You may initially feel a little uncomfortable about doing so. But as you do this, remember that there is something far deeper than your thoughts providing the energy that triggers your thinking. Remember Iandê’s words:
“One of the techniques I teach is to stop just for a while to understand and capture the vibration behind your thoughts. Go to that emotion. Once you go there, you can start using this energy and integrating the energy, rather than wasting and releasing it.”
2. Learn to meditate with this simple “trick”
I’ll summarize it for those who can’t watch the video right now.
You begin by simply being aware of all the sounds around you.
Listen to the sounds the way you listen to music. When you listen to music, you don’t identify the specific chords but rather you enjoy the way the music enters you through your ears and into your body.
Do the same with the sounds around you. Hear them without identifying what they are. Just let them be there.
The next step is to do exactly the same with your thoughts. Recognize that you are not the thoughts. The thoughts are like sounds that just arise spontaneously.
Treat the thoughts as you would the chords in a song that’s playing in the background. Enjoy that they’re present and then let them go.
This way you can disassociate from the thoughts and just observe their presence.
3. Enjoy the struggle of being an overthinker
When you create these different identities inside yourself and learn to detach from your thoughts at the same time, you’ll have made significant progress in creating a different relationship with your overthinking.
The final step will sound a little crazy, but it’s essential. It’s this:
Start to enjoy the struggle that comes with being an overthinker.
I know this sounds like it doesn’t make sense. You started reading this article to stop overthinking, right?
But this final step will be a game-changer.
You need to stop beating yourself up for overthinking. You need to start embracing who you really are.
The reality is that you are the kind of person who fires off thoughts quite rapidly, in many different situations.
This isn’t going to change.
Instead, overthinking can become your strength You can use it to your advantage, without letting the experience take your power away.
My struggle with overthinking has helped to define who I really am. I overthink everything. It’s never going to stop.
Now, I realize that my overthinking is one of my most powerful strengths. I’m an analytical person and I fully embrace it.
With my business, for example, I’m always thinking of what can go wrong. This helps me to prepare for things before they actually happen. Over time, this has strengthened my business.
My overthinking has also helped me to understand myself at a much deeper level. Creating different characters inside my mind has resulted in a richer life with more nuance. I truly love myself for being this way.
When you start to embrace the struggle of overthinking, you open up to a far richer experience of life. You turn your neuroticisms into your greatest strengths. You live your life with a loving relationship with yourself.
My life has been characterized by obsessive rumination and worrying. It even got to the point that I worried about worrying.
Then I met the shaman Rudá Iandê and he inspired me to develop a different relationship with myself and my personal power.
I learned that there is a place within that I can connect with, without needing to use the power of my thinking to get there.
Now, it feels like my overthinking has become a powerful strength. My analytical powers are a tool at my disposal. The thinking is always there, running around in circles. Now, it’s being used to my advantage.
I’ve been fortunate that Rudá Iandê has worked with me side-by-side to help me develop a different relationship with my emotions and thoughts.
About 18 months ago, I approached Iandê and suggested we develop an online workshop together so that his teachings would be accessible to many more people.
The result is Out of the Box. It’s a powerful 16-week program that will help you to connect with your personal power in a way that is authentic to you.
I hope this article has inspired you to work on developing this relationship with yourself. I would love to meet you if you decide to participate in Out of the Box. Otherwise, please sign up to Ideapod’s weekly newsletter so we can keep in touch.