Sometimes I think of all the problems in this world and the plans I would employ to resolve them or at least mitigate their effects. I even imagine myself as the prime minister trying to enhance the quality of life. It is my favorite time-killer. Doing so, the biggest impediment in unlocking the incredible human potential, that I observe is, overthinking.

Ironically, after such imaginations, I come back to reality as soon as I realize that I am clearly overthinking.

Often characterized by pensive melancholy, overthinking is an art of creating unnecessary suffering. To assume things which aren’t true and to envision everything that can go horribly incorrect in the future.

Viscerally stating, overthinking is damned as some sort of mental torture indignity onto a person as an eternal punishment till he is alive. It is portrayed in our society as an irrational, insensible, and a stupid thing to do. However, this isn’t always true.

Before I begin to tell you how to defeat the mental stress of overthinking, allow me to state that the ability to think more isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It also has its own merits and benefits. However, because we haven’t yet learned how to master the thinking tool, we end up burning unnecessary energy.

Think about anyone who has achieved excellence in any field. Be it science, sports, or anything else – his volume of thinking would be remarkably high compared to any other person in his profession. Therefore, thinking more cannot be necessarily categorized as a bad or wrong activity. In fact, I would argue that not thinking more but not thinking appropriately is the problem.

We suffer the wraths of overthinking due to a lack of clarity. Put in other words, overthinking will be:

  1. belief/ assumption based thinking instead of scrutinizing actual relevant data, and
  2. thinking without a clear sense of reality, direction, purpose, and not from a position of strength.

Difference between Healthy and Unhealthy forms of thinking

The process of thinking doesn’t have a ceiling, therefore overthinking is not about crossing a reasonable limit in terms of volume of thoughts processed by the mind.

Whenever anyone suggests you’re overthinking, what they actually refer to is the quality, direction, and intent behind your thinking, not the quantity per se.

There are many forms of thinking which can be classified as healthy and unhealthy. Moreover, such differentiation isn’t necessarily based upon the degree of pain it triggers but on the very nature of thoughts. Sometimes the pain is virtuous and indispensable for our growth. Especially when dealing with emotional issues, we have to understand that there is always a risk of things falling apart.

Here I’ve made you a little box to identify the healthy and unhealthy aspects of your thinking to help you understand what overthinking looks like. Let it serve as a reminder before you bleed yourself dry the next time.

Trying to ascertain future eventsUnhealthyas we can never completely predict the future
Thinking of ways to make everyone around you work according to youUnhealthywe can never completely control an individual other than ourselves
Trying to minimize or alleviate any sort of pain, depression, or anxietyUnhealthytrying to avoid and escape a difficult situation immediately destroys our resilience
Being optimistic or pessimist all the timeUnhealthysometimes it is important to perceive reality as it is
Thinking that you are important and how you feel matter significantlyUnhealthybecause it does not
Accepting realityHealthyit is significant for any sort of growth
Thinking about values and principles before you make every decisionHealthythey provide a standard to our choices and are an important aspect of being a human
Trying to find the legitimate cause of your problemsHealthybecause only when you know your actual problem only then would you be able to resolve it
Thinking about your weaknesses and the ways to convert them into your strengthsHealthythat’s how you make actual and definitive progress

As you’ll notice in the box above, some of the healthy aspects of our thinking often end up in making us feel bad and demand a high degree of mental anguish. However, they provide us the necessary emotional resilience and produce optimum results in the long run. Whereas, we gravitate to unhealthy forms of thinking as they seem tasteful and promises to make us feel good. But they really not. It’s like a mirage. We feel as if we are just there, our big breakthrough. But its never really close.

And soon it develops into a habit. Marching on, stirring conflicts, and slowly destroying our emotional resilience.  

While the healthy aspects of our thinking are vital to our growth, unhealthy aspects can be consciously disintegrated from our internal systems. The rest of this article focuses on the process of disintegration.

How to stop Overthinking?

In this article, I will help you simplify your thinking process by adding some clarity to it. And of course, we’ll do it from the position of strength and control. It’s a five-step process and we’ll refer it as – a guide for knowing how to stop overthinking.

The first two of the five steps are about setting up a strong foundation for the process, while the last three focuses on the application and execution of details.

After following this guide you’ll surely eliminate unnecessary suffering from your life. And if that’s not enough, have your peace, because it’s also free!

Step 1: Learn to exercise self-acceptance

If I was in some sort of a bullshit interview where the host inquires me – why do humans suffer? – my answer would be: because we all create unnecessary and silly importance for ourselves. When we see it from the prospect of this universe – we all mean nothing, even collectively. We only imagine our greatness.

And this is the core of all human suffering.

The thing is that we all have put on our costumes of assumed reality and importance. This costume makes us feel as if we are the center of this universe and everything that happens to us is important. The truth is that it’s not. And the sooner we accept this, the better we’ll fare.

There are no struggles, hardships, destitutions, or pain that you are suffering alone. Chances are, everything that we go through have already been experienced, grieved, and ached by millions before us.

I am sorry, but shit happens all the time. And we just gotta deal with it. That is how we learn, evolve, and grow.

How to stop overthinking everything - Aashish Vats
Image credits: Instagram @shuu_creates

When we understand and accept who we are, that is energy with limited time on our hands, and not withdraw from this fact, we bring ourselves to a position of strength. More often than not, it requires acceptance of what is.

A wise man once said, “self-acceptance is the single-most greatest and brave tool that mankind can exercise to end all its problems, not in the big bang way, but just in the bang way.”(Wait, am I allowed to quote myself as a wise man? You know what, this is my website and I’ll quote myself as a wise man.)

In a dark and unpredictable world, self-acceptance is the light that burns itself to show us the way. It is what gives us the strength to do what needs to be done. Once we accept things the way they are, no matter how difficult it seems, we bring ourselves to the position of strength from where we can respond positively.

In reality, we are mostly wrong about most things in life. And the more we realize that we are wrong, the more we strive to be right. Paradoxically, the more we strive to be right, the more we realize that we are wrong. It’s a vicious cycle and the only way to break this cycle is self-acceptance.

Don’t try to be right always. Don’t be afraid of getting hurt. Don’t assume certainty, and don’t even strive for it. Keep reminding yourself that you know nothing.

In a rhetorical way, when you affirm that you know nothing, you give yourself a chance to learn and develop. Once you accept that you don’t know, you no longer try to fit every experience in your preset information processing. In fact, you allow your experience to adjust itself according to the circumstances. And that is how you prepare yourself for the diversity of challenges that life throws at you.

Acceptance of the self and the reality of our life eliminates our unhealthy thinking endeavor of information processing.

Step 2: Don’t hesitate to engage in a difficult situation

The worst thing that we can do as humans is to suffer due to the fear of the future. Such fear, in turn, makes us less prepared to deal with the present. It hurts our capacity to deal with pain and adversities.

The fear of wrong is often worse than the wrong itself, and it makes us subliminal. It ruins our ability to identify opportunities that we could otherwise use and get better. We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control what pain do we experience and how much we suffer it.

However, when we spend insane hours trying to contemplate all the ways we can fuck ourselves, guess what, we end up really fucking ourselves. Whether it’s about our professional career or dating life, imagining all the ways it can go wrong, makes it go wrong, as we cripple ourselves on the face of every experience. Every situation begins to remind us of some horrible way that can tear us apart.

Dealing with pain - Aashish Vats

Contrarily, being too optimistic about everything, as was once projected by the infamous motivational gurus of the world, isn’t fulfilling either. Numerous studies project actual data that constant irrational positivity is not a robust emotional tool. Though faith and hope are essential for survival, yet they must always be rooted in reality, and in our ability to deal with everything otherwise.

In hindsight, as we begin to exercise self-acceptance, we learn to realize and accept the reality. Whether it be about losses, failures, or breakups, all the best ways to deal with adversity begins with admitting adversity and then indulging it.

The next three steps would require a high degree of mental anguish. Probably, the process would seem hardcore. Yet a good life doesn’t mean a life without problems. It means a life where the problems evolve them for better. The real growth in life is often procured by surmounting the precise obstacles associated with it, and we need to confront the impediments to defeat them.

Step 3: Honestly identify the metrics of your decisions

Whenever we make any decision, we have a whole rationale of facts, information, beliefs, and values supporting that particular choice. Collectively, I refer to such a rationale of facts, information, beliefs, and values as – the metrics of our decisions.

When we are young, and at an early stage of life, we begin to explore the world. However, as we realize that the world is too big to be entirely explored, we develop specific rules and principles to observe, judge, and interpret the world.

Then as we mature into adults, these rules and principles transform into our cognitive biases. All our decisions, up to some and varying extent, are influenced by our cognitive biases. In fact, we are often bigoted as we tend to create unnecessary emotional attachments with the metrics of our decisions.

If you have ever observed that life’s problems are recurrent (or cyclical), meaning we mostly encounter similar kinds of problems throughout our life, its because we never really work to develop and evolve our metrics of taking important decisions.

Our problems remain constant and similar until we encounter life-havocking crises, which then compels us to adjust our metrics.

A prodigious approach towards life involves honestly identifying one’s cognitive biases, and metrics of taking important decisions. It involves introspecting one’s values and principles that form our individuality and character.

Now, if you’re wondering how this helps in dealing with overthinking, then my friend, let me tell you that our world is filled with distractions. There is an absolutely overwhelming volume of information being fed to us through the experience of every event of life. And it is confusing.

It is challenging to choose and determine what is right and what is not.

Therefore, to effectively simplify the information that is being regularly invigorated into our systems, we must learn to engage the already existing information in a better way. And for this purpose, we must have a better understanding of the facts and the metrics of our decisions.

It not only makes us more aware of our actions but enables us to understand the situations and the people around us with humility and compassion.

Step 4: Assess what should be the correct metrics

As you try to identify your metrics, you’ll learn that almost all our decisions are based upon irrational information and biased emotional sentiments.

For instance, a career-related choice is invariably oriented around the metric of money, while money should only be one of the factors. A dating choice is more often than not influenced by the physical outlook of a person and not what he/she brings to the table otherwise. The selection of food is predominantly driven by taste instead of the health-related aspects of the meal.

Honesty, respect, and obedience are conceived and bargained to gain a better social position. Love is adopted not because it’s beautiful but to avoid being alone.

As a child, our choices are mostly oriented around our pleasure-driven behavior. We tend to incline towards things that seem fun. As adults, I’ll not suggest that you disregard your feelings completely. However, we must shift our priorities from pleasure to principles.

This step is about developing a better relationship with yourself. It’s about nurturing a healthy habit of thinking and talking in a way that allows your feelings to express themselves.

The more we allow our feelings to breathe openly, the less power they’ll hold over us. Randomly ask yourself how you’re feeling and then try to answer it as honestly as possible. In a kind of backward way, this prevents us from being naive and compulsive. It empowers us to make strong and healthy choices by realizing the correct metrics for that choice.

When we begin to learn and apply the correct metrics for taking better decisions, we eliminate unnecessary mental stress from our lives. It improves the standard of our choices and manifests clarity in action. Though we can never possibly control our external circumstances, yet assessment of correct metrics ushers harmony in the way we infer those circumstances.

Step 5: Observe, analyze, and then apply counterintuitive measures

Once you have identified your metrics and biases and the ways you can improve upon them, the only thing left to do is to apply and instill those measures to stimulate their effect. We mostly assume that a good life means no problems, which is never truly possible. We can never completely get rid of negativity. However, we can still defeat it by becoming stronger and more resilient.

The application of the above-listed process removes and banishes uncertainty and doubts. In fact, it instills clarity of thoughts thereby eliminating the toxic nature of overthinking everything.

It would require an immense volume of discipline to get it done. You’ll probably fail a couple of dozen times. You’ll probably regard yourself crazy and incapable of doing anything worthwhile. Yet the key is to keep repeating this process.

How to stop overthinking - Aashish Vats

The thing is that life is beautiful, and whatever we are going through doesn’t really matter in the infinite scale of cosmos. And if none of our situations really matter, then there is no reason to not be happy, excited, and joyful. There is no reason to not appreciate life the way it is.