4 April 2015

Overthinking - and Dealing With It (part two)

Last time I started looking at my own tendency to overthink. Here's a dozen ideas that I have gathered over the last few weeks about how to deal with this - with a comment or two from myself as I tried to apply them to my own life:

1. Starting the day better.
I'm told that it's important, in any activity, to start well and to finish well. Because of this, I have been taking a serious look at how I wake up in the morning. I usually have the radio coming on first, with a 'get up' alarm at 6am. This gives me a more gentle wake-up in the morning. Early morning DJs and their inane babble fill me with dread, and some talk radio stations are abrasively negative, so my channel of choice is BBC Radio 4 Extra with a little bit of comedy or drama to wake me. I have found I don't cope well with being suddenly woken up - so I have to allow myself at least half an hour from wake up to get up. I need that time. I have my regular chat with God as I walk down to the train; no distractions, no-one else around. I don't start thinking about the news until I get on the train, when I'm a lot more awake, then I then check my emails and Facebook. In go the headphones and I shut out the world until I get to work - I listen to music, or a podcast.

2. Taking care with what I fill my mind
I understand that what I watch, read or listen to, has a great impact on my way of thinking. I'm therefore increasingly careful now what I take in. I'll try to read books, magazines, blogs that are helpful to me. The same applies to listening to music and podcasts. There are certain types of emails that go straight in the trash without me reading them. I'll also try and seek out the company of people who encourage me to grow and support me. Philippians 4:8 (NIV) "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things."

3. Taking a break from music and other media.
I've noticed that I tend to distract myself from life as I go - this is my way of shutting out the world's chatter, which can be deafening or at best distracting. However, I am aware that I sometimes I lose out on the joy of simply being still. If silence is an option, I need to embrace it. It's so easy to drown out the quiet instead of enjoying it. Ditching the TV? Not a problem, that's a big advantage when I go off with my family, camping. However, what about taking a break from social media/emails? That's more tricky. I try to do this over the big public holidays (Easter, Christmas) in order to give more time for my family. Am I (like many) addicted to my social contact with friends from afar that I tune out those around me? Something l need to consider.

4. Taking a 'time-out'
I know when my mind is all over the place, when I need to take that break. A 'time-out' when I'm not thinking straight helps a lot. I can't always come up with a solution 'just like that', which can frustrate me. Taking a break to clear my head can help improve my thinking process. After a proper break, I feel refreshed and am best placed to then resolve the issue. I admit that my first reaction is to work through it, which I know leaves me tired and ratty. It's a weakness that I need to work through. Or, rather, not work through :)

5. Fight procrastination
I've struggled with this for a while. There's so much to do, I can't possibly do it all at the same time. So I have to prioritise. The art is not to fall into the trap of constantly delaying the same job over and over again. Quite apart from the practical reason, repeated delay just gives me an excuse to overthink - working through different scenarios until I end up exhausted. The solution requires a strong mindset and bags of determination. Get it done, move on to the next job.

6. Decision making deadlines
This is one I have found useful. The chief problem with decision making is the tendency to overthink. Letting my mind wander, exploring all the possible outcomes... Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it can be if I'm using it as an excuse for procrastination. So, I'll try now to set myself a time-limit. If it's a small decision, a minute or two. If it's a big one - till the end of the day.

7. Exercise
Why not go for a walk? The exercise will not only boost my health but can also help me organise my thoughts. Working out regularly can help arrange my time more efficiently, some say it can strengthen my will and determination. Hopefully one to try now the weather is improving...

8. Living in the now
Being content right now is a great thing to achieve. Like most people, I tend to worry about things that have already happened (dwelling on the past) or about the potential outcome of things that are going to happen (dwelling on the future). What is more valuable than living right now, in the present?

9. I can't change everything
My life isn't perfect. There are at least a hundred things in my life that I would change today, if I only had the power/ money/ resources to do it. But I can't. Trying to control everything isn’t going to work - in fact, it will hold you back. Thinking things through around fifty or sixty times isn't good, in fact it's a form of control obsession. Life is meant to be lived, not controlled or planned to the last detail. I need to work on changing one thing, then build upon it and move on to something else.

10. Don’t think of what can go wrong, but what can go right
What is the most likely outcome? If I persist in thinking about it, I'm just likely to make myself more anxious. Because I tend to dwell on the negative, rather than the positive. Too much negative thinking deprives me of the possibility of unleashing my true potential and daring to dream big. Not sure about this one...

11. Setting a physical boundary to work.
I rarely talk about my own work in this blog - however I'm just about to break that rule. This is so I can let know know that I work for The Salvation Army, which can cause difficulties as this is also my church. I need to explain this to show how difficult it can be to 'switch off' from work, when it's also an important part of your personal and social life. Setting boundaries between work and home can therefore be tricky, as demarkation lines get blurred all the time. Switching off is therefore terribly difficult because of this. So I need to set rules. I read recently of someone who set himself such a rule - he would stop thinking about work when he passed the bridge on his commute home. After that point, he couldn't think about work any longer. It's tough - but I'm going to have a go at this. Not sure how successful I'll be...

12. Ending the day better
It is surprisingly easy to get lost in TV or in social media right up to the time I need to go to bed. I know that isn't good for me - my mind keeps racing for a long time after my head hits the pillow. I've read research that shows TV or computer screen time immediately before bed interferes with sleep. Right, so off goes the computer, the phone goes on charge and I now pick up a good book to relax until my mind relaxes enough to allow me to rest. That also takes a while, so I leave half an hour to wind down at night...

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To end with, here's a great quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."

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