“Overthinking ruins you. It ruins the situation. And it twists things around. It makes you worry. Plus, it just makes everything worse than it actually is.” ~Karen Salmansohn
I grew up with parents who believed a kid shouldn’t have friends and should be indoors always. Because of that, I never had real friends in my childhood, except those I met in school and church.
Since my early teenage years, loneliness has been my forte, and I have learned to pay too much attention to details. When people talk, I look at them, how they react, their facial expressions, etc. I try to draw out details from the tiniest cues and put a lot of thought in them
Conversations, of course, are meant to be enjoyed; however, for me, that isn’t the case. During a discussion, I think of a million ways it could go wrong. I wonder what I’ll say next after I get a reply. And a slight change in a listener’s facial expressions makes me think I’m bothering them—they dislike me, I’m boring, I need to stop talking.
Having real friends has been difficult for me. I find it challenging to maintain a friendship for long. When I meet with someone for the first time and we both “connect,” I start fantasizing about how we might become everyday gist mates, lifetime buddies, and even in a romantic relationship (for ladies).
Sometimes, I get tired and want to stop overthinking, but it always seems impossible. The tiniest of details always want to be thought of and processed. And instead of taking action on what I think, I continue thinking about it.
So many opportunities have slipped through my fingers, making me not confident enough to take action. Except this one time I wanted to enroll in a writing competition. I tried every possible way to discourage myself from applying. I reminded myself of harsh critics and writing rejections I’ve faced in the past, but I never gave in to the voice. I tried to shut it up and applied for the competition—and I won.
I don’t think I’ll ever fully stop overthinking. I’ve accepted it as a part of me I have to live with, but I’ve also made great progress in getting past it.
If overthinking has affected your confidence and held you back as well, perhaps some of my techniques will help.
1. Acknowledge that you’re overthinking.
When overthinking starts ruining your mood or stops you from taking action, acknowledge it. Don’t beat yourself up or hate yourself for it.
If you’re anxious to do something because you’ve been obsessing about it, acknowledge that you’re afraid. When we acknowledge something, our brain has a way of providing solutions for us.
In fact, I started making real progress when I accepted myself as a big overthinker and this helped me love and accept myself instead of hating myself.
2. Declutter your mind regularly.
Decluttering your brain is the key to having a settled mind. You could speak to someone—it helps—or write down every thought running through your mind (my favorite technique to calm my mind).
If, for instance, someone offends you and you can’t get it off your mind, talk to them about it. If you’re obsessing about an interaction with someone you can’t talk to, journal about it. The goal is always to take action whenever possible instead of ruminating on things that are bothering or worrying you.
3. Don’t expect too much from people.
The truth is, people will disappoint you. And this will hurt you even more when you place high hopes on them.
To be on the safer side, don’t place so many expectations on people. People change; things happen, and people go back on their words.
If you expect that people will disappoint you sometimes, you’ll be less likely to overthink things when they do. Instead of wondering why it happened and if you did anything to contribute to the situation, or if you should have done something differently, you’ll simply accept that people often don’t keep their promises, and you don’t need to take it personally.
4. Work on developing self-confidence.
Most times, overthinking is caused by a lack of self-confidence.
There were times when I found it hard to connect with people. I believed I was a boring conversationalist, so whenever I was talking with someone, I’d always try hard to prove my belief wrong—sometimes unnaturally—to keep a pointless conversation going when I could end it.
If you aren’t confident in what you bring to the table, you will always overthink your way into believing it’s always your fault if a conversation or something doesn’t go as expected. So instead of telling yourself that you’re lacking in some way, work on believing in your worth, and this will help you question yourself less in difficult situations.
5. Know when to take a break.
During a stressful day, it’s normal to have a lot running through your mind.
Whenever you start worrying about mistakes you’ve made with other people or find the thoughts in your head feel overwhelming, take a break. Take nap, take a walk, practice deep breathing, or do an activity you enjoy to help you get out of your head.
6. Resist the urge to impress people.
Most overthinkers have a strong urge to impress and please other people. When in a conversation, they may carefully pick their words, and then obsess about whether they’ve said anything stupid or wrong.
That said, a friendship based on trying to impress or please another person will be one-sided and may not last.
People don’t want to feel like they’re being worshipped in a friendship. They want to know the real you—both the exciting and boring parts of you—so it turns them off when you make a conversation about them alone.
When talking with people, say what you mean in the way you want to say it and trust that the right people won’t pick apart everything you say and will actually appreciate you for being you.
7. Accept that you can’t be friends with everyone.
Even as you try to make friends, you should know that not everyone will like you.
You may try hard to make someone acknowledge you and be friends, but you won’t click with everyone, and you don’t have to overthink it.
You aren’t meant for everyone, so if someone disrespects or ignores you, it isn’t your fault. You have to find people who like you and let go of the ones who don’t.
8. Enjoy the moment and try not to think about tomorrow.
In all you do, make sure you’re present in it. You can’t be in two places at the same time. In the same way, you can’t expect to enjoy the present if you worry too much about the past and future.
Make it a rule to always be in the moment, focusing on the people right in front of you. If you let yourself be fully in the moment with them, you’ll worry a lot less about what they’re thinking of you (and about everything else, for that matter).
Ever since I started practicing all I mentioned above, I’ve been happier in life than ever before. Making friends with people and holding conversations has become much easier for me.
I failed many times when trying to rewire my brain, but I never gave in. I made the end goal, to make good friends and enjoy life as much as possible, my mantra. Now I overthink a lot less and connect with people more, and I believe you can do it, too!
About Taiwo Alade
Taiwo Alade is a writer and UX Designer. His passion lies in writing, and he’s interested in influencing people’s life experiences through actionable advice in his writeups. He believes the world can be a better place if we look out for other people, and he’s been doing that with his articles.