Do you overthink?
You are not alone.
For example, this study found that a staggering 73 percent of young adults tend to overthink. 73 percent!
And even if the study was not accurate, I’m sure you can think of quite a few people who, like you, tend to overthink everything.
The good news is that although overthinking is some kind of epidemic, you do have the skills to stop it, and learn to deal with your thoughts so they don’t interfere with everything you do.
There are many techniques to do so, including meditation, cognitive defusion, and therapy itself.
But today we’ll have a look at journaling, which is easy, free, and relatively effortless. And still powerful.
How journaling helps with overthinking
Journaling is a practice that helps you improve your mental health in general, not just overthinking.
By writing down your thoughts (rather than trying to analyze them in your own mind, which can be tricky), three amazing things happen:
- You realize your thoughts and your mind are not you
- Your thoughts become clear; you become aware of them
- As you become aware of them, they tend to disappear
Basically, journaling helps you look at the scary mass of thoughts in your head. It turns you into an observer, rather than a victim of your thoughts.
When you observe your thoughts, you automatically have more power. You are no longer controlled by them.
And when it comes to overthinking, journaling has an extra benefit — it forces your mind to stop ruminating, and instead focus on the writing.
Although it’s not exactly hard work, journaling does require attention and focus, and when you’re focused you don’t really have time to overthink.
Don’t always trust your mind
What if your mind was just plain wrong?
This is one of the keys to stop overthinking, and you’ll find that some of the journal prompts below are designed to help you realize this concept.
I’ve written it in previous posts, and I’ll write it again here: sometimes your mind can be your worst enemy.
This applies to almost everyone. And those with an above-average IQ, or higher intelligence in general, are not immune.
In fact, a higher intelligence and ability to think deeply seems to only make this worse — in other words, intelligent people seem to be more likely to overthink.
The truth is that some of your thoughts are helpful, and some aren’t. And your goal is to give energy to helpful thoughts, and identify and ignore, or challenge, unhelpful ones.
Your goal is to use your mind rather than be used by it.
Journal prompts to help you stop overthinking
Here are fifteen prompts that can help you stop overthinking, so feel free to use those that resonate with you.
But remember, you want to write those down, and actually come up with answers, and write those down as well.
Don’t just read the questions, and answer them in your head — it won’t be as effective.
If you’d like to share your own questions or prompt, please do so by leaving a comment at the end of the post.
1. What’s important now?
Sometimes we exaggerate things in our own mind. Like, the most trivial, insignificant, unimportant thing becomes a priority and all of a sudden we find ourselves worrying about it.
And the worst part is, this can be very convincing. Your mind can come up with reasons as to why you should be worrying about that thing you said to a friend, or that little mistake, whatever.
So start by asking: what’s actually important right now? What is your priority? What should I focusing on? Keep in mind, this could be your own wellbeing and mental health. It doesn’t need to be a task.
2. How much time/energy do I waste when I overthink?
It’s easier to get rid of a bad habit if you look at it and work out the amount of resources that you waste because of it. For example, you may have a bad habit that’s costing you money, or that puts your reputation or health at risk.
When it comes to overthinking, you want to be aware of the immense amount of energy and time that it consumes. Once you become aware of it, I guarantee it’ll be easier to eliminate it.
Pay attention to your own thoughts and behavior every time you overthink, and feel free to try and track your time/mood. For example, you could write down that yesterday you spent over an hour overthinking, and that you felt worse afterwards.
3. Why are mistakes necessary?
Since we were little, probably too little to even remember, we have been conditioned to hate mistakes. We have been told mistakes are bad, and that we should do our best to avoid them as much as possible.
Now, on a surface level, this makes perfect sense. In practice, it can prevent you from living life to the fullest. It can also make you think way too much, and way too often.
Perhaps mistakes aren’t that bad. Perhaps it’s okay to be vulnerable, and it’s okay not to control everything in your life. This journal prompt in particular forces you to come up with reasons as to why mistakes can be not only acceptable, but necessary.
4. What have I learned from past mistakes?
Can’t think of any reason (I’m referring to the previous prompt)? Then think of your own life. Because I’m sure some of your past mistakes were blessings in disguise, and somehow helped you grow as a person.
Again, the goal is to understand that mistakes shouldn’t be so intimidating. And that gives you the power to stop the incessant thinking; that gives you permission to let go, to ditch perfectionism and the thought of getting things right all the time.
5. If I didn’t overthink, what would happen?
Seriously, have you ever thought about this? Chances are you haven’t. So take your time and imagine a life in which overthinking just doesn’t exist.
Or, a life in which problems or issues that you’re dealing with don’t actually require you to spend hours and hours agonizing over them.
Spoiler alert — if you stopped thinking so much, either your life wouldn’t change at all, or it would change for the better, at least in the sense that your mental health would be better. When you realize overthinking doesn’t do much for you, it’s easier to get rid of it.
6. Are my thoughts always accurate/helpful?
The answer is a clear no, but your mind doesn’t want you to know. Your mind/ego is like an entity on its own, and is terrified of being wrong. So we rarely consider that there is, in fact, a chance that our thoughts are just plain wrong.
Tip: to answer this question/prompt, you can think of a situation in the past where you were totally convinced of an idea, thought, or intuition which then turned out to be false or inaccurate. I’m sure you can think of a few.
7. Would it be better to just flip a coin?
Let’s say your overthinking originates from the inability to make a decision. Naturally, you assume this is a very important decision. You also assume that if you have, say, two options, option A will have a completely different outcome compared to option B.
But this isn’t always true. For example, it may be that the two potential outcomes are actually similar; it may be that whatever your decision is, it won’t make much of a difference. In which case you shouldn’t be spending all this time trying to decide.
8. Do I even deserve to think that much?
There is an interesting way of looking at things, which is purely based on how you feel and what you think is right for you. It sounds like oversimplifying, but it’s not.
Instead of looking at an issue and asking whether it’s good or bad, right or wrong, easy or difficult, etc. you simply ask whether you deserve that thing or not. Because if you don’t, chances are you’re not dealing with an actual problem, but something that was created by your mind.
So ask: do I deserve to spend all this time, all this energy, all my attention on an endless stream of thoughts that don’t even help me? Take time, and really think about this. And you’ll find that ultimately overthinking is something you don’t deserve to experience.
9. Is there a chance I could be wrong?
In my article about cognitive defusion I have explained that sometimes the best strategy isn’t to try and eliminate negative or anxious thoughts, but to simply ignore them, or challenge them.
So whenever you find yourself overthinking, challenge those thoughts. Write down the thoughts that are bothering you and then ask: is there a chance these thoughts are inaccurate, or just plain nonsense? Remember, your mind doesn’t usually consider the possibility of being wrong.
10. If my past didn’t exist, what would I do?
Most of us (subconsciously) choose to identify with their past. Naturally, this creates all sorts of issues, particularly mental health issues, including overthinking. Because life is about becoming, not just being; and the person you are today isn’t your old self.
The tenth journal prompt to help you stop overthinking is: what if the past did not exist? What if you were able to forget the past and realize that your identity is… whatever you want it to be? That’s a liberating experience — you are no longer controlled by your old self, or your old circumstances.
11. How do I feel when I overthink?
Since overthinking isn’t a natural state of being, you’ll find that whenever it happens, your mood changes. Not only that, it probably affects your body as well — things like your posture and energy levels.
Once you recognize the negative “side effects” of overthinking, it’ll be easier to silence your mind. Ideally, you want to be able to spot your overthinking as soon as it begins, so you can stop it before those thoughts become bigger and bigger.
The longer you wait, the harder it’ll be to get rid of them; your mind will come up with reasons as to why you must spend all this time thinking.
12. How do I feel where I am in the here and now?
You’ve learned that overthinking is bad for both your mind and body. Now focus on the opposite state — the state of the here and now, the state of thoughtlessness. That’s a natural state.
How do you feel when you stop thinking? Is it empowering? Liberating? Do you feel that you have more energy, or more clarity, when your mind is quiet? Are you able to relax fully?
13. Has overthinking ever helped me?
Another interesting exercise is to remember the last, say, three times you kept thinking and thinking about an issue, and whether that behavior actually helped you in any way.
You may find that although once in while it does help to carefully think about an issue, or decision — most of the time it’s nothing but a waste of energy. And you want to get rid of any useless behavior or habit that consumes your energy.
14. Are there things I cannot control?
When you know you can’t control most things in life, it’s easier to let go. When you let go, it’s easier to stop overthinking. Simple as that.
This journal prompt helps you realize that no matter how intelligent or resourceful you are, you are not supposed to control everything in your life. This goes beyond things like politics, or the weather — it’s life itself, really.
We like to think we are able to change and control things. We like to think we are powerful. But most of the time we are powerless. And it can be a good thing — powerlessness means no responsibility, no need to control things, no overthinking.
15. When do I usually overthink?
This last journal prompt will help you realize that, just like episodes of intense anger, or sadness, or panic — overthinking also tends to be caused by certain triggers.
Those triggers are different for each of us. It could be that you tend to overthink when you are tired; or at a certain time of the day; or whenever you are dealing with criticism.
Write down those triggers, because it’ll help you be more aware of how your mind reacts to things. The higher the awareness, the easier it is to respond, rather than react.