How Overthinking Can Be Used To Your Advantage
Wait just one second! How can overthinking actually be used to our advantage? There’s no way the constant stream of thoughts flooding your mind could be helpful, is there?
If you’ve ever experienced the irritation of overthinking you know how frustrating a situation it is to find yourself in. When caught in the middle of uncontrollable thinking, it’s easy to grow paralyzed by the anxiety and fear which overwhelms you.
However, as you’ll learn in this article, not all overthinking is bad. In fact, the process of overthinking itself is not to be blamed. Rather, the trouble lies in what sorts of thoughts you find running through your mind.
If you were to control the thoughts in your head, overthinking would no longer be something to fear. That’s exactly what will be uncovered by the end of this article.
With this knowledge comes incredible power, such that you will no longer find yourself stuck in the evil cycle of overthinking.
What Do We Mean By Overthinking?
I used to be quick to say I was an overthinker back in high school and college. No matter what aspect of my life was involved, thinking too much often played a negative role.
One of my favorite times to utilize overthinking as an excuse was after a bad baseball game. Following a performance where I didn’t hit very well, or made a few errors, my go to saying would be “I was overthinking.”
Runaway thoughts filled my head at the plate, in the dugout, and while playing third base. There was no escaping them, resulting in the game not turning out in my favor.
But what exactly was I referring to during this experience? When you find yourself in a similar situation where overthinking occurs, what actually is going on?
Thinking too much is an easy excuse for any of us to use. That’s what I meant when I would say my performance was negatively impacted by overthinking.
Do you also find yourself thinking too much? If so, let me ask you this, is it really that you’re thinking too much, or are you simply thinking too much about the wrong things?
In terms of overthinking, I have realized it’s not the fact that so many thoughts are filling our minds which results in trouble. The true impact results from far too many negative thoughts running through our heads, uncontrolled.
"Do you also find yourself thinking too much? If so, let me ask you this, is it really that you’re thinking too much, or are you simply thinking too much about the wrong things?"
We’re Thinking About All The Wrong Things
We really should recoin the term overthinking and use something like: improper negative thinking or poorly focused thinking instead.
Those don’t exactly roll off the tongue as easily though, which is why overthinking has been the term that’s stuck. But as we just learned, it’s not necessarily the processes of thinking that are negatively impacting your life and performance.
What’s truly to blame is thinking about all the wrong things!
I want you to imagine playing your sport and having your mind filled with positive uplifting thoughts. All that crosses the canvas of your mind are scenes of you succeeding. The only voice you hear is the one telling you how great you are.
If this was the case, do you think you’d be so concerned about overthinking?
Probably not! In fact, I’d guess you’d search for ways to experience more of this thinking. That’s because thoughts have a direct influence on the way you feel. By filling your head with positive thoughts, your emotional state will mirror that.
The reason it’s important to understand overthinking is not the problem, but focusing on the wrong areas is, has to do with fear.
Believing that thoughts themselves are the problem leads to us growing fearful of our own thinking.
Let me tell you a secret…you can’t run away from your thoughts, so there’s no use fearing them.
By accepting poor focus and negative thoughts are the real problem, you reduce such fear. You should not be afraid of your own thinking, but instead realize how wonderful it will be once you gain the power to choose what you think.
That’s exactly how overthinking can and will be used to your advantage. Before diving into how you can take back control of your thoughts, let’s examine just how impactful overthinking is on your life and performances.
Negative Impact of Overthinking
Uncontrollable thinking has a direct negative impact on many areas of your life. As an athlete or performer, this is not a situation you wish to find yourself in.
I have been in the midst of overthinking, with my mind consumed with terrible thoughts and I can tell you, there was little positive to be found in such an experience.
When our heads are filled with thoughts that we just can’t seem to free ourselves from, our emotional state and level of play will drastically drop. There are four main reasons as to why this happens: increased anxiety, indecision, low confidence, and perfectionism.
Overthinking Your Way to Anxiety
One of the main reasons overthinking negatively impacts your performance is the anxiety it induces. Anxiety is fueled by your mind drifting into the future.
When you’re anxious, what kinds of thoughts are filling your head? You’re probably thinking about what all could go wrong. That’s what I mean by your mind drifting into the future, it is consumed with outcome-oriented thinking.
Overthinking is often centered around these very same thoughts.
I used to overthink what would happen if I were to mess up, or what would happen if I looked nervous. All this thinking does is fuel further feelings of anxiety, resulting in even worse overthinking.
It’s a vicious cycle to find yourself in, all because of an uncontrollable mind.
"When you’re anxious, what kinds of thoughts are filling your head? You’re probably thinking about what all could go wrong. That’s what I mean by your mind drifting into the future, it is consumed with outcome-oriented thinking."
Overthinking Leads to Indecision
Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to make a decision? Of course you have! We all have found ourselves tasked with such responsibility at some point or another.
Let’s get a little more specific, though. Does your sport require you to make quick decisions? The answer is likely once again yes. Arguably all sports require on the spot decision making.
Being a good decision maker will subsequently make you a better player. However, overthinking often has the opposite effect, leaving us paralyzed by indecision.
So many different thoughts and possible outcomes rush into your head, leaving the possibility of making a split-second decision a passing wish.
Even when you feel as though a choice has been made, your free-flowing thoughts come barreling back in. Now you find yourself back at square one, confused, indecisive, and left wondering if you’ll ever be able to make a decision.
Low Confidence Is Fueled by Overthinking
High self-confidence has tremendous benefits on all areas of your life. Likewise, low self-confidence results in many unwanted consequences.
One such consequence is lower levels of performance. Believing in yourself puts you a step ahead of the competition. Displaying high confidence and trust in your abilities allows you to perform freely and naturally.
Though, the low confidence resulting from overthinking ultimately leaves you frustrated at the fact you find yourself once again performing below your potential.
But just how does thinking too much lead to low confidence?
Well, it all has to do with the way we defined overthinking. You are thinking about all the wrong things, including what could go wrong, how badly you previously performed, how intimidating the other team looks, and so on.
With all this running through your head, do you think self-belief and confidence in your skills will come easily. No, there will be little hope for you to exhibit high self-confidence when overthinking takes place.
Overthinking Is A Perfectionists Best Friend
Perfectionism is defined as the need to be and appear perfect. As a perfectionist, the sad truth is, you will never feel perfect. In fact, you understand this so much that after each performance, you immediately seek areas you can improve upon.
There are many ways perfectionism can form, but a key reason it sticks around is the uncontrollable thoughts that stem from overthinking.
After a performance, you begin to think too much. Every little movement and every second of the game is analyzed, sifting through to pinpoint what you did wrong.
If you were to have better control of where you placed your focus, perfectionism would not have as much room to thrive.
However, if you have little control over the functions of your mind, overthinking will take place. As a result, over-analyzing will take place, leading to the solidification of perfectionism within yourself.
Using Overthinking To Your Advantage
Now that you understand the negative consequences overthinking has on your life and performances, it’s time to reframe the way you view this term.
No longer does overthinking need to be seen in a negative light, leading to fear surrounding your own thoughts. If only the thoughts within your mind were geared towards positivity and building confidence, thinking too much would no longer be a problem.
The question is, how do you gain such control? We all hold the power to determine the thoughts and scenes our minds compose. However, it’s not an easy task. Runaway thoughts can make it seem like your thinking happens to you rather than for you.
I want to change that! No longer should you be at the mercy of your thoughts. With these steps I am about to show you, the power will be back within your grasp to dictate the thought patterns present within your mind.
"The question is, how do you gain such control? We all hold the power to determine the thoughts and scenes our minds compose. However, it’s not an easy task. Runaway thoughts can make it seem like your thinking happens to you rather than for you."
Become More Aware of Your Thoughts
The first step in taking back control of your mind is knowledge. You must seek to understand the thought processes you currently exhibit. If you find yourself holding onto the belief thinking too much is bad, you’ve probably spent a lot of time trying to force thoughts out of your head.
I used to try my hardest to pretend like thoughts were not there. As if what was going on in my head wasn’t happening. This results in suppressed thoughts which lead to a much worse situation for yourself in the future.
It’s time to stop running from your thoughts, pretending as if they don’t exist, and come face to face with them. Yes, this can be scary and often uncomfortable, but through the process of awareness you put yourself in a position of control.
There are multiple ways you can go about cultivating more awareness of your thoughts. However, my favorite and most highly recommended is mindfulness meditation.
Developing Awareness Through Mindfulness
When you meditate, all your attention is brought to the present moment (or at least that’s what you’re striving to do). The more you refocus your attention onto the now, the higher your awareness will grow.
As you begin to practice mindfulness, all sorts of thoughts will rush into your mind. Do not fear these and do not think you are meditating wrong! You want this to happen!!
The beautiful part of meditation is the quiet state you achieve. It’s you and your thoughts, no other interference around. This forces you to own up to what’s going on within your mind.
Through a mindfulness mediation practice, you will learn to observe your thoughts and not become attached to each one. From here, the awareness you gain places you in a phenomenal position to actually choose your thoughts moving forward.
If you want to learn more about how you can start your own mindfulness meditation practice, read this in-depth article that shows you step by step how to do so.
"Through a mindfulness mediation practice, you will learn to observe your thoughts and not become attached to each one. From here, the awareness you gain places you in a phenomenal position to actually choose your thoughts moving forward."
Master The Thoughts In Your Head
Awareness is only as beneficial as the steps you take afterwards. Understanding the thoughts taking up residence in your mind will serve no purpose if you do not use this information to enact positive change.
Overthinking is only an issue when you are thinking too much about the wrong things. So, what if you could learn to master the thoughts within your head? That would mean thinking too much would no longer be a problem.
Even if you were to overthink again, the control you’ve gained means the overthinking will be centered around the thoughts you choose. But this takes work. Mastering your thoughts is not complicated but does require consistency.
The best way to master your thoughts is performing cognitive restructuring. You can read a more detailed article on cognitive restructuring here, but this is what the steps will look like:
- Step 1: Locate Thought Patterns: Here you will write down all the positive and negative thoughts currently filling your head.
- Step 2: Generate Alternatives: Now you want to come up with a list of positive alternatives for all the negative self-talk you’ve identified.
- Step 3: Utilize Affirmations: With your new alternatives you’ve created, begin repeating them to yourself daily to reframe the way you think.
Choose Where You Place Your Focus
The previous two steps are an ongoing process. You want to continually be practicing mindfulness to strengthen the awareness you have of your thoughts.
Repeating affirmations to yourself only works if it’s something you do diligently on a daily basis. These are both incredibly powerful tools at helping you gain mastery over your mind.
For the final step, I want to introduce an idea that will help you in the moment when you’re finding overthinking to be a negative impact on your life.
Let’s say you’re in the middle of a game for example. What can you do to eliminate the inevitable decline in performance that is to result from you thinking too much?
The fastest reprieve that can be obtained is shifting your focus.
I’m going to prelude by saying this is by no means easy to do. So, if you try it out and struggle, don’t worry. It will take time to master this, but you’re already one step closer simply by attempting to change your focus in the moment.
When your mind begins running wild, filling up with all sorts of negative thoughts, what you need to do is shift your attention from these thoughts and back onto the present moment.
Here are some great places to turn your focus to in the moment:
- Your breath.
- The process: the specific movements you are doing.
- A past memory of success.
- A happy memory of a place that makes you feel relaxed.
- The physical sensations of the wind or air on your body.
- A nearby sound.
The point is you want to shift your focus onto the present moment. By doing so, your attention will be altered, and overthinking will fade away.
Overthinking itself is not necessarily bad. Where trouble lies is thinking too much about the wrong things. That’s where low confidence, anxiety, perfectionism, and indecision thrive.
To turn the process of overthinking from a hinderance to an advantage, you must gain control of your mind. The first place to start is mastering your own thinking.
However, no such mastery can be gained if you continue to run and hide from your thoughts. Face them head on, gaining more awareness and understanding of yourself.
From there, put into practice a self-talk routine aimed at altering the natural process of thinking present within your mind.
Lastly, in the moment where overthinking takes place, try your best to shift your attention. Remember, you are in control of where you place your focus and the thoughts living in your head.
Do you struggle with overthinking? Let me know in the comments below.
Cognitive restricting and gaining mastery over your mind can be a difficult task on your own. That’s why seeking help is so beneficial. If you would like a tailored approach to gaining mastery over your mind, learn how mental performance coaching can help.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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