I’m an overthinker. Something as simple as choosing a seat in a restaurant is overwhelming. I’m constantly thinking about every possible outcome of any decision that lies before me, and every variable of decisions that would come from that those outcomes.
This overkill of analysis can be paralyzing.
Suddenly, none of the options before you seem like the right one and you find yourself unable to make the simplest of choices. It’s what causes you to spend two hours adding movies to your Netflix cue, only to rewatch something you’ve seen dozens of times. It’s what makes questions like “What do you want for dinner?” unbearable. And it’s just as frustrating for us as it is for the people who have to witness it.
Something as small as deciding what to eat at a restaurant becomes an internal debate. You want to try something new, but you don’t want to waste money on something you don’t like. Sure, that steak might be good, but that sauce may not be as good as you think. You’d better order those chicken nuggets instead.
Of course, this habit of picking the safe option bleeds into the bigger decisions. You stay at the job you hate because it’s all you know. You put up with mistreatment because standing up for yourself could backfire. Moving to a new city gets put on the backburner. Asking for a raise or trying a new hobby remain passing thoughts. Success and failure both seem terrifying, so you just keep choosing the metaphorical chicken nuggets.
Ultimately, we are robbing ourselves of happiness by thinking too much about things that don’t matter.
In my “Instruments of Life” romance series, the main character, Maggie, is also an over thinker. As I watch her learn to relax and trust her gut, I find myself growing along with her. Taking calculated risks is definitely the only way to find success in whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. Coupled with mindfulness techniques, you can absolutely learn to silence the endless questions and analysis and make decisions with a clear head.
It seems to me that with any decision we face, there are three options.
1. Go with the safe option. This is often wrapped up in the decision to do nothing at all. Sometimes this is the best decision, but we must make sure it’s not chosen purely out of fear.
2. Allow someone else to choose for us. Either through inaction (not asking for a raise) or explicitly asking someone else to make the call, we often stunt ourselves or settle for something we don’t want out of fear. Again, sometimes we need that push from others to expand our horizons, but we must ask ourselves if this is what we truly want. Do you really not care where you eat? Or are you afraid of picking something the other person won’t like?
3. Take the reigns ourselves.
Obviously, we want to take control ourselves. That’s why we run over all the angles in our minds until all the options seem terrible. Overthinking allows us to think we have a little control. We tell ourselves we are trying to make an informed decision, while blocking ourselves into inaction.
So, how do we break free from this cycle?
You don’t have to make giant leaps right away. Maybe you start with ordering something unusual from a favorite restaurant, or you take a different route home from work. Shake up your rut a little bit and get used to getting out of the safe zone. Then move on to bigger decisions. Answer honestly when someone asks where you want to go. Choose the movie. Once you get more comfortable with this, you can apply these decision making skills to bigger quandaries.
Slow down and breathe
Give yourself a moment to think about what you really want and figure out if this is something that needs to be decided right now. Clear your head so you can focus on the task at hand.
Know when to distract yourself
Obviously, distraction shouldn’t be your go-to move, but it can be useful. If you’re anxious about a decision and it doesn’t need to be decided right this minute, find something else to focus on. You may find that after your brain gets a little break you’re able to figure it out. Just don’t distract yourself to the point where you don’t make any decisions at all!
Ask yourself some questions.
How big of a decision is this really? Anxiety can make even the smallest decisions seem insurmountable. Think about it in the grand scheme of things. Does your decision really matter in the long run? What’s the worst that can happen if you choose either option? Is the worst really that bad? What do you stand to gain from choosing ___________? Is it better than not doing __________? Instead of bouncing around from possible outcome to possible outcome, think about the reality of those outcomes.
Put on the breaks.
All those questions can turn into an endless loop if you let them. Tell yourself firmly to stop the line of questioning once they’ve all been answered. Going over them repetively isn’t going to get you anywhere. Quiet your mind once more and make a choice.
Stick by your decision!
Don’t scare yourself out of doing what you know in your heart to be best. Follow through with it. A note here, while I wouldn’t suggest easily letting others talk you out of something, if someone presents a fact you hadn’t thought of, take it into consideration. Ultimately, though, your choice must come from you, no matter how big or how small.
Practice, practice, practice!
Like any skill, you can’t expect to master this overnight. In fact, I would be lying if I said that I am anywhere near perfect myself. I still have moments where I can’t make up my mind to save my soul. I still worry over the same decisions and get nowhere. However, I find myself getting better and better as time goes on.
In the end, you have to decide you want to control your life. And it all starts by making decisions.