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October 3, 2017

Buddhism on Overthinking—& how to Stop it.

Thinking about our problems is natural—how else would we solve them?

Thinking is a normal activity of the brain, yet, oftentimes, we cross the limit of “normal” thinking. We think about something too much, which causes us to neglect other areas that need our attention. When our energy is consumed by one problem, we become less productive and more drained.

This is what is known as “overthinking.” Overthinking is not natural and entirely man-made. It is our choice to make things less or more complicated. When we overthink, we complicate the situation more than it might already be.

We might overthink a decision that we made, a problem we want to solve, a past situation, or we might simply be worried about the future. No matter what the problem is, overthinking stops us from taking action.

The Buddhist teachings I’ve been studying explain that overthinking drains our energy and makes us unhappy. It keeps us stuck in a loop, which prevents us from finding any proper solution.

As Jiddu Krishnamurti says, “The more and more you analyze, the less and less you understand.” When we overthink, we assume that we are headed to a solution, but the truth is, we only obscure it more.

Solutions require answers. But, instead of finding them, we focus our attention on questions, such as:

“Why did this happen?”
“What if this happens?”
“What might happen?”

Getting out of this vicious cycle appears to be difficult but it’s not impossible. Buddhists believe that the more we learn to deal with our minds, the less we become overthinkers.

Buddhists advise that we need to recognize the beginning of overthinking. At times, it’s difficult to judge when we start overthinking. The first sign is that we become lost in thought. When the phone rings, someone tries to get our attention, or we hear a noise, we flinch and most likely feel irritated by being disrupted.

Second, the moment we feel drained from being so absorbed in our thoughts is the moment we can tell that overthinking has started to consume us. We might suffer from a headache, become tired, or simply feel unhappy.

The teachings of Buddhism explain that once we realize we are overthinking, we need to understand the nature of what is happening. Overthinking is foolish and it’s our own creation. We should reflect on the times we overthought and try to comprehend that it led nowhere.

To eradicate overthinking, we need to see whether our mind is generating solutions or more problems. If we’re stuck in a loop of questions, we should try to shift it to a resolution. Focus only on the parts that matter.

If we do get stuck in questions or doubts, observe how consuming it is. Watch how you become drained after overthinking and how you’ve generated zero solutions during the process. We must be able to discern the negative patterns that we create through overthinking.

Another solution I learned in my Buddhist studies is to practice meditation, because it helps us to focus. Breathing exercises sharpen our minds and decrease anxiety. Whenever you catch yourself overthinking, do some breathing exercises to ground yourself. Meditating for 15 minutes daily can impact the way we deal with our minds. The purpose of meditation is to learn to watch the thoughts without clinging to them or indulging them.

Moreover, Buddhists advise us to look at the actual facts—at reality itself—and not at the insubstantial thoughts that we create. When we look at the facts, we gain a better understanding of what is happening. Once we understand the reality of things, we can find the solutions more easily.

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Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Instagram/Elyane Youssef
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman

Elyane Youssef

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