How overthinking kills your happiness
How overthinking kills your happiness

Kitty videos, motivational quotes, and rocky road ice cream — not even the world's best mood lifters can stop an overthinking mind.

You know who you are. Once the overthinking train hits the rails, it builds momentum, and it's hard to stop. Continual self-analysis and mental scenario replays become commonplace. The what-ifs and whys rattle in your head until you've exhausted all likely worst-case scenarios.

While thinking deeply about a topic can aid your professional life, overthinking can potentially squash your productivity, stifle your creativity, and exhaust your problem-solving capabilities. The end result? A loss of happiness.

We've got good news, though. Overthinkers may also be deeply observant, detail-oriented, and wonderfully empathetic — traits that any team or organization would proudly welcome. So if you want to stop overthinking and wield your deep-thinking superpowers for good, read on. You'll love what we've got coming next!

Am I an overthinker? Why is overthinking killing my happiness?

Are you an overthinker?

Let's say one of the following situations happen to you:

  • A potential client (you feel is out of your league) requests a pitch.

  • A coworker emails you that they want to talk, and it sounds serious.

  • A colleague replies to you in a way that makes you question their motives.

  • A new friend cancels your engagement for the second time.

  • You sent an email you wish you hadn't, and it mentioned something you wanted to keep private.

What goes through your mind when these situations occur?

Do you replay past events in your head over and over? Are you predicting potentially harmful outcomes? Do you lament over "what ifs" and "whys" and how to prepare for a potentially damaging situation?

If any of these sound familiar, you could be an overthinker.

Circle back to when you last contemplated a thought so much that it had you playing out scenarios and wondering what could have been if you had acted differently. Were you conjuring up feelings of happiness during your contemplation? Likely not.

An overthinking mind tends to focus on the negative, sabotaging happy thoughts and keeping your mind in a constant state of negativity. When your happiness wanes, it significantly impacts your mental health and productivity. This can affect your decisions, your problem-solving capabilities, and how you relate to others in a work environment.

It doesn't just kill happiness, though. Overthinking also has the following impacts.

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Kills your creativity

Overthinking can stifle creativity.

According to Psychology Today: "Previous research from Stanford University found that 'overthinking' as marked by too much activity in the prefrontal cortex reduced creative capacity."

Psychology Today also noted that in another 2015 study on creativity by Manish Saggar and Stanford colleagues, the researchers found that keeping the executive control centers of the prefrontal cortex in high gear by fastidiously overthinking a problem hindered creativity.

Robs your time and productivity

Let's face it, overthinking is a time suck. Your mind gets stuck lamenting over past regrets or future doom predictions, and you forget about the present.

Productivity also takes a hit. Ruminating on past and potential future events and forgetting about the present keeps you stuck in a time-wasting thought loop. The result is decreased productivity and neglect of priorities and desired outcomes.

Magnifies problems and dampens problem-solving capabilities

Overthinking magnifies problems and creates fear, doubt, regret, and confusion.

When you're experiencing negative emotions, it hinders your problem-solving abilities because you're focusing more on the problem than coming up with a solution.

Misses opportunities

When you spiral into negativity, it can trap you into adopting a victim mentality that blames others. When you focus on everything negative that has happened to you, you can miss opportunities that might be staring you in the face.

If you've ever wondered where the last hour went and found yourself deep in thought, you know that overthinking can take your time without giving you much positive in return. But, we have good news — read on…

Overthinking is toxic, deep thinking is not

If you're an overthinker, it's also possible you're a deep thinker who just gets stuck in a spiraling thought process.

According to cognitive neuroscientist Dr Caroline Leaf, "Deep thinking is really like a 'mental autopsy'; it’s very deliberate, controlled, intentional, systematic, and rational. It is not emotionally-driven, chaotic, illogical, assumptive, and it is not driven by a sense of victimization. Deep thinking looks for a solution and closure, whereas overthinking is chaotic, with no solution or end in sight."

How can you tell if you're entering rumination instead of just deep thinking? Let's take a look at the differences between deep thinking and overthinking.

Let's take a look at these opposing traits in more detail:

Overthinking: Irrational
You can't focus on problem-solving because your thoughts contemplate negative outcomes based on non-factual events.

Deep thinking: Intentional
You're focusing on a subject with problem-solving intentions based on current reality to produce a positive outcome.

Overthinking: Emotionally driven
You're overwhelmed with negative emotions that might come from fantastical thoughts.

Deep thinking: Logically driven
You might be feeling negative emotions about a situation, but you're keeping your thought process grounded and focused on logic and problem-solving.

Overthinking: Victim
You think life happens to you, and you have no control over it.

Deep thinking: Empowered
You think your decisions and thoughts create your life, and you have direct control over your life and its outcomes.

Overthinking: Assumptive
You ruminate on scenarios and people's perceptions of you that are not backed by real conversations or situations.

Deep thinking: Truth-backed
Your thoughts are driven by ongoing communication and data based on real conversations and situations.

Overthinking: Chaotic
Your thoughts are chaotic, and you feel like they are taking control of your mind.

Deep thinking: Balanced
You think deeply about situations, but your thoughts are balanced and controlled.

Overthinking: Problem-driven
You're focusing intensely on the problem and the potentially disastrous outcomes.

Deep thinking: Solution-driven
You're focusing intensely on the solution and how to resolve it to produce positive outcomes.

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How to calm your overthinking mind and make it your superpower

As a past overthinker myself, I realize that when your mind starts going, it can take on a life of its own and cause you to feel out of control. But trust me, you have more power than you think.

This section will cover tips on how to resolve workplace (and personal) overthinking so that it doesn't steal your happiness and negatively affect your life. You'll also see that deep thinking (as opposed to overthinking) can actually be your superpower — once you know how to calm your mind and use your powers for good.

Stop and circumvent your thoughts

You face an uncomfortable professional or personal situation. Self-doubt creeps in and your thoughts start to spiral out of control. Know that you have the power to stop it and shift to a different thought in the present moment, even if it feels too overwhelming. Once you change your thoughts, you can handle the situation and feel more control.

Circumvent the thought spiral with neutral or positive thoughts.

What are positive or neutral thoughts? Don't overthink how to come up with a thought to help you stop overthinking! It's pretty uncomplicated and straightforward. It can be anything from cuddling puppies and kitties to surfing in Hawaii's epic waves.

It can even be something more neutral, like a focal point in your home (a painting or piece of furniture you like) or a food you enjoy (grab a taco!). If needed, call a trusted friend and discuss positivity.

You don't even have to feel positive and happy as you're practicing — you might even feel strange at first. Just keep circumventing your thoughts and changing your state, and it will get easier over time.

Practice self-awareness

You're always thinking; you're just not aware of it. When you feel triggered emotionally, practice examining your thoughts when a workplace situation occurs.

Are you:

  • Feeling like a victim and sorry for yourself?

  • Feeling angry towards others?

  • Feeling afraid of bad future scenarios?

  • Stressed about the situation?

  • Overanalyzing the past and predicting the future?

As you recognize these behaviors, you can more easily control them and replace them with thoughts that shift your emotional state and bring about positive outcomes. In other words, use your extraordinary deep-thinking powers for good.

Replace these thought patterns with:

  • Predictions of positive outcomes

  • Opposing thoughts that break downward negative spirals

  • Peaceful thoughts toward others

  • Accepting that you can't change the past

Sure, it might sound easier said than done, but small steps will lead to better outcomes. One way to keep accountable is to make a habit of examining your thoughts. This article discusses how to create new habits using our recommended habit trackers.

Ask first; assume later

Did you have an altercation with a colleague? Before you assume the worst, approach the other person first. Ask questions to uncover the truth before making judgments so you can avoid misunderstandings.

Shift your "what if" statements

A colleague requested a serious 1:1 meeting with you. What was your first thought?

Overthinkers tend to contemplate what-if scenarios, and 9 times out of 10, they're negative. But what if the outcome was positive? Why can't you experience more joy instead of predicting the worst? Overthinking the worst-case scenario doesn't actually prepare you for it. It just robs your happiness.

Use your deep-thinking mind to develop several optimistic what-if scenarios. What could potentially happen if the outcome went in your favor?

Resolve conflicts by replacing drama with creative power

During conflict, overthinkers tend to get stuck lamenting over what-if scenarios which can evoke dramatic scenes that are more fantasy than fact. The good news is that if this sounds like you, you're likely super creative, empathetic, and imaginative, all superpowers in their own right! But, an imbalance can shift your powers into unhealthy thinking habits.

Developed by Dr Karpman, the Karpman Drama Triangle displays how overthinking leads to unnecessary drama.

According to the Karpman Drama Triangle, an ineffective response to conflict can present itself in one or more of these three roles:

  • Victim: The victim feels powerless to make sound decisions and promote change. They prefer to blame others.

  • Rescuer: The rescuer must be the hero who rushes in to save the day. They want to be needed by others and might feel guilty if they don't help. They do this to avoid facing conflict.

  • Persecutor: The persecutor never takes responsibility, likes to accuse and retain control over the situation by using outward force. This person can also be critical, act with aggression, and demand respect from others.

You might not see yourself in any one role. Sometimes we shift in and out of roles during one conversation or conflict without realizing it.

Notice the conversation below written by and how each person shifts from role to role of the Karpman Drama Triangle.

Overthinkers tend to play one or more roles during communication and conflict resolution. Escaping these roles is challenging, however, because we don't realize we are even doing it. Even though we're fueling unnecessary drama, our thoughts feel natural to us because it's how we've always reacted.

Consider another opportunity to practice self-awareness and self-improvement. Notice how you communicate (or don't) during conflict and how you're contributing to the drama. Notice how others are as well.

Then, use your superpowers to leave the drama behind and become a leader.

In the book, The Power of TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic), the author David Emerald introduces an alternative to the drama triangle.

Persecutors who exert more self-control can transform their aggression into assertiveness. They can use their imagination to challenge people to develop optimistic conflict resolution scenarios that aid everyone. The Persecutor becomes a Challenger.

Victims can accept responsibility and use their empathy to understand others and creatively solve problems that connect people. The Victim becomes a Creator.

Rescuers can use their compassion to listen better and empower others to solve their own problems instead of doing it for them. The Rescuer becomes a Coach.

Write it down

Earlier in this article, we talked about stopping and circumventing your thoughts. Another related practice is to write down what you're thinking. While you're overthinking, examine your emotions and how you perceive the situation and write it down.

Then, before you act on the situation, let some time pass and review your notes. Do you feel any different? Often, once we step away from a problem and revisit it with a calmer, more balanced mind, we can recognize how our thoughts spiraled out of control and approach the situation more rationally.

Use the right tools

Creating more balance with your thoughts can sometimes be more straightforward than you might think. This section will cover some helpful tools and resources for overthinkers.

Practice communication and conflict resolution

Afraid of missing deadlines? Get more organized. Below are some app recommendations for organizing your time and your professional life.

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There's a reason why deep thinkers love Superhuman…

We rummage through our email several times a day — it's a daily task that clutters our minds if we don't feel in control of our inboxes. When deep thinkers fall out of balance, they tend to struggle with the fear of losing control which causes their minds to lapse into imbalanced overthinking.

Deep thinkers love Superhuman because it makes them feel more in control over their email inbox, and consequently more in control of their day.

Superhuman is not just another email app; it provides seamless experiences that reduce email overload and overwhelm. It provides an easy way to remove email clutter and chaos and brings some simplicity back to your inbox and your life.

Superhuman features:

  • Achieve Inbox Zero FAST. When you do, Superhuman shows you images that spark joy!
  • "Undo" an email before it reaches the sender.
  • Find out when someone reads your email.
  • Use keyboard shortcuts to zoom through your email inbox in half the time it usually takes.

And much more!

Get started with Superhuman and learn how to reclaim control of your email inbox and manage email with simplicity and ease.

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