Friday, 22 February 2019

Ten Questions to Circumvent Over-Thinking

Ruminating too much on things can catch us all at times, usually when we are feeling vulnerability due to a change of some sort. To compensate we can over-plan: focusing too much on details, trying to control too many uncontrollable elements, or attempting to factor for all emergencies.

We forget about allowing for likely risk factors, and we can also dwell on the risks until they assume too much significance. The risks get so close in our line of vision that we can't see that the likelihood is infinitesimally small.

Worse, once we are in this kind of space, it can be difficult to get out of it. We have to recognise that we are in this space, then take steps to get ourselves out of it. So, if we think we might be ruminating too much, we can try some of the following techniques and see if they make us feel differently.

We can:
  1. Ask: what good things will happen to me today? Start the day positively and get up in plenty of time. Don't watch the news, but read or listen to something uplifting on our commute. Start with some exercise and the endorphins can give us a lift right from the get-go.
  2. Ask ourselves the magic question: will this matter in five minutes? In five days? In five months? In five years? Usually it won't matter in five days, so we can let it go a bit now, and step back from it.
  3. Ask: how important is this? Set priorities for decisions. For low priorities, set a five minute timer to make the decision, or learn and practice a new decision-making technique and use it when making these minor decisions. Higher priority decisions will make time. Plan the process and diarise a few blocks of 15 minutes to take the time to think about it before the deadline. Put actions into each of the blocks so you know you are taking actual steps towards completion. 
  4. Ask ourselves: are we trying to make this perfect? If so, we know perfection is impossible, unrealistic and stressful. "Done" is better than perfect. 
  5. Ask: what are we afraid of? This is an interesting question. Sometimes we can be afraid if something won't work out; sometimes we can be afraid if it does work out. We can be afraid of our own history, or of our uncertain future. Trying to remain present and enjoy the now will help us to put fear aside, but first we need to identify where fear is getting hold of us.
  6. Ask: what can go wrong? We can set a timer and have a free-for-all listing all the things that could go wrong. Then when the timer stops, screw the paper up into a tight ball, and throw it away. A friend of mine gives what he calls the "Meh, meh, meh" voice time every morning from 8.00 to 8.05 to whine as much as it likes. Then it has to shut up for the rest of the day. 
  7. Ask: is it time for a break? Sometimes we throw too much time at one thing, or stare at the same problem in the same way for too long. Removing ourselves from a problem can sometimes make us see it in a new light. 
  8. Ask: who could solve this? Sometimes simply talking - or even imagining talking - to someone else can change our perspective, and we can see a solution that was not visible before. 
  9. Ask: do I have too much data? Sometimes in an effort to gather all the information which may be useful we overload ourselves and induce "analysis paralysis". We could choose our top ten inputs and see how much of a decision we could make with just those.
  10. Ask: what good things happened to me today? I write a daily journal and work out what went well as well as what can be improved. Cataloguing the good things really ends the day on a good note.
Some of those questions may get us moving. However, if we are feeling really stuck, we should talk to a counsellor. Sometimes we can't do it alone: we need a professional to help us to move forward.


Sam

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