What do Oprah Winfrey and Mark Cuban have in common? Aside from being hugely successful media moguls (not to mention, billionaires), they didn’t let early-career setbacks block their roads to success.
Told that she didn’t have the chops for television news, Winfrey was fired from her first news reporter gig. Cuban was axed from a job as a software salesperson after disobeying his boss in order to make a profitable sale. Important side note — he never worked for anyone else again. Both Winfrey and Cuban went on to build their own empires.
What is holding people back from the life that they truly want to live? One common yet destructive thing – they think too much. They overthink every little problem until it becomes bigger and scarier and it actually is. Or they overanalyze and deconstruct things so the happiness that comes from just enjoying something in the moment disappears.
Thinking things through can be a great thing of course. But being an overthinker can result in becoming someone who stands still in life, in becoming someone who self-sabotages the good things that happen in life.
Here are the simple ideas to stop overthinking and stick to your goals.
1. Acknowledge negative thinking.
Breaking harmful thought cycles begins with awareness. Unless you acknowledge that you’re ruminating, you’ll never be able to curtail it. What’s more, spending so much mental energy in your interior world renders you less proactive in the exterior.
“The more we are engaged in overthinking, the less [we’re] actually doing things in the physical environment,” explains clinical psychologist David Carbonell.
Everyone overthinks sometimes, but if you find yourself obsessing over a negative idea or experience, take a step back and pay attention to what’s happening in your head. Be an observer for a second. Try to identify the content of your negative thoughts. Then, you can work on addressing them.
2. Switch into problem-solving mode and have a goal-setting session.
Oftentimes, we ruminate on things outside of our present control. That’s why it’s important to consider whether you can do anything right now to resolve what you’re ruminating about.
If you can, make a list of steps to work towards ameliorating the situation. Say, for example, I made a snafu during a presentation. My list would include: email attendees a clarification email, schedule extra time to prepare for my next presentation, etc. Goal-setting is key.
Or, if you can’t deal with the issue now, set a time to focus on it later. “Chances are it won’t bother you very much when you meet up with it — and you will be able to enjoy your life during the rest of the day,” writes Robert Leahy, Director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy.
3. Break a sweat.
Because nothing settles an overactive mind like some stress-reducing endorphins, exercise is one of the best anecdotes for ruminating. When you exercise, you’re also more engaged in your current activity — i.e., more mindful, which leaves mental less space to ruminate.
Whether it’s biking, jogging, boxing or yoga — do whichever form of exercise you enjoy. Even a brisk walk during your lunch hour can help clear the head. Or, depending on the length of your commute, you can walk to work like Jack Dorsey. The Twitter and Square CEO has said that taking the time to walk the five miles to work every day is the most worthwhile investment he’s ever made.
In his words: “It’s a very clearing time. I want to put as much unexpected potential in front of me because I think something that you don’t plan will always make you think differently.”
4. Treat yourself to some empathy.
Oftentimes, we’re harsher on ourselves than we are with others. For example, if a colleague had a presentation blip, you probably wouldn’t condemn them as a terrible orator. You’d likely think they were just having an off-day.
Make an effort to be objective. Consider the advice you’d give to a friend or loved one in your situation, then try to take that same empathetic tone with yourself. If your ruminating continues, visualize how you’ll feel in a few weeks from now. That’s how you’ll feel soon enough.
And remember, even the most successful people suffer occasional setbacks. What defines them is not letting those setbacks throw them off track.
Author: Aytekin Tank, Entrepreneur; Founder and CEO, JotForm