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6 Steps to Stop Overthinking Your Life

Are you lost in thoughts about what you could have, would have, should have done differently? Here are directions to help you find your way out. 

By Amy Maclin
Frusterated woman standing in a mazeChris Buck

Step 5: Observe Mindfulness

It’s difficult to control what you think. But those thoughts don’t have to control you. One way to manage ruminative thinking is through mindfulness, a form of meditation that consists of simply focusing on the present moment without judgment. “Try noticing your thoughts as if they were leaves floating by in a stream,” says Nolen-Hoeksema. Don’t respond to them—just let them go. “Watching your ruminative thoughts without engaging with them can turn the volume down,” says Hubbard. “You see them pass by, but you’re not getting sucked into the current.” For more about mindfulness as a way to treat anxiety and depression, visit the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy site, at

Step 6: Be Patient

Ruminating can be a stubborn problem, so you may struggle a bit at first. “These steps definitely get easier with practice,” says Hubbard. The last thing you need to do is ruminate about the fact that you can’t stop ruminating. If persistent negative thoughts are really interfering with your life, seek a therapist’s help. And take heart that you’re attempting to know thyself. Socrates would surely approve.

Thought Police

Here are a few common cognitive distortions that can take over when the hamster wheel of rumination starts squeaking. Do any of these sound familiar?

Emotional reasoning: Conclusions based on nothing but strong feelings. (“I feel guilty—I must have done something wrong.”)

Overgeneralizing: Seeing a negative event as part of an endless pattern of defeat. (“I didn’t get the job. I’m such a loser. I’ll never get another job again.”)

Disqualifying the positive: Discounting anything good as a fluke. (“That interview went well, but soon they’ll figure out I’m a fraud.”)

All-or-nothing thinking: Looking at an issue in black-and-white terms. (“My boss didn’t like an example in my report—I blew the whole thing!”)

The key to defeating these nattering nabobs of negativism, according to Hubbard, is to “step back and ask, What’s the real-world evidence that supports that thought? And what’s the evidence that contradicts it?” For instance, that report you “blew” probably wasn’t a disaster from beginning to end. Maybe you needed a stronger introduction and more compelling examples, but the theme and the conclusion were powerful. “It’s about finding shades of gray,” says Hubbard. “Life is rarely categorical.”


Read More About:Life Strategies

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