How to Stop Overthinking and Overcome Self-Doubt
Imagine for a moment that you are the Captain of a great sea voyaging vessel setting out on a journey to an island you’ve never been to before, but you know has many great riches. The weather is fair, your maps point a clear course, and everything is going in your favor.
However, as you set out on your journey, you discover that your crew members have started to grumble — it seems they have doubts as to whether the island exists, whether the ship can actually make the journey, and whether they really deserve the riches, should they find them. The crew decides to mutiny, turn the ship back around, and head for the port where they came from.
That seems a bit silly, doesn’t it? Not deserve the riches? Even though everything was going well, and you, the Captain, knew exactly where you were going and what you would find there, they still had doubt.
Unfortunately, we do this to ourselves all the time. We sabotage our own endeavors by overthinking the whole thing, casting doubt on ourselves, and reverting back to our old habits.
Instead of asking out the person we’d really like to be with, starting the business we’ve always dreamed of, working out regularly, or any other number of important actions we know we should take in order to have a happy, fulfilling life, we mutiny ourselves and send us back where we came from. Nothing changes, and we never find the treasure.
But we can gain control of the crew members that are our emotions by following a few steps to make sure we forge ahead despite the fear.
The first thing we can do is change the way we think about our goals.
In Tony Robbins’ book Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny!, he explains that:
“Some people make so many evaluations that even a minor decision turns into a major production…In order to exercise, they must 1) get up; 2) find some workout wear they don’t look too fat in; 3) pick out the right athletic shoes; 4) pack everything up in their gym bag; 5) schlepp over to the gym; 6) find a parking spot; 7) climb the stairs; 8) sign-in; 9) go into the locker room; 10) squeeze into the workout clothes; and 11) finally attend the class, hit the stationary bicycle, and sweat like crazy. And then when they’re done; 12) they have to do all of this again in reverse…Of course, these same people can easily get themselves to go to the beach. They’re ready in a heartbeat! If you ask them why, they’ll tell you, “Well, to go to the beach, you just hop in the car and go!”
When we think of all the micro-steps we have to take to reach our goals, we inevitably overwhelm ourselves and freeze before we even take the first step. Instead of overthinking and breaking the action into a million pieces, it can be helpful to think of the action you need to take as one big step — or one “chunk.”
By changing the way we think about going to the gym (or whatever it is we’re trying to do), we can change our emotional response to the action. “Just going to the gym!” sounds simple and doable, and we’re therefore much more likely to actually do it because we’re not emotionally overwhelmed.
Next, remember that other people are mostly interested in themselves
No one is really paying too close attention to you. That may seem harsh, but it’s actually liberating.
The reality is that other people are so absorbed with their own struggles, fears, failures, successes, and what they’re going to have for dinner tonight that they rarely take too much time out of their day to consider what you’re up to.
When we remember this, we’re less likely to fear the judgment of others, because we know it’s not really an issue.
Practicing meditation is incredibly helpful for clearing the mind and centering your emotions. With the breath, you can exhale all your self-doubt and anxieties, and inhale energy and determination to move forward despite your feelings. If you’re a new meditator, try one of the many meditation apps on your phone. Even if you meditate for just a few minutes, it can produce incredible results.
Let the buzz of thoughts in your head out onto the page.
When we overthink, our heads can get so clouded with buzzing thoughts that we can’t really evaluate each idea clearly and realistically.
A great way to reduce overthinking is to journal your thoughts. Write down everything you’re thinking without holding back. Just get it all down on paper so it’s out of your head.
Then, reread your writing and “debunk” each of your fears and anxieties. Ask yourself questions like:
- Is this fear really worth keeping me from trying something new?
- Will this fear result in my death or the end of the world?
- Am I just negotiating with myself to try and get out of doing something I know I should do?
When we evaluate each of our fears, they lose their power because we realize that they aren’t as big a problem as we thought they were.
And if you can’t journal, talk out loud
If journaling doesn’t appeal to you, you can accomplish the same thing by talking with someone you trust. Airing your thoughts and feelings often makes them lose their power, so you can move forward with your goals. You might realize that you’re overthinking has been ridiculous and the problem isn’t so complex. Or the person you talk with might have some insight you hadn’t considered yet.
Embrace Your Self-Doubt
One of the best things we can do to overcome our self-doubt is actually embrace it. Make the decision to embrace your discomfort and embarrassment. Adopt a learning mindset and accept that failure is a possibility. And that’s okay!
Ask yourself “what’s the worst that could happen if I fail?” If the answer does not include dying, then you will probably be fine. We have to realize that the only way to learn is to try new things, which means we’ll probably end up messing things up sometimes and looking a little silly. Remember, that’s part of the process and totally natural.
In fact, you can even plan on doing it wrong first. This will give you the permission to let go of perfection.
Most Importantly: Take Action Anyway!
After you embrace your self-doubt and embarrassment and fear and anxiety, you have to take action in spite of them. When we take action, we accomplish a variety of things:
- We stop overthinking because we’re focused on moving forward,
- We actually move towards our goal, obviously, and…
- We give ourselves momentum so the next time we encounter self-doubt, we remember that the last time wasn’t so bad and we can forge ahead regardless.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Continue this process over and over again until you gain confidence in yourself that you CAN achieve your goals, and that you are NOT an “imposter.”
Self-doubt is a habit. But so is self-confidence. To replace the one with the other takes a bit of time. To break the self-doubt habit, you have to repeatedly take action despite your feelings.
Nothing stings more than not reaching your full potential because you sabotaged yourself by thinking you weren’t good enough, smart enough, or “whatever” enough. Not being “ whatever” enough should not be the barrier to entry for trying to achieve something meaningful. So don’t let yourself be the reason you didn’t even try. And don’t let those pesky crew members steer your ship away from it’s destination.