How To Stop Overthinking And Figure Out What To Do With Your Life

how to stop overthinking

I was lying on my stomach face down on a slightly cushioned table.

My face was in a little hole and I was taking deep, slow breaths, trying to relax in anticipation of the dozen needles that were about to be inserted into my back.

What I learned from my first acupuncture appointment is that acupuncture’s not supposed to hurt. You’re supposed to feel a little prick when the needle is inserted, but then you’re not supposed to feel any more pain.

Well, the thing is, that’s only true if you remain completely relaxed throughout the entire duration of the treatment. If you tense up at all, it can be really painful.

I learned that lesson the hard way from my first acupuncture treatment, so this second time, I was trying my best to remain completely relaxed. I did a pretty good job. Until the very end…

In the last few minutes of my treatment, my arm started to hurt really bad. I tried to ignore it at first, but the pain kept getting worse and worse. So I finally decided to adjust the position that I was in…

Huge mistake.

When I tried to shift my weight to move my arm, all the muscles in my back tensed up. All of a sudden I felt like I was being stabbed in my back in a dozen different places simultaneously.

I’ve never been stabbed before, but I imagine that’s exactly what it would feel like.

Moral of the story: if you ever get acupuncture, don’t tense up.

You might not be in the most comfortable position ever, but don’t focus on that. It’s kind of like when you have an itch–if you don’t scratch it, it will pass.

Life is kind of like acupuncture in that sense. It’s a whole lot better—and way less painful—when you’re relaxed.

how to stop overthinking

One could argue that people who are too relaxed don’t ever get anything done, and that some stress might actually be a good thing.

But, for the most part, I think we can all agree that life is more enjoyable when you’re relaxed.

That might seem obvious, but it’s hard to put into practice.

On my ride back home after my acupuncture treatment, I came to the conclusion that I stress out waaayyy too much.

I think that stems from the fact that I think too much. My inability to relax during the acupuncture treatment is a perfect example.

It started with the anticipation of the needles… Then, once the needles were in, I kept trying to remind myself to relax, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how uncomfortable I was. And then I started analyzing all of these thoughts and wondering what the hell was wrong with me… Why couldn’t I just relax?!

I used to struggle a lot with social anxiety. Which makes a lot of sense now that I think of it, because any sort of anxiety really is nothing more than a by-product of overthinking.

I’ve improved my social skills tremendously over the last few years, but I still feel anxious in many other situations.

I try to come off as a chill, laid-back dude, but the truth is, I’m almost always a little uneasy.

Right now, for example, I just started this great job, and I know that I’m very fortunate to have it, but I’m always thinking about what’s going to come next. I plan on working here for at least the foreseeable future, but because I know that it’s not something I want to do long-term for the rest of my life, it creates an uneasiness.

Digging a little deeper, I think one of the main reasons I overthink things is that I put so much pressure on every single decision that I make.

And then, I end up stressing out even more because I’ve spent so much damn time thinking about making the right decision instead actually making a decision and getting on with it.

For instance, one of my goals this year was to read more. I was doing pretty good, up until this summer. I finished my last book over a month ago, but I haven’t  started my next book because I can’t decide which book I want to read.

I have a giant list of 30+ books I want to read, but I was torn between two different books, and I’ve been thinking about starting one of them for the last month.

That’s stupid.

I could have finished one of them by now and been starting the other one already. But, because I was overthinking it, I ended up not reading any.

It’s the classic case of analysis paralysis.

Now that I’ve thought so much about this, I’ve finally decided, today, that I’m going to read Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Work Week— a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a very long time.

So, how do you stop overthinking every decision you make?

It starts with realizing that the stakes aren’t as high as we think they are.

The reality is, almost every single decision we make in our day-to-day lives are extremely low-stake decisions.

Even the decisions that might seem like a big deal to us today are relatively insignificant compared to the sort of life-or-death decisions that our caveman ancestors had to deal with. Most of us are not making decisions that require an immediate fight-or-flight response, which means that, yes, we can take more time to think our decisions through. But, it also means that we have no reason to allow any single decision to cause us so much stress.

I recently received an email from a reader asking how I chose my career path.

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 10.08.33 AM

I also had another reader ask for advice on choosing a major.

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 10.18.55 AM

Here’s my advice to both of these readers: just pick something.

Sooner or later, you have to just make a decision. Obviously, you want to do your research and try to make an informed decision. Try to get as much exposure to the fields you are interested in–talk to people already in those fields, get internships, take classes related to those fields, etc.

But, at a certain point more information doesn’t help. Actually, more information often makes things worse. That’s the problem with our society today. We have too much information and too many options. It has led to an insatiable generation that believes that “the grass is always greener on the other side.”

What you need to realize is that your major does not decide your fate, and your first job out of college doesn’t have to be your dream job.

So don’t put too much pressure on the decision.

Don’t worry about finding your “dream job” or your “one true passion.” I’m not even sure I believe that everyone has a single passion that they were born to pursue.

I definitely wouldn’t say that I have the “career of my dreams.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great job. It really is. The company is great, the people are great, and I’m very, very happy to be starting my career here.

However, like I said before, I don’t see myself doing consulting for the rest of my life. I want to do other things too.

But, you have to start somewhere.

If there’s something that you’re moderately interested in, that calls your attention for whatever reason, it’s probably worth pursuing.

Once you make a decision, you have to commit to it.

It doesn’t mean that you can never back out, but you’ve got to give it a trial period to determine if it was the right decision or not.

And during that trial period, you have to give it your everything.

You can’t be thinking, “oh my god, did I do the right thing? What if I had done the other thing? The other thing would’ve been so much better…

You have to give it some time to let it play out. Don’t give up on something after a couple weeks. That’s not enough time.

The difficult part, of course, is determining where you draw the line. When is it okay to call it quits, and try something else?

When Elon Musk was asked about quitting, he said “I will have to be dead or completely incapacitated.”

But, it’s completely up to you. I’d say a good rule of thumb is to give any sort of new venture at least a 2-3 month trial period.

Just to give you an example, it took me 6 months before people started reading anything I wrote on this blog. Most people that start a blog quit within the first 3 months.

But, back to my point–when you make a decision, you have to commit to it.

Because really, you can’t truly make a wrong decision anyway.

I mean, even if you end up changing your mind, sure, it may lead you down a longer path, but as long as you keep taking action, eventually you will get to where you want to be. Have some confidence that wherever you’re at in your life right now is exactly where you’re meant to be.

The key to taking action is to keep making decisions. If you make a bad decision, it’s not the end of the world.

Seek progress, not perfection.” – Tweet This

For example, let’s say you pick a major and you end up not liking it. You can always change your major (on average, college students change their major at least three times) or you can stick with it and make the most of it.

And this applies to any decision that you make. You can always either correct the decision, or, stick to it and make it work.

Either way, you’ll be better off than if you never made a decision at all.

The biggest anxiety catalyst is the inability to make a decision. It’s overthinking everything and not doing anything. The best way to alleviate that, is to do something. Anything.

Oliver Emberton explains this concept incredibly well in what’s possibly the best career advice I’ve ever read.

He says that the key is to “Stop making big decisions and focus on closing the gap with where you want to be. A successful life is not made of easy, clean cut choices…Stop making this a big scary decision and start taking lots of continuous small steps. Take something you love doing – or if you’re not sure what that is, something you’d like to try. And move towards it now.”

how to stop overthinking
Oliver Emberton’s Quora answer to the question: “At age 25, would you pursue a good paying corporate job that makes you unhappy or a hobby that makes you happy but has no guarantee to pay the bills?”

The worst thing you can do is be paralyzed and afraid to try new things.

If you’re currently facing some big decision, do your research, maybe make a list of pro’s and cons or something, but then just make a damn decision already.

Don’t let decisions keep you from making progress.

Action Item

I’m going to make this easy.

Pick ONE decision that you’ve been putting off for some time now. Something that’s been stressing you out and/or preventing you from taking action. Give yourself 5 minutes, no more, to make a decision right now and leave a comment below letting me know what it is.

Don’t put this off for later. Do it now.

Image Sources: picjumbo, pixabay

About Stefano

Stefano Ganddini

Hey there! I'm the creator of Collegetopia and the guy who writes all these articles. I'm here to help you live BIG, do EPIC shit, & be HAPPY. Click here to read more.

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  • Right on, except that in the green version of the You > Wants graph I would insert about 5 steps with varying degrees of Aw Crap offset by Lessons Learned and Additional Growth achieved.

    As for my new business? Challenge Accepted. :)

  • Aida

    Great advice on the importance of making decisions, small changes, small steps. In the process, discovering new insights and what does not work, making progress through learning through those challenges and likes, that will come up along the way, and acting upon them. Moving up the spiral of growth continuously by committing, researching, discovering, learning and acting, doing whatever is necessary. Staying the course, and doing it all over again, even if you are on the right path, as we are learning along the way. We must develop a strong core, something that does not change, based on correct principles, then we can be vulnerable. This will empower us to adapt to life, and make the next decisions in our life.
    There are THREE constants in life: CHANGE, PRINCIPLES, AND OUR POWER TO CHOOSE, OUR INDEPENDENT WILL. The principle of continuous improvement is researching, discovering, creating and distributing wherever that is need. To our lives and the lives of others. That is what a business does continuously also. The principle of Total Quality is Continuous Improvement. We need to engage in this process to progress and live a highly effective and fulfilling life. Congratulations for your article, it is very helpful and promotes dialogue which is a great way to learn from each other! Carpe Diem!!! Seize the Day!!!

    • When are you starting you own blog? :)

      • Aida Ganddini

        I need to learn how to start a blog. I am not high tech, but that does not mean I cannot learn. So, perhaps I can find someone like Ron or Nadia to help me with this. I have learned a lot from living and experiencing in many areas of life industries and a wide spectrum of people. So I can share some thoughts with people.

  • Hey Stefano,

    I can totally relate with you on this post. I’m a lot better now than I was before, but overthinking definitely was and still is sometimes a problem of mine. Not sure if you’ve read it or if it’s on your to-read list, but the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is a must read!

    I recently read the four hour work week too. It opens your eyes on what’s possible in this day and age. One of my favorites, forsure.

    To those that are struggling with choosing a major or career path, I’d say to just like you said Stefano, make a decision. You know what your own likes and dislikes are, so start from there.

    I think what the problem is that most of us don’t put enough value in ourselves. We’re more than capable enough to handle what comes our way, and we are more than a major or job description.

    It’s also surprising how much we learn can be applied to other fields!

    Our paths only get clearer once we take action.

    And speaking of action, I’m going to go find a new doctor and dentist, as well as a place for car maintenance.

    It’s taking care of ‘little tasks’ like these where I could use improvement.

    Cheers!

    • Hadn’t heard of the Power of Now. Sounds interesting definitely adding it to my list, thanks.

      Good point about how what you learn from one thing can be very applicable to something seemingly completely different.

      And good luck with those little tasks. Sometimes those can be the worst. One thing I did after coming up with the idea for this post was clean up my apartment since I still had boxes lying around from when I moved in over a month ago. Getting those little stressful things out of the way can really help declutter your mind.

  • Chris

    Thanks for this great post, Stefano, it has given me a lot of useful input. I’ve been stuck between two options, either invest money in a new suit or in a Business English course. I kinda need both of it professionally and personally, but to buy them all at once would be a bit too much at the moment. I have time to apply for the BE course until September 25th, so I’ve kept putting it off. But after reading your article, I’ve taken the initiative and decided to go for the course first because it will definitely pay off afterwards and what’s done is done. In the meantime I can save money for the suit I need.

    • Awesome! Those kinds of decisions can be tough, but I’d say that was a good call. I think a good rule of thumb is to always invest in knowledge before anything else.

  • Bruno

    Great article, Stefano!

    I have already suffered a lot with overthinking and analysis paralysis that comes with it and i have suffered huge losses with it, because sometimes when you don’t make a decision, life does it for you and this isn’t good because you feel like you are just an observer of your own life. It is not supposed to be this way.

    Greetings from Brazil.

    • So true… Reminds me of that one quote, “either you control your day, or your day controls you.”

  • Bryan

    Loved the you/wants image

    • Because its SO ACCURATE, right?

      Oliver has some of the best content I’ve ever come across. Definitely check out some of his other stuff if you haven’t already.

  • Steve

    I’m a chronic overthinker, so this was a good article to read. I’m trying to adopt a motto of “Most things will work out”. I don’t mean that you should do nothing and expect your problems to be solved, but that the actions you do take will not screw you over most of the time. Much less stress that way.

    I heard somewhere (it might’ve been from your book, Stefano, but I wouldn’t swear to it) that
    “The best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing,” -Teddy Roosevelt
    I think reading this article has really reinforced that lesson for me.

    • That’s not from my book, but that is an awesome quote! One of the best I’ve heard in a while. Thanks for sharing, and glad the article resonated with you! :)

  • Akshay

    Exactly the kind of advice I needed right now. Thank you

  • Kaylee M.

    I just wanted to say that I love receiving your emails and that this blog posting was EXACTLY what I needed to hear (er, read) right now. Thank you, Stefano!

  • Gonna work on competitive programming while I take courses on coursera.

    • Oops, sorry, somehow missed this comment before… Hope the programming and courses are going well!

  • Shantal

    Thank you sooo much Stefano! :)

  • dan

    This thread took the words out of my mouth i was really needed it to fix my perfectionst state of mind, just do something i want too many things end up doing almost nothing..
    thanks for your share and tips op! :)

  • Stephanie

    i’ve been having a hard time choosing a major, i keep wanting the perfect path and to have all the pro’s there exist in this world. Even though i know that it’s impossible i just go back and forth with my decisions. Since choosing major i’ve noticed that i became more and more indecisive in all kinds of things (small ones too). So it’s something I definitely have to change and i’ve started to learn how to choose again. The action item of your blogpost really made me make my decision i’m not going to overthink it. I’m going for medicine :) Thanks a lot! When I’m feeling indecisive or down I’ll come back to read it .