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Do You Fall Into the Trap of Overthinking?

I was looking up something in Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky’s excellent book, The How of Happiness, and I came across an interesting passage. (I’d marked it, so clearly I’d read it before, but I didn’t remember it well.)

Many of us believe that when we feel down, we should try to focus inwardly and evaluate our feelings and our situation in order to attain self-insight and find solutions that might ultimately resolve our problems and relieve unhappiness. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, I, and others have compiled a great deal of evidence challenging this assumption. Numerous studies over the past two decades have shown that to the contrary, overthinking ushers in a host of adverse consequences: It sustains or worsens sadness, fosters negatively biased thinking, impairs a person’s ability to solve problems, saps motivation, and interferes with concentration and initiative. Moreover, although people have a strong sense that they are gaining insight into themselves and their problems during their ruminations, this is rarely the case. What they do gain is a distorted, pessimistic perspective on their lives.

One of the tensions within happiness — at least for me — is the tension between constructive attempts at greater self-knowledge and pointless rumination.

17 Comments to
Do You Fall Into the Trap of Overthinking?

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  1. wow…this is me….i’ve had people tell me for years i do this and i thought they were just wrong….now, i realize….the overthinking must stop…i thank you…and im sure, my friends and family thank you

  2. This doesnt go for everyone, since we dont all have the same way of thinking. For some it gives insights and answers to their questions that they have

  3. Through these articles about rummination I am , for the first time getting my eyes and brain open to what I am doing . I never knew about this particular stuff ( overthinking, caused by rumminating on negative things in my life. it started with a traumatic brain injury to one of my grans 17 yrs. ago. My grieving and rum over all the subquent sorrow and other things in past life have grown into this state of mind for me at age 68. Can hardly wait to get the book “WOMEN WHO THINK TOO MUCH”. I read the first chapter on line . Thank God for the practical help. I can see change a comming ..

  4. My overthinking started when I was a young child.
    I never knew what triggered it. I am almost 64 years old now and whenever I feel stressed or uncertain about something involving my life and family my mind starts going crazy, thinking all sorts of negative and bizzare thoughts. Making me feel even more down. Thanks for such a informative article.

  5. I believe we need to distinguish between ruminating (which is overthinking) and positive self-reflection (accessing our inner wisdom). Rumination is the circular type of thinking or downward spiral thinking that is usually based on fear and is coming from an ego level. Positive self-reflection is an attempt to solve a problem or gain insight by accessing our inner wisdom or spirit. This mindset is cultivated best from a spirit of gratitude and a belief that a higher power has the answer or insight that we are seeking. Sometimes when we find ourselves stuck in a cycle of rumination, we can journal our way out of it. Journaling helps us peel back the layers that keep hidden the truth.

    • Very helpful.Realize how I have been ruminating a lot lately but also like the part about journaling because that is how I make myself feel better and I always get to the truth that way.

  6. I am a ruminator as well. I’ve found reading scriptures, praying, exercising or watching one of my favorite funny movies helps me break this pattern.

  7. I totally overthink and ruminate and now, when I do it, I dig into whatever novel I’m currently reading or, if that doesn’t work, I go straight to Jane Austen, which never fails to transport me out of my own head. I’m also slowly learning that the old “stiff upper lip” thing has something to it – if I allow myself to get into a complaining mode, it doesn’t help whatever I’m complaining about, it just wears my wonderful husband’s patience thin. It’s often better to just “buck up”. Or, go to bed with a cup of tea and promise myself that it will be better in the morning – specifically, I promise myself that I will do X or Y to improve the situation in the morning when I’m rested and alert.

  8. This is so me it’s unbelievable! I guess I’ve known it or been told it in the past but it’s good to see it in black & white and know that I’m not alone.

  9. Many people who ruminate excessively have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). I have it and so do several members of my family. It’s very common,genetic runs in families. Some hallmark components include lack of organizational skills, trouble focusing and concentrating,space out or daydream, often have anxiety and depression.

    Also, and for me this is the worst, when we are upset or worried about something we Ruminate on it, like a broken record until we are bored and sick of thinking about it ourselves. We keep trying to change the subject in our mind but our brain keeps reverting back to the problem. For me it’s worse at night when I am trying to sleep. Sometimes I have to come downstairs and turn the TV on to get my mind off of it. You have to try to keep yourself busy, keep your mind engaged on something else so you can stop ruminating. My husband is Hyperactive ( ADHD ) and he doesn’t have that problem. But I am just ADD without the hyperactivity component ( If I remember correctly Inattentive Sub-Type is how the refer to it now unless they have changed it again.) Hyperactive ones are obvious, ones without hyperactivity often fall through the cracks and aren’t diagnosed. If you have problems with ruminating, you may well have ADD.

  10. What is overthinking and what is ruminating? It seems to me that the title of this article is just plain wrong. Ruminating can lead to overthinking, but overthinking can happen with many other thought processes. I was told by many people that I have a problem with “overthinking” everything and therefore do not get to “action”. In this sense, ruminating has nothing to do with overthinking. Overthinking is just a term to use when you keep thinking beyond the need for an action.

  11. I appreciate the insight, but I don’t find that just being told to not overthink or ruminate (I agree with the previous poster that these can be very distinctive things) doesn’t actually do anything to help me stop the process. I have been working really hard with my therapist for more than 6 years to stop this cycle and really haven’t made much headway in this area.

  12. When I find myself overthinking, which is a well-developed ‘habit’ for me, I do something physical, even if it’s getting up and walking across the room. I tend to sit and think and try to figure things out, but it never works, and I end up wasting time and have no greater insight into myself, which leaves me angry and frustrated. But when I get up and do something, which is somewhat distracted, my mind can still work on the issue without so much concentrated effort on my part.

  13. Yeah, this is indeed true. What we have been over thinking a lot actually doesn’t happen in real life ,and worse would just leave us in despair. As on my part, on normal days, I usually gather stuffs that can make me happy (eg. nice text messages, funny photos of me and my friends, a stuff that reminds me of someone encouraging) so that when time comes I feel so low, I can conquer it just by thinking happy thoughts thru those stuffs! :))

  14. You are right .. I have experienced this .. and diverting attention to something that lifts up my mood is always more helpful than introspection ..

    Nicely written article.

  15. I have been doing that for a very very long time, I’ve found it to be irrational and debilitating. though some people are supposed to become greatly introspective, I’ve only found it to hinder my ability to be greatly involved in activities I enjoy that would give my life forward motion.

  16. (1) I play video games.
    (2) I watch self-hypnosis videos.
    (3) I revise schoolwork.



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