The Book in Three Sentences
In this summary of the Stop Overthinking book, you’ll learn to break the never-ending thought loop. To escape from the trap of anxiety, the author suggests a series of techniques to overcome negative thought patterns and live a better life. At its core, Stop Overthinking is about reducing stress so that you can focus on what’s important.
Stop Overthinking Book Summary
Chapter 1: Overthinking Isn’t About Overthinking
Excessive thinking often leads to distress. Overthinking, sometimes called worry, anxiety, stress, rumination, or obsession, feels terrible and it’s a vicious circle. The problem with overthinking is when we think beyond what’s good for us.
What you obsess about isn’t the problem. What you obsess about is the result of overthinking, so even if you solve the issue you can’t stop thinking about, another problem will take its place. When we talk about overthinking, we are talking about anxiety. Anxiety is the cause (the why) and overthinking is the effect (the how).
Anxiety doesn’t have a clear cause. Some say it’s related to personality, biological predisposition, or a stressful lifestyle. According to the author, anxiety is multifactorial, a combination of causes that interact with each other in interesting ways. Overthinking can be genetic, but there are other sources as well. One of them is that overthinking creates the illusion that we’re doing something about a problem. While genes predispose us, the environment also plays a major part in our anxiety. Stressful surroundings can inspire us to do great things, but too much stress can have the opposite effect. Stress and anxiety are different things: stress is external and anxiety is internal. Stress is a normal part of our lives, but if it persists, it can lead to major problems.
Experiencing anxiety is the relationship between our genes, the elements in the external environment, and the behavior we have towards it. This last “secret ingredient” is how we interpret the stressful things that come our way and react to them. While you can’t change your genetics, you can make slight changes to your environment and you can manage your outlook.
There are some serious consequences to overthinking: it has physical effects, it can cause chronic health conditions, it can lead to mental and psychological effects, and it has social effects. Stress is necessary, but overthinking isn’t.
Chapter 2: The De-Stress Formular and Then Some
Before doing anything about your anxiety, you need awareness. This means bringing our attention to our inner and outer experiences.
The 4 A’s of stress management are: avoid, alter, accept, and adapt. These are the four ways in which you can respond to stress. To avoid aggravation, you can walk away from it. This doesn’t mean that you’re running away from your problems, but that you’re saying “no” to stress. If you can’t avoid something completely, you might have to alter it. This means talking to people, negotiating, and sharing your needs. Another example would be to combine something you enjoy with something you don’t, such as listening to a podcast while buying groceries in a crowded supermarket. When you can’t change something you have to accept it. Acknowledge your feelings about something, especially when there’s nothing you can do. Over time, we can adapt. This means making long-term changes to better cope with a situation. It’s about becoming more optimistic.
Another way to become more aware is by writing things down. By doing this, you can identify your triggers and how you react to them. This can be a stress diary where you record your levels of stress. To do so, write a time and a date, as well as a number from 1 to 10 to describe how stressed you are. Soon, you’ll be able to identify frequent causes of stress, how they affect your productivity, and how you respond to them. The idea is to eventually be able to identify a level of stress that’s comfortable.
You can also use a stress diary to write the things you’re grateful for or to do a brain dump where you write everything you’re feeling at the moment of writing. Another possibility is to keep a bullet journal where you keep brief notes about what’s happening in your life. Try to finish journaling sessions with positive messages.
Journaling works better over time, but if you need a more immediate solution, you can try a technique that brings awareness to the present moment. This is how it works:
- Find five things you can see and pay close attention to how they look
- Find four things you can touch
- Find three things you can hear and focus on how they sound
- Find two things you can smell
- Find one thing you can taste and explore the sensation
This exercise distracts you from overthinking but also calms you and forces you to focus on something other than yourself.
Finally, the author suggests a technique from narrative therapy, a branch of therapy that says that our lives are part of a story or narrative that we have created. Narrative therapy encourages people to detach themselves from problems through a technique called “externalization”. Through this technique, we assume that everyone has problems and that we have the power to change them. There are several ways to externalize, including writing, painting, singing, dancing, or drawing. Another technique from narrative therapy is deconstruction where we deconstruct our story and put events in a sequence instead of seeing everything all at once.
Chapter 3: Manage Your Time and Inputs
To better manage your stress, figure out the best way to manage your time. To manage your time well, identify your priorities. Don’t prioritize activities that negatively impact your mood. Prioritize rest and relaxation instead, so sleep well, take less caffeine, and eat well.
Make the most out of your time and energy:
- Determine the three things you care about the most
- Observe how you spend your time over the course of a week
- Analyze. Does the way in which you spend your time reflect your core values?
- Change your schedule so that it reflects your priorities
- Make adjustments as needed
Bad time management is one of the most significant sources of anxiety. Good time management depends on your goals and priorities. You can do this by ranking the items on your to-do list as urgent, important, and not important.
The author makes a distinction between different types of people and then suggests different techniques that might help them:
- Time martyrs are those who accept requests from others and then suffer the consequences
- Procrastinators are those who delay something until it’s too late
- Distractors are those whose attention is all over the place
- Underestimators are those who think a task will take less time than it’ll actually do
- Firefighters are those who allow a situation to go out of control
- Perfectionists are those who idealize a perfect outcome that might never happen
Allen’s input processing technique is for procrastinators, firefighters, and distractors. Whenever something tries to reach your attention, you can postpone it, process it, or ignore it, depending on its urgency. This technique is all about streamlining the process to free up your time and attention.
Eisenhower’s method is great for procrastinators, firefighters, and time martyrs. Former US president Eisenhower divided tasks into important ones (the ones that bring us closer to our goals) and urgent ones (the ones that require our immediate attention). With that in mind, Trenton proposes the following possibilities, as well as the action we should take for each combination:
- For important and urgent tasks: do them immediately
- For important but not urgent tasks: decide when to do them
- For not important but urgent tasks: delegate them
- For not-important and not-urgent tasks: delete them
Goals bring clarity and focus. Set SMART goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. By setting a clear and logical plan around your goals, you are more likely to succeed.
Another technique is the Kanban method, a visual system to manage a workflow that involves pursuing small steps to achieve great results. Once you’ve visualized what your workflow looks like, you devote your attention to it until completion and you then move on to the next task on the list. To make the process smooth, you have to identify where you’re wasting your time and you can have constant feedback loops to improve quickly.
Time blocking is great for firefighters, procrastinators, and time martyrs. The concept of time blocking is simple, you devote blocks of time to one single task. This prevents multitasking and wasting time on what to do. Additionally, time blocking promotes deep work, the kind of work that enriches your life and helps you achieve your goals.
Chapter 4: How to Find Instant Zen
Relaxation is a habit you should practice because it won’t happen by itself. When you relax, everything improves, including your breathing, blood pressure, digestion, muscle pain, concentration, sleep, and confidence. The author suggests three techniques: autogenic relaxation, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization. Autogenic training combines images, breathing, and awareness. Guided imagery and visualization are about summoning mental images to bring awareness and the idea is to practice this enough so that you can go to your “happy place” whenever you want to. Finally, progressive relaxation is about bringing awareness to our muscles.
Chapter 5: Rewire Your Thought Patterns
Negative thoughts are behind overthinking. Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT can get to deep thoughts and create more positive ones. Our thoughts affect how we see the world and what we do. First, you have to identify the problematic thoughts, then challenge them and finally, restructure or replace them. To identify problematic thoughts, recognize if your ideas fall under any of the distortion types:
- All-or-nothing thinking is black and white and usually has absolutist language.
- Overgeneralization is when we make sweeping statements without looking at all the facts.
- Internalizing is when you believe you’re the reason for something and this often leads to low self-esteem and externalizing is when you blame others for your actions.
- Favoring the negative, and discounting the positive is when you disregard all the positive and only focus on the negative.
- Emotional reasoning is when your feelings make you believe something is true even if it isn’t.
The antecedent behavior consequence model or ABC model lets you identify your own cognitive distortions by looking at the antecedent (what comes before) and the consequence (what comes after the behavior). The antecedent is a trigger that leads to the behavior and it can be a person, a place, a situation, or a combination of things, the behavior is the result of the trigger, and the consequence is the final outcome of the behavior.
One way to stop dysfunctional thoughts is by keeping a record of them with a date and time, a description of the situation, the automatic thoughts and emotions involved, an alternative response, and the outcome.
To get rid of cognitive distortions, you have to identify, challenge, and replace them with more helpful thoughts. There are several techniques to do so, one of them is cognitive restructuring which involves changing the way we see things to change the way we feel about them. So when we notice distorted thoughts, we stop and evaluate our options to make a more informed decision There are also behavioral experiments which is a technique where you challenge your assumptions and biases to try and get to the bottom of the thought, treating it like an experiment.
Self-talk is the constant narrative that’s going on in our heads and it can be neutral, positive, or negative. When self-talk is negative try to find an emotional theme. Something that can help is self-scripting which is about fostering and reinforcing positive self-talk. The language we use to refer to ourselves is important because it determines our attitudes and habits, so develop a relationship with yourself that’s all about kindness and respect. Create a self-talk script that’s inspiring when you’re happy so that you can come back to it when you’re in distress
Chapter 6: Newfound Attitudes that Can Teach You to Be More Aware Over Time
Attitude 1: Focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t
Don’t waste energy on something that’s beyond your control. When you can’t change anything, focus on the only thing you can control, yourself.
Attitude 2: Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t
Acknowledge that you’re an active participant in your life. Action can bring you out of a stressful situation. Also, action will make you feel useful and powerful and by changing your perspective, obstacles can turn into opportunities.
Attitude 3: Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t have
Reach confidence by focusing on possible solutions. Don’t dwell on what’s missing because you’ll never come up with a solution.
Attitude 4: Focus on the present, not on the past or the future
Conscious awareness lives in the present, not in the past or the future. Put your thoughts on the single place where they’ll make a difference: the right now.
Attitude 5: Focus on what you need, not on what you want
Identify what’s actually necessary to achieve happiness and well-being. This is an easy way to prioritize what’s important.
Invert certain emotions to positively affect our actions and behaviors. The idea is to identify an emotion you’re feeling, fully commit to reverse it for a few minutes and see the results.
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