Problems. We all have them.
Some are small, others are big.
But whatever life is throwing our way, one thing remains true:
We think about them.
We think about solutions and worries, whether it’s productive or not.
However, sometimes this thinking can become so constant that it’s impossible to stop.
But if we want to take action in our lives and live in the moment, we need to learn to stop it.
The problem that we’ve all experienced, however, is that the harder we try to stop thinking, the more intense our thinking becomes.
So, what can we do?
According to Buddhism and western psychology, it’s all about learning the art of acceptance and letting go.
Check out the below 5 strategies to stop overthinking so you can start living.
1) Practice present moment awareness using mindfulness
A 2007 study by professor Norman Farb at the University of Toronto broke new ground in our understanding of mindfulness from a neuroscience perspective.
It found that humans have two different sets of networks in the brain for dealing with the world.
The first network is for experiencing your experience. This is called “the default network”.
This network is activated when not much is happening and you begin thinking about yourself.
It’s the network involved in planning, daydreaming and ruminating. It holds together our narrative about the world.
The second network is called “direct experience network”.
When the direct experience network is active, it becomes a whole other way of experiencing experience.
When this network is activated, you are not thinking intently about the past or future, other people, or even yourself.
Rather, you are experiencing information coming into your senses.
For example, if you are in the shower, this network is activated when you notice the warmth of the water hitting your body.
The interesting thing is that both these networks are inversely correlated.
If you have an upcoming meeting while washing dishes, you are less likely to notice a cut on your hand, because the network involved in direct experience is less active.
You don’t feel your senses as much.
Fortunately, this works both ways.
When you intentionally focus your attention on incoming sensory data, such as the feeling of the water on your hands while you wash, it reduces activation of the narrative circuitry.
What does this mean in terms of overthinking?
Therefore, whenever you intentionally activate your direct experience network by using your senses, you’re reducing activity in your default network, which is involved in overthinking.
This is why meditation breathing exercises can work when you’re overthinking, because you focus your attention on the sensory experience of your breathe.
Your senses become more alive at that moment.
You can do this at any stage through the day.
Simply tune into your senses. Whether it’s your feet hitting the ground, or your hands touching the coffee mug.
The more you do this, the more you’ll rewire the brain to experience the present moment.
2) A Zen Masrer explains how to practice acceptance
If you’ve ever tried to control your thoughts, you’ve probably found that more thoughts seem to arise.
It’s almost like putting out fire with fire, even though it seems like it’s the most logical thing to do.
However, Zen master Shunry Suzuki says that “if you want to obtain perfect calmness in your [practice], you should not be bothered by the various images you find in your mind. Let them come and let them go. Then they will be under control.”
The teaching is direct – we simply watch our thoughts and give them plenty of room.
We don’t try to control or shove them aside.
Instead of treating them like we were the “thought police”, we instead act like a more casual observer.
This advice is echoed from Zen master Annamalai Swami:
“If you can be continuously aware of each thought as it rises, and if you can be so indifferent to it that it doesn’t sprout or flourish, you are well on the way to escaping from the entanglements of mind.”
3) Understand that everything comes and goes
According to Zen Master Shunry Sazuki, the underlying key to calming the mind is to accept change:
“Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure. But unfortunately, although it is true, it is difficult for us to accept it. Because we cannot accept the truth of transiency, we suffer.”
Everything changes, it’s the fundamental law of the universe.
Yet, we find it hard to accept. We identify strongly with our fixed appearance, with our body and our personality.
And when it changes, we suffer.