You know that feeling when something is bothering you and then you can’t stop thinking about it? Or when someone really pisses you off and you can’t stop thinking about how angry you are, what you should have said, etc.? I get stuck in these thought loops and I’ve found a technique to interrupt the cycle.
I learned this technique in one of the mindfulness meditations I practice, but I use it all the time during my day- meditation insight applied to real life! It’s called thought labeling.
To give it a try, put 5 minutes on your timer. Sit somewhere and start counting your breaths. It’s guaranteed that all sorts of thoughts will start flooding in. When they do, label the type of thought.
-If “what am I having for dinner?” pops up- label it Planning
-If “Did remember to turn off the stove?” label it Worry
-If “I need to schedule my next haircut.” Label it Planning
-“My nose itches.” Label it Discomfort
-“This is so boring, Sonya is crazy.” label it boredom.
-“I really suck at this”: Label it Judging.
If it’s too much to try to pick a label and you get indecisive, you can simply label the thought as “useful” or “not useful.” Or even just call it “thought.”
I’ve found this helpful because it helps you release the thought pattern. And if it starts up again, label it and release it. Let go and begin again. Meditation just helps you practice without distractions, but you can use it all day long as soon as you realize you’re overthinking or judging.
One of many places I use this technique is to help me fall asleep. When the lights go out and my mind starts thinking, planning, judging, worrying, hoping… I just label the thoughts and it helps calm my mind. (another way is to count down from 1000, no rush…just at a steady pace because it replaces the thoughts with a mundane task).
Another place – you don’t make it up a hill on your bike or you burn your food. “I suck.” Thinking…thinking… It encourages you to be the awareness beyond your thoughts.
I challenge you to give this technique a try this week. I’d love to hear how it worked for you! The hardest part is being aware when you are getting lost in thought and being non-judgmental about it. But practice makes it easier AND more applicable in intense moments!
Another technique to help with overthinking is you could try is to schedule a block in your calendar to save that time as your “overthinking time.” This has been effective for a lot of people as well!
“Let go and begin again.”
– Sharon Salzberg