Podcast episode 21 Why overthinkers are so good at striving (and why that’s not such a good thing)
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I’m a writer and teacher specialising in overthinking and overworrying. Here I share with you ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to spend less time overthinking and worrying and more time enjoying your life.
Hello and welcome to episode 21. Today I’m talking about the striving and time travelling we do as overthinkers and how that means we’re missing out on the joy we could be experiencing right now.
So as overthinkers we spend a lot of our time living in the past or future and rarely the present. We look back over events that have already happened, conversations that have already taken place and we go over and over them wondering what we could have done differently, what the other person really meant by their look, words or actions, what they really thought of us and we beat ourselves up with all the different ways that we messed up, looked stupid or embarrassed ourselves.
When we’re not going back in time we’re fast forwarding into the future, imagining all the different possible scenarios for a situation that hasn’t happened yet. We have imaginary conversations with other people where we take on all the roles, guessing what he’d say then what we’d say then what she’d say. We think of all the things that could go wrong, trying to figure out all the potential pitfalls from every angle and viewpoint. And we promise ourselves that if we can just get this situation sorted out, if we can just please that person, if we can just get over this hurdle we’ll be happy, everything will be well and we can stop worrying.
We set up a goal post by this future event secure in the knowledge that once the ball is in the back of the net we can relax, we’ll have nothing left to worry about and then we can think about enjoying ourselves and getting on with life.
Only that’s not what we do. As soon as we’ve done whatever it is that we were working towards, as soon as we’ve blasted the ball squarely into the goal, we move the posts. Before the ball has stopped moving we’ve lifted the goal posts up and we’re off with them, they’re hovering in mid-air while we think about the next worrisome challenge, all the things we need to make it okay and what we have to do to feel sorted and able to stop worrying. Once we’ve thought and thought and thought about it some more we plonk down the goal posts and the cycle starts again. Can you tell I’ve been watching the World Cup?
Every time we hit a target, tick a thing off the list, or cross a line we think we’ll finally have reached that shiny, glowing goal of happiness.
And this applies to all kinds of things in life, not just what we worry about. When you get the bathroom painted you’ll be happy. When you’ve had a holiday you’ll be happy. When you drop a few pounds, when you’ve got more followers on Instagram, when you get that promotion, when you move house… the list never ends and when you achieve whatever it is that you’re aiming for you barely take a breath to recognise it, savour it and bask in the warm glowy feeling because you’re straight on to thinking about what’s next.
So, there are a couple of things going on here. The first is what’s known as destination addiction. It’s that constant striving towards something that I’ve just been talking about. You’re looking forwards towards the destination, figuratively speaking, so when you arrive at it you don’t feel the joy and the sense of accomplishment because you’re looking forwards again to the next destination.
And it’s such a shame because you’re so busy in the future you’re missing out on what there is to be cherished and enjoyed in the present. There’s so much value in savouring this moment in time, in acknowledging that the thing that you’ve been working towards or looking forward to or that has felt like a really tough challenge to overcome is here and now. You’ve hit your target, the much-anticipated moment has arrived or you’ve made it through the difficult time. And that is something to notice, to savour, to relish and to sit with in this moment. You don’t need to leap straight ahead into what’s next.
It’s in this present moment where the joy is to be found, where you can allow yourself to feel exactly what you hoped and dreamed and wished you would feel when you reached this point. To rush straight on to what will make you happy next is to deny yourself the happiness that’s right where you are now. Yes, something in the future can make you happy, I hope there are lots of things in all of our futures that will make us happy, but this is it right now, the joy that we so wanted to feel when we reached this point is available to us if we just let ourselves feel it.
It doesn’t mean that we’re lazy or self-indulgent or navel-gazers or selfish or lacking in ambition or any of the mean things we tell ourselves when there’s an opportunity to feel real joy. I’m not suggesting you take up permanent residence in the present moment and stop looking forward because you’ve reached happiness and now you’re done. I’m simply pointing out that if you constantly strive towards the next thing without taking a little bit of time to acknowledge what joy, calm and contentment there is to experience in the present you’re missing out and doing yourself a great disservice.
So, I said there were two things. The second thing is known as hedonic adaptation. Put more simply it’s that over time we get used to how things are so what we thought would make us feel super happy forever more becomes the norm. That isn’t to say that we can’t increase our happiness because we can, our actions are responsible for around 40%, depending on which scientist you talk to, of how happy we feel. But thinking that one thing or one change in your life will make you ecstatically happy and everything perfect is misguided.
There was research carried out on lottery winners that discovered that after the initial euphoric joy of winning an enormous sum of money, the happiness level of the winners returned to their pre-win level within a year. Of course money can take away stress and worry and can provide more opportunities through which more joy can be experienced. But in the day to day, going about ordinary life the lottery winners felt about as happy as they did before they won the money.
We can test this on ourselves, think about something you’re been looking forward to for ages, perhaps a new phone or a holiday or moving house. When you first get the new phone or while you’re on holiday or when you first move home it feels wonderful, you feel excited and joyful. Then some time goes by, it could be days, weeks or months and that feeling settles down and dissipates. You still like your phone, you remember you had fun on holiday and you enjoy your new home but you don’t have that super happy feeling any more. So that goal that you were striving towards has been reached, you’ve adapted to it and you’re busy thinking about the next thing round the corner.
So, what can we do to combat destination addiction and hedonic adaptation? How we can feel more joy in the everyday and keep that feeling with us for longer?
By paying attention to what’s happening in our lives right now, noticing how we’re feeling, appreciating what’s good in our lives and letting it all sink in to our bones and our memories. Or, in other words, by practising mindfulness, gratitude and savouring. This is the essence of what I talk about in all of these podcast episodes and in my writing and my courses – what we can do to overthink less and enjoy life more.
So, let’s take the previous example of a holiday. While you’re on the holiday be on holiday, notice all the lovely things that you’re enjoying whether it’s the weather, the food, the history, the people or the time to relax. Remind yourself what you were looking forward to and acknowledge that right now you’re experiencing it, just as you hoped you would and appreciate it. You don’t need to think about everything that’s waiting for you back home or when you might next have a break away, you can soak up this holiday right now as it’s happening. And when you get home you can keep those happy memories alive by framing photos or making a photo book, writing about it in your journal, recreating a favourite dish or displaying mementoes you brought home with you.
Or another example could be if you had been worrying about making a presentation at work, overthinking all the ways it could go wrong, how you could make a total fool of yourself and your boss thinking you’re a prize idiot. You tell yourself that if you can just get through it you’ll be happy and you can stop worrying. So, the presentation happens, it doesn’t go horribly wrong as you were dreading, and for a moment you feel a wave of relief. And then you start wondering what if your boss wants you to do another presentation. What if you had to do this again, what if you had to talk to more people or to travel or…
Before you get sucked into the vortex that is your overthinking brain, pause for a moment. Acknowledge that you did it. This presentation that you were so nervous about and spent so much time worrying and agonising over as well as preparing for is not only over but you did a good job. You didn’t fall apart, you did everything expected of you and you made it through successfully. Allow yourself to feel the relief and the pride and the joy and appreciate yourself for facing a really tough challenge and coming out the other side in tact. Mark the occasion and celebrate this achievement in whatever way feels good to you and let these positive feelings really soak in to your bones and your memory.
The next time you feel you’ve reached a goal or made it over a hurdle, take some time to be mindful of what’s happening and how you’re feeling, appreciate what it took to get there and how you feel about it, and savour the experience, before you leap forward into what’s next.
There are a few other podcast episodes that you might want to listen to following this. In episode 9 I talk about how we think being able to control everything means we can worry less, but it’s not true. Episode 3 is all about the life-changing power of feeling grateful. In episode 7 I talk about noticing and savouring the little things in life and in episode 4 I share ideas on how you can practice mindfulness as you go about your everyday life. I’ll link to all of these episodes in the show notes.
As always I love to hear what strikes a chord with you in this episode so do get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for joining me for Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers. You can find the show notes and other episodes at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast.
If you’d like to use the power of regular gratitude practice to build your resilience, feel more optimistic, spend less time overthinking and more time enjoying what’s already in your life, take a look at my online course, A Thankful Heart, and start feeling the positive difference in your life within three weeks. Go to gabrielletreanor.com/courses to find all the information and join.
Thanks again for listening, until next time, lovely people.