As an overthinker it’s all too easy to get stuck replaying a conversation or a situation and thinking up all the different ways you could have handled it and how that could have changed things. So what do you do with all these thoughts?
In this episode we look at:
Pressing Pause Podcast episode 54 But what if I’d done things differently?
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers, brought to you by The Calm Mind Club where overthinkers can find calm, confidence and community.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I share ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to worry less and enjoy life more.
Welcome to episode 54. I’ve been getting some lovely messages from you lovely listeners about how much you enjoy listening to this podcast and how it’s helping you. I absolutely beam when I get your messages, it means so much to me so thank you. Which brings me to ask for a favour. Podcasts are found more easily on places like iTunes when they receive reviews, so if you enjoy listening to Pressing Pause it would be fantastic if you could post a review on iTunes. It’s simple to do, I even have instructions at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast if you want to follow them, and it means that iTunes will show this podcast to more people which means more people will be able to find and listen and hopefully gain something from it. So, thank you very much in advance.
Okay, on with this episode and this time I’m answering a question from Claire. She messaged me on Instagram and said, ‘Once you’ve made a strong decision, for example, ending a friendship, but then you keep thinking about other ways you could have handled it, what do you do with that?’
This is a great question because, while the specifics may be different, the issue of going over something we’ve said and done, replaying it and thinking of all the different ways we could have handled it, is something that overthinkers can get really stuck on.
First of all, think about why you made this decision, was it on the spur of the moment? I’m guessing that something like ending a friendship wasn’t a decision you took lightly. You didn’t one day, out of the blue, just decide you’d had enough and that was it, friendship over. I’m guessing that you thought about this for a long time, you wrestled with what to do, you felt uncomfortable with how your relationship with this person was going and you came to the decision that you didn’t want things to carry on as they were.
So this wasn’t a spontaneous move, you didn’t make this decision lightly and you had reasons, which you don’t need to explain or justify to anyone, for ending the friendship.
Now, as to how you handled it, I don’t know what was said or what happened in this specific example, but yes, there are many ways that you can handle it. You can use different words, do it in a different location, at a different time, there are lots of ways that you can go about ending a friendship.
When you’re thinking about other ways you could have handled it are you wondering if you could have handled it better? If you had done things differently would it have been less awkward? Would you have felt more comfortable or confident? Would the other person have been less hurt or cross or whatever their response was? And that’s something you’ll never really know. It’s not possible to know what the experience for yourself and the other person involved would have been if any elements of that experience were different. So telling yourself that maybe if you had done that, or maybe if you had said that it would have gone better is tricky because you can’t know for sure if it would have made things better. You could be beating yourself up for no reason.
Now, if you are convinced that you could have handled it better then take that as a lesson to learn from this experience. If you’re sure that having the conversation in that particular location, for example, was a bad idea and it would have been better somewhere else, than chalk that up to experience and remember it the next time that you’re going to have a challenging conversation. It may be relevant, it may not, but this is all experience that you can draw on in the future.
The key thing here is this desire, or need, depending on how you look at it, to keep going over, to keep replaying what happened, to keep imagining all the ways that this situation could have been handled differently. Continuing to go over and over what happened isn’t helping you. A review of the experience, learning from it and considering what would be useful for you to bear in mind for the future, is helpful. But when you’ve done that and you continue to go over and over it, that’s when this becomes unhelpful rumination.
And I get why you do it, this is what we overthinkers do. We believe that if we keep thinking about a situation something will change. We’ll have a new realisation, we’ll remember something we’d forgotten, we’ll change how we feel about it. Or, if it’s something we feel guilty about, continuing to stay stuck in replaying the situation stops us from forgiving ourselves and moving on from it. By staying with the experience that we feel bad about it’s like we’re doing penance somehow.
But who is this helping? In this example the person with whom you’re no longer friends doesn’t know this is what you’re doing, and they probably wouldn’t be interested to know either. So they aren’t benefiting from you ruminating.
Is it helping you? That depends on how you feel as you’re replaying and rehashing and rethinking it all. If you feel relief or more positive or like it’s allowing you to move forward then that’s great. But if this rumination is keeping you feeling guilty or worried or frustrated and it’s keeping you stuck reliving the past, then it’s not helping you. No-one is benefiting from you imagining all the ways that you could have handled it differently, not you and not the other person.
All it’s doing is making you feel bad and distracting you from being here in the present and looking forwards to the future.
If you’re finding it hard to let go of the experience and move on one idea you can try is writing a letter to the other person but don’t send it. In this letter you can write all the things you’ve thought of that you could have said. You can write what you could have done, where you could have done it, how you could have behaved and get it all out of your head and onto a piece of paper. If you’re not keen on writing you can say it all out loud instead. Find a quiet moment in a private space where you can’t be overheard and talk it all out to yourself. Get it all off your chest, all the possible different scenarios, all the different ways you could have handled this situation and get it all out of your head.
Then, when you can’t think of anything else more to write or to say, check in with how you’re feeling. What would help you to lay this to rest and to move on? That might be enough, maybe you’re ready to toss the paper in the recycling bin and get back on with your day. Or maybe you need a little action to create closure. So, you could tear up the letter into lots of little pieces or even set fire to it. Without setting yourself or anything else alight, obviously. Or perhaps putting on an upbeat song to switch up your energy and mood would help you to draw a line under it.
When it comes to ruminating, which is what you’re doing when you’re going over and over the same thoughts, ask yourself how this is helping you? If you’re working through a challenge, if you’re gaining insight and clarity, coming up with ideas, learnings and solutions then that’s great. You’re gaining from your thinking which is helping you to move forward, it’s active.
But if the answer to this question is that you’re wishing you could redo the past, you can’t get it out of your head, you feel bad for what happened, that’s passive and it’s not helping you. It’s just keeping you stuck without learning or insight and it’s stopping you from moving forward.
And this applies to whatever you’re replaying and rehashing and going over and over in your head, whether it’s the specific example Claire gave or a conversation with your mum or how you reacted to someone in a shop or a joke you made in a meeting or whatever it is.
Recognising that your overthinking is becoming unhelpful is the first step in being able to do something about it. And it’s okay if you don’t know what to do about it next, we can talk about that together. Overthinking is absolutely something that you don’t have to stay stuck with forever so send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Instagram where I’m @gabrielletreanor, I’ll put the links in the show notes too, and let’s have a chat about how you can become free from your overthinking and feel free to live your life as you want to.
I hope you found my answer to your question helpful, Claire, and everyone listening, and please do send me questions for future episodes. You can find the show notes for this episode at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast and, as I said at the start, if you enjoyed Pressing Pause it would be a huge help if you left a review on iTunes so that other people can find the podcast too.
And if you’d like help to free yourself from your overthinking, send me a message.
Thanks for listening, until next time, lovely people.
If you have, or think you may have, a mental health problem that requires professional diagnosis or treatment, please consult a mental health care professional and your GP.
You can also talk to the people at Mind on 0300 123 3393 or SANE on 0300 304 7000 or Samaritans on 116 123.
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