How To Stop Overthinking, According to Ancient Philosophy

There’s nothing worse than a negative thought loop.

Evil thoughts plague your mind with self-doubt, worst-case scenarios, and everything that could possibly go wrong in the future. “I’m not good enough” is something you’ve probably said to yourself a few times. Despite wanting to live a happy life, your habit of overthinking prevents that from becoming a reality. If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. It happens to everyone.

As an example, consider my former self. I used to have a bad habit of overthinking absolutely everything. I’d walk past people in the street and worry what they thought of me. I’d fly on planes and think the plane was going to crash at the slightest hint of turbulence. Heck, I’d even practice things I’m going to say to a lady beforehand, as I didn’t want to screw it up.

So you can live each day with less anxiety.

Even thousands of years ago, people faced the exact same problems that we face today. They worried about work, relationships, and many other aspects of the human experience. But more often than not, all of that worrying would’ve been for nothing. Because like the Roman philosopher Seneca once said:

“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”

I’m a big fan of pragmatism. In essence, it’s dealing “with problems or situations by focusing on practical approaches and solutions — ones that will work in practice, as opposed to being ideal in theory.”

The reason? Many events in life are beyond our control, so worrying about them is pointless. We can’t alter the fact that we occasionally get stuck in traffic on our way to work. Nor can we change what other people do or say. During those moments, the only thing we can control is our attitude. So, that’s what we should focus on.

“When you find yourself worrying, take a minute to examine the things you have control over. You can’t prevent a storm from coming, but you can prepare for it. You can’t control how someone else behaves, but you can control how you react. Recognize that sometimes, all you can control is your effort and your attitude. When you put your energy into the things you can control, you’ll be much more effective.”

I recently had a collapsed lung. It resulted in several hospital visits as well as a great deal of anxiety and stress. After all, I couldn’t go outside, have a conversation, or do anything else. Anything that required me to use my lungs (including breathing) exhausted me. So I had no choice but to sit (or lie) down and wait for my health to improve.

Looking back, I’m genuinely grateful that my lung collapsed. It forced me to sit down (literally), reflect on my life, and think about strategies I could implement to improve my health. Then, I improved my diet and began exercising more each day. And right now, I feel much fitter and healthier than ever before.

The ancient Stoics called this concept Amor Fati (a love of fate). Because unfortunately, you can’t control external events, only your response to them. So, instead of wishing for things to be different, a more pragmatic solution is to accept what’s happened and make the most of it. For example:

  • If you lost your job, say “Amor Fati.” Although it might be stressful, it’s also an opportunity to move to a new city or retrain in another field.
  • If you’re frustrated about international travel restrictions preventing you from going abroad, say “Amor Fati.” Use it as an opportunity to explore your state or somewhere else in the country.
  • If you recently broke up with your partner, say “Amor Fati.” Now, you have a chance to find someone who will treat you better and make you incredibly happy for the rest of your life.

Unfortunately, life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Not everything will go your way. So, instead of worrying about everything you cannot change, try to focus solely on what you can. Because once you learn how to do that during every stressful situation, it’ll be much easier to stop overthinking.

I’m going to leave you with a beautiful quote from the author, Ryan Holiday, who perfectly sums up what I’m saying:

“The only guarantee, ever, is that things will go wrong. The only thing we can use to mitigate this is anticipation. Because the only variable we control completely is ourselves.”

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