“Did I make the right decision? Did I come across as sociable or just attention-seeking? … and why do my socks keep disappearing in the laundry?”
These are just a few of the questions that can be buzzing through our minds at any given moment. As we all know, life is full of uncertainty, and so it is natural to question things. In fact, it shows that you are intellectual, curious, and analytical. However, we probably both know that questioning everything, all the time, can also make you a little insane.
How do we stop? How do we know at what point we should stop? (And is this what it feels like to be stuck in an infinite loop of questions?) This is what we’ll be exploring in this article.
How to know if you’re questioning things too much
It is very healthy to question things to an extent.
Imagine if you felt 100% confident about everything all the time. It would be pretty difficult for people to collaborate with you. You’d be very slow at learning new things. And, you’d probably make a lot of very bad decisions.
So what is the point where it goes too far?
Essentially, it boils down to how it affects your feelings and your life. And I’m guessing if you’re reading this article, you’re already past this point.
But, to clarify, here are some signs you should try to stop questioning things:
- You find it impossible to make decisions because you’re too worried you’ll make the wrong one.
- You feel a constant sense of anxiety because you cannot find answers with certainty.
- It brings about other mental or emotional problems such as extreme insecurity, inability to focus, etc.
If you identify with any of those signs, use the tips below to anchor your thoughts.
6 tips to prevent your brain from questioning everything
I know the feeling of exhaustion when you can’t seem to stop questioning everything. It can be especially hard to pull yourself out of the endless train of questions when you’re in the midst of it.
So here’s the best strategy. Adopt beliefs and habits that will keep you from questioning in the first place. These first 6 tips will help you do just that.
1. Recognize that it doesn’t help you
Not to get all meta here, but have you ever wondered why you question everything?
Constant questioning often stems from some kind of fear, such as:
- Fear of making mistakes.
- Fear of not knowing.
- Fear of what others might think of you.
- Fear of not looking smart or important.
Your brain is trying to protect you by foreseeing every possible outcome and avoiding any potential pitfalls. It’s an understandable mechanism, but here’s the problem. There are way too many possible outcomes and pitfalls for your brain to process. It can’t possibly help you prepare for or avoid every single one of them.
So though there might be a good intention to this mechanism, it doesn’t actually help you. Understanding this opens your mind up to the idea of letting go of it.
2. Understand the reason why you do it
We just saw that there could be several reasons why you question things. Now, it is time to identify exactly which one is true for you.
Because you know it’s not helpful. But it’s also the only tool you have right now to deal with anxiety around uncertainty.
To let go of it, you need to replace it with a better coping mechanism. And for that, you need to know what the exact problem is.
Take note of the instances when you question things excessively. Is it predominantly work-related, tied to your social interactions, or spread across all aspects of your life? Pinpointing the specific domains of questioning can help determine its origins.
I find it most helpful to keep a journal where you can write down all the questions that come up for you. Once you look at them all together, you may recognize some patterns. Try to dig past the questions and into the emotions underlying them.
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3. Take care of your physical needs
Have you noticed that when you’re tired or hungry, it’s harder to think clearly? (Or about anything other than burgers?)
Science has made it pretty clear by now that our mind and body are inextricably linked.
Several aspects of physical well-being affect your mental health, and specifically how you think. These include:
- What food you eat.
- How much water you drink.
- How well you sleep.
- Whether or not you exercise.
- How deeply you breathe.
- Any health issues you’re having.
To give a very practical example, I was writing this section of this article while very hungry. I wanted to at least finish it before taking a break for dinner. But I realized that I was rewriting the same paragraph over and over again because I couldn’t stop questioning the way I wrote it.
I popped into the burger place next door then got back to writing — and suddenly everything was flowing much more smoothly. I may not be setting the best example for the choice of food, but the main point is this. Your body is the vehicle of your mind, so make sure to take care of it.
4. Learn to be comfortable with uncertainty
When you question things, you’re looking for answers. But not just any answers — ones that give you certainty.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news… but those answers don’t exist. There are no guarantees in life. If it’s not already in the past, it’s always subject to change. The universe may as well have come with a disclaimer saying “I reserve the right to turn your life upside down, at any moment, no matter how meticulously you planned for something else.”
So how do we deal with this? The only way we can. Since we cannot change it, we have no choice but to get comfortable with it.
How? Well, I’m not a master at this yet myself. However, thinking about these ideas has helped me make progress:
- Some of the best things that happened to you were the result of something unexpected. Maybe you met your partner or best friend by coincidence or as the result of a change of plans. Uncertainty can lead to great things.
- You are able to handle change or unexpected events even when it is negative. You are strong and resilient.
- If you could predict everything in life, it would be extremely boring, and probably not worth living.
- Being anxious won’t give you any more certainty, it will just make any experience less enjoyable. You might as well stop struggling and enjoy the ride. (Of course, continue to take healthy precautions to get reasonable certainty for important things like health and finances.)
5. Understand that questioning things is also a strength
You’re here because you feel you question things too much — but remember, the goal is not to stop altogether, but to strike a balance.
Like a coin, every trait we have has two sides to it. Even your tendency to question has an array of potential benefits.
- It shows you are curious.
- It allows you to learn a lot.
- It gives you flexibility in thinking.
- It helps you see other perspectives.
- It helps you reflect on yourself.
- It lets you understand the world better.
Balance allows you to do this without the anxiety and stress that comes with questioning everything. So, while you’re trying to decrease this habit, don’t forget its positives. And don’t beat yourself up if you do it once in a while.
6. Get help from a therapist
Questioning everything can also be associated with certain mental health problems, like anxiety or depression. If this is your case, it’s best to seek help from a licensed professional.
Even if you don’t have a diagnosis, or are struggling with something like low self-esteem. If you struggle with this problem to the extent that it’s difficult to live your life, definitely consider speaking to someone.
They can help you understand the root cause and give you targeted strategies to address it.
7 tips to help you snap out of questioning everything
Now, you know 6 great tips to tame your brain’s tendency to question things. But this doesn’t mean it will never happen again. So you need to have some strategies for what to do when it gets out of control.
There are different types of situations where you might question things. Going back and forth on an important decision. Debating whether saying something is setting healthy boundaries or overreacting. Or just a regular existential crisis.
So depending on the situation, use whichever of these 7 tips feels most suitable.
7. Ask for other people’s input
I firmly believe we should rely first and foremost on our own opinions and conclusions. At the same time though, it can be helpful to consider those of other people. Especially when you’re driving yourself crazy in your own mind.
Stepping outside of it to see another person’s perspective can give you a sanity check. “Okay, I’m not the only one who sees it like this. I’m not crazy for wondering about this.” This person may even offer a fresh perspective that helps you see things in a new light. Or, help you sort out the critical questions from the unproductive ones. At the very least, they can be a compassionate sounding board for your thoughts.
Remember, it’s not about seeking validation, but gaining an external viewpoint to compare against your own.
8. Imagine a friend was telling it to you
When you’re in a situation yourself, it’s hard to take a step back and view it objectively. That’s where this technique can come in handy. Imagine a friend or loved one is describing the situation to you, and they are stuck in the cycle of questioning you are in now. What would you tell them?
This strategy is a way of practicing self-compassion. Often, we are kinder and more understanding towards others than we are to ourselves. So by imagining the situation from an outsider’s perspective, you can give yourself the same empathy and wisdom you’d offer to a friend.
9. Allow yourself to calm down
Our brain functions in interesting ways. When you’re stressed, your amygdala — a tiny, almond-shaped part of your brain that deals with fear and emotion — can run rampant. This can make you think in a way that’s not entirely rational or clear. It’s like trying to see through a foggy windshield — things get distorted.
So, before you make any attempt to stop your questioning, let yourself calm down. Do activities that soothe you and help reduce stress, such as:
- Listening to calming music.
- Taking a relaxing bath.
- Doing a hobby you enjoy.
- Walking in nature.
It’s not about suppressing your questions or emotions, but allowing them to exist without ruling your thoughts. Once your mind is clear, you can reassess the situation with a fresh perspective.
10. Set a time limit for decisions
Have you ever heard of Parkinson’s Law? It states that tasks expand to take up the time you give yourself for them. If you have a day to complete an application, you’ll have it done by tomorrow. If you have a month, it will somehow take you 30 days. (Kind of like how much popcorn you’re hungry for depends on the size of bag you get at the movies.)
So if your questioning revolves around a decision or task, try setting a time limit. Once the time is up, you have to make the best decision you can with the information you have.
The time limit can vary depending on the importance and complexity of the decision. It could be five minutes for deciding what to eat for lunch, or a week for deciding whether to accept a job offer. But remember, the longer you give yourself the longer it will take. So if you really want to stop questioning things, go for as short as possible.
11. Allow time to pass and follow your gut
If whatever you’re questioning isn’t urgent, maybe it’s time to try using your brain. But not the one in your head — that’s the one that got you into this mess in the first place. This time, try using your “second brain” — the one in your gut.
This is what we consider our intuition. It can give us information that we can’t perceive with our five senses. And sometimes, it has even better judgment than conscious thought.
For example, a University of Mannheim study shows that thinking too much reduces your ability to read people well. The study participants watched videos of both honest and deceptive people. Half of them were asked to ponder who was trustworthy immediately after. The other half were first distracted by a different task. The second group was much better at telling who was honest.
Why? Their subconscious minds had a chance to analyze what they saw without being distracted by conscious analysis. Next time, try to use this to your advantage.
12. Experiment and build trust in yourself
Another possible reason for this struggle might be that you’re afraid to trust your own judgment. You’re worried you understand things the wrong way, or you’re overreacting, or the way you’re thinking is simply wrong.
But of course, you can’t go through life relying on other people to validate your feelings and decisions. That’s a good way to drive yourself insane (and probably also your friends). You need to learn to rely on yourself. And the best way to do this is through trial and error.
Next time you find yourself questioning your own judgment, try this:
- Take the information you have. Formulate a hypothesis on the decision or opinion you have to make.
- Act on it.
- Eventually, you’ll see if it was right or not. Use this information when you try again next time.
You’re going to make some mistakes along the way, and that’s okay. But over time, you’ll develop a relationship of trust with yourself. Eventually, you’ll be able to make decisions without questioning them so much.
13. Occupy your mind with something
Overthinking things can easily spiral out of control. It can lead you into such a convoluted maze of thoughts, even Sherlock Holmes would need a map. You need to cut the questioning short and pull yourself out.
The easiest way to snap out of it is a color-based technique suggested by Dr. Kate Truitt.
- Look for 5 red items in your environment, whether it’s in the room around you or on your computer screen.
- Then look for 5 orange items.
- Now 5 yellow items.
- Continue with all the other colors: green, blue, purple, brown, black, white.
You might also like to find hobbies to occupy your brain with in general. Your brain will have less idle time to wander off and question things.
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Training your brain to question things less
Now you’re armed with 13 awesome tips to help you stop questioning things.
The first 6 will help your brain get out of the habit in general. And the other 7 will help you know what to do when it does happen. I hope these tips help you along your journey toward mental well-being and happiness.
And when you’re ready for the next step, make sure to come back to Tracking Happiness — we’ve got plenty more where this came from!
How do you keep yourself from questioning everything? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!