3 Tricks for Introverts to Stop Overthinking an Embarrassing Memory

An overthinking introvert looks out the window

Introverts are naturally introspective, but sometimes our thoughts get away from us.

An old, awkward memory popped into my mind, unsolicited, as I was lying in bed. I was 22 years old, and it was time to present my final project for my college internship. I had been working on it for weeks. It was a group assignment, and my team was given a lump sum of speaking time and divided it evenly. Six to seven minutes. It was perfect for my young, introverted mind. I was given a task I could work on alone, so I did.

However, I was completely flustered when my teammates approached me and said I needed to cut my speech. 

“I’m at six minutes and forty-five seconds,” I said nervously. If I was within time, why were they insisting I make cuts? I did not ask any follow-up questions. Nor did I try to ask for clarity. I did not even try to explain why I needed all six minutes and forty-five seconds. Instead, the group sent over a single representative to “work” with me, a charismatic man in his 40s who reminded me of my kind uncle.

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Going With the Flow Instead of Speaking Up

The man plopped down next to me with a tight smile and said, “Okay, let’s get to work on this.” To my amazement, he swiveled my laptop around to face him and began wordlessly making edits to my hard work. I had gotten to know my group members pretty well, and they were ambitious, but not without etiquette. A simple, “Wait, can you explain what we’re going to do here?” would have paused his process, and possibly cleared up some type of miscommunication. However, I was too nervous to speak.

So what happened? I recited the mangled speech. After the presentation, some teammates approached me and told me I did a great job. They said that my first speech was “meh” and that this one was so much better. Sure, they were right, my first speech probably did need to change, but the way they handled it had just given me a horrible experience with interpersonal communication. I still cringe when I think about everything I could have said to them and how the situation made me feel.

Still (Over)thinking It Today

That was six years ago, so why does it still pop into my head every now and then and disrupt my life?

Introverts are naturally introspective — we spend a lot of time in our heads. All this overthinking can be a powerful tool, yet it can sometimes work against us and be hard for us. Other times, our thoughts can get away from us, and they seem to pop up at random with positively no warning. Spending so much time with our thoughts can drive us to naturally be creative and imaginative. But is there anything we can do when our thoughts start to nag us? When they get to be “too much”?

Here are a few things that help me when one of these moments gets stuck in my head. 

3 Tricks to Stop Overthinking Something as an Introvert

1. Don’t try to block it out — instead, let yourself think about it (but for a set amount of time).

To stop thinking about it, I let myself think about it. Yes, that sounds counterproductive, but it can be a useful first step to getting rid of a pesky memory for a few reasons.

Trying hard not to think about something usually ends up backfiring. It turns out that using tremendous amounts of mental energy trying to block out a thought can be more tiresome. Also, trying to force the images out of my mind makes me think about them even more!

Letting myself think about it also allows me to unpack it. As an introvert, I often do not feel comfortable expressing my emotions, even to myself. By taking time to analyze the memory, however, I can get a clearer picture of what happened, and how it made me feel. It reminds me of organizing a closet. Each component has to be broken down, analyzed, and unwrapped before it can become tidy and packed away in my brain again.

After thinking about it often enough, it begins to lose a bit of its sting. Introverts have different thresholds for which types of social interactions (typically rejections) cause them discomfort. In my case, I was not distraught by the memory, just embarrassed. So after thinking about it for a while, I started to feel a little better.

If you find you cannot stop thinking about it, only allow yourself a set amount of time, and then move on. This can work wonders!

2. Don’t try to change the past. Instead, accept it. 

Once we have become comfortable with having the memory, it is time to work on not trying to change it. 

It is so frustrating to look back on any memory in hindsight and think about all the things we could have said. I used to want to scream at my past self, “Tell them you’re open to feedback, but they need to be more specific!” 

If I could dive back into the past, I could “fix” the situation. Maybe that annoying memory would stop creeping up on me during times when I feel unheard or unimportant. No matter how many solutions present-day me comes up with, the memory itself cannot change.

But the past is not where we rewrite the story. That happens in the future. So try your very best to stay in the present and let the past stay in the past.

3. Do use the memory for something that benefits you.

This is the secret weapon. Turn the memory against itself! Transform it from something that embarrasses you and brings you down into something that serves you and helps you grow. 

In my case, I noticed I was not embarrassed because my speech was bad. It was because I lost my ability to speak up for myself to the point that other people thought it was okay to go ahead and make their own changes to my work. 

The nagging memory would plague me the most when I’d face harsh criticism in the workplace, or when I’d be surrounded by large personalities who would not let me get a word in edgewise.

I distilled this one moment into a skill I have used time and time again. I no longer hesitate to ask for clarity before I (or my teammates!) start on a project. Introverts can find it hard to speak up in the workplace, and I, too, feel uncomfortable with this (all thanks to that one moment six years ago).

But “Can you give some examples?” and “Can you speak more to that?” and even “What do you mean?” are no longer phrases that cause me discomfort. This has saved me from many headaches. Now, when the awkward memory pops back up — which it still does every now and then — I simply try and remember all the good that it has done for me. That way, I feel like I’ve regained my power over it.

It may not be a perfect system, but as an introvert, it has saved me time and time again. And I hope it will do the same for you! 

Introverts, what would you add to the list? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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