Modern-day paralysis by analysis. It is true what they say: “Too much of anything CAN make you weak”. How great is it that we have the luxury of overthinking when in nature the simple act of overthinking can cost you your life? It is nice to know that each time we overthink our life is not on the line, but we should be more wary of the effect overthinking can have on us.
There might be a few of you out there wondering what I am going on about, especially since there is nothing wrong with thinking. That is true! Whether your thoughts are positive or negative, repetitively thinking and analyzing them to the point of debilitation is not good for anybody. All it does is get you stuck in your own head. Not only that, you can start to doubt yourself, this, in turn, increases your stress levels and can land you in a full-blown negative spiral. At the end of this spiral lies an inability to act. I don’t know about you, but the only time I want to be spiraling is when I’m going down a waterslide.
The hare and the tortoise effect
“The sharpest minds often ruin their lives by overthinking the next step, while the dull win the race with eyes closed.”― Bethany Brookbank, ‘Write like no one is reading’
The quote above is a nice variation on the classic hare and the tortoise tale. Where the hare raced against the tortoise, but due to overconfidence, took a nap along the side of the road and woke up to catch the tortoise crossing the finish line ahead of him. This is a very quick and simple retelling of this classic fable from which a popular saying is derived: “slow and steady wins the race”. While this story focuses on physicality, the quote above focuses on mentality. If the sharpest minds are like hares and the dull ones like tortoises, then overthinking can be equated to napping (the defining obstacle that makes or breaks the race).
You can have a sharp mind but get so caught up in the details, the nitty-gritty, that you lose sight of what is truly important to you. This is what can eventually cost you the race.
Overthinking it or rather overcomplicating it?
Overthinking, also, best known as creating problems that are never there.–David Sikhosana
Why do it the easy way, when you can do it the hard way? Some times we have the best of intentions, yet even then we can self-sabotage by overthinking. We are all guilty of it sometimes. I have to confess, this blog took quite some time because, yes, I was overthinking it as well. Guilty!
What got me through this instance and many alike were some of the following steps:
In case of overthinking…
1. Become aware
Like with many other things in life, acknowledging a bad habit such as overthinking is the first step to doing something about it. Change and awareness go hand in hand. It is a lot harder to change something when you are not aware of it. In these cases, it is best to take a critical look at your behaviour in certain circumstances and how you choose to react to them.
2. Set time limits
Great, you know that you are overthinking, you’re already one step closer to doing something about it! One useful way to put your foot down, when you feel that you are wasting time thinking things over and over, is by creating time constraints.
One popular time constraint method, that works to help you stop overthinking and get started, is the ‘Pomodoro Technique‘. This method helps you set time limits (say 20mins with 10mins break) in which you sit down and do the work. This method is a good example of how you can learn to jump into the deep end and start. Think of that phone call you still need to make, that assignment that you still need to write or that decision you still have to make. Setting fixed times feeds on your mind’s ‘ah only X minutes that doesn’t seem so bad’ compromise mentality.
Using time constraints can help you get to the point faster and cut the unproductive dilly-dallying. This method works on the premise of Parkinson’s Law according to which:
“Works expands to fill the time available for its completion”― C. Northcote Parkinson
Think about it, if this really is the case, then each time we start something but do not set clear time frames and deadlines we are thieves of our own time! Next time you start a task, set a time for yourself in which to complete it. Be serious about your intentions to stick to the deadline and you just might surprise yourself with the results!
3. Be in the present
Learn to also be in the present. It’s fine to retrospect and think about the future yet not if it’s constantly at the expense of your present. At times we spend so much time living everywhere else, thinking about past regrets, what-ifs and glory days or future worries and might-be’s all at the expense of the present. At this pace, all life does is pass you by while you are busy overthinking.
A popular way to be in a present state of mind is by practicing mindfulness. This allows you to focus on your current thoughts, feelings, sensations etc. For those of you who might have been wondering, this is also one of those moments where mindfulness techniques such as meditation and yoga come into the equation.
Since there is nothing wrong with thinking and analyzing situations it can be useful to have periods of reflection. As mentioned before, by setting periods of reflection, you give all your attention to active reflection instead of passively reflecting all day long, at the expense of other tasks that you are supposed to be focusing on.
4. Shift your focus
Don’t force yourself to stop thinking about something. If anything, this will just make you double down on the thinking. More productive use of your time is shifting your focus and keeping yourself busy while doing something else.
This might sound like you’re being advised to ignore your problems. Absolutely not! It is about not wasting our energy worrying about problems that are not within our power of influence. Instead, we should shift our focus to other aspects of our lives where things do lie within our sphere of influence.
5. Get physical!
Lastly, when you feel like you’re about to drown in your thoughts, it’s your cue to get up and get active! When you are alone with your thoughts, you best believe you will spend some quality time overanalyzing and overthinking things. The great thing about exercise is that it can be quite therapeutic and helps you clear your head. Give it a try next time you catch yourself on a mental loop.
We need to stop ‘psyching ourselves out’ and stop ourselves from drowning in doomsday scenarios. Things are quite often not as bad as we assume when we overthink things.
Not only that, for most of us, overthinking is a form of procrastination that we have been perfecting for quite some time now. This is regardless of whether we did it on purpose or subconsciously.
The danger lies in tricking ourselves into thinking that we are being productive because we are busy thinking. Yet, one thing is for sure, being busy is not the same as being productive! Don’t fool yourself into a false sense of productivity and accomplishment.
We all have 24 hours in a day, the difference between people is that some choose to spend it being busy while others spend it being productive. I don’t need to tell you who will have accomplished more by the end of the year. Now it’s up to you to distinguish yourself from all the busy people.
“Thinking too much leads to paralysis by analysis. It’s important to think things through, but many use thinking as a means of avoiding action.”
― Robert Herjavec