Lesson 3: No Good Can Come from Overthinking

Note: This is one of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.  There are links to all the posts I’ve done on this, so far, on my original post.

I remember sitting in Abnormal Psych class, back in my undergrad days.  This was a class of breakthroughs, for every student involved.  The professor, who had worked for years in the field, would describe the characteristics and experiences that would lead to a particular disorder.  During the lecture, we all made connections to ourselves, and somebody would inevitably be near tears by the time the professor, said, “And so it goes.”

Was there anything wrong with any of us?  No.  We were overthinking, overanalyzing.

Our brains love to work, and love to make connections.  And in doing so, they often complicate the simplest aspects of our lives, and lead us to suffer needlessly.

I’ve found that spending time in the house, with nothing else to do, tends to lead me toward overthinking.  My brain will make me absolutely miserable, if I don’t take measures to prevent it.

Here are some of the ways that I overthink:

1.  Diagnosing myself.  All right, so I don’t actually diagnose myself with psychological disorders, but sitting alone, it is very easy to start picking apart and trying to fix myself.  It’s good for us to always strive to be the best we can be, but we need to begin from the assumption that we are improving on what is already good.  When I’m overthinking, I “find” deficiencies all over, and try to fix them.  I’ll end up apologizing for the most ridiculous things, and basically driving myself nuts.

2.  Overanalyzing the reactions of others.  After I’m done with myself, I’ll start picking apart my interactions with my friends and co-workers.  Did I say something wrong?  Am I giving them the wrong impression?  Am I annoying them?  Am I too open?  Too aloof?  This kind of thinking leads to second guessing everything, and keeps me from being authentic around others.  People like other people by default, so my assumptions are probably incorrect anyway.

3.  Diminishing experiences with meaning.  We like to give meaning to everything.  What does the sunset mean?  I’ve seen some powerful images, in my mind, and my mind likes to try and assign meaning to them, and use them to figure out what I need to do.  Meaning and words can really diminish experiences and feelings.  Some things just are.  And we need to enjoy them.

4.  Exaggerating experiences with meaning.  The flip side of #3 holds true as well.  If something unpleasant happens, my mind will try and figure out what it means.  Is it because I did something wrong?  Good things just happen, and bad things just happen.  When we don’t assign meaning to them, we’re able to weather the storms much better.

5.  Barking up the wrong tree.  We don’t like to say “I don’t know.”  So, when I’m faced with a challenge, my mind will search for an explanation, even if it isn’t the correct one.  It’s harder to realize when I’m heading down this road, and I often need to be told by someone else that I’m doing this.  When I’m in the middle of trying to make an answer fit a problem, I have to stop myself and make sure I’m not approaching it from the wrong angle.

No good comes from overthinking.  So how have I been able to avoid it?  Here are some ways:

  • Get out of the house!  I go out and experience life, rather than staying inside.
  • Pauses during the day.  I try to stop and spend a minute or two clearing my mind every 30 minutes or so.
  • Exercise.  I don’t think when I’m riding my bike to work.  It’s a great way to rest my mind.

Have you ever caught yourself overthinking?  What are some ways that you’ve learned to avoid it?

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6 thoughts on “Lesson 3: No Good Can Come from Overthinking

  1. I am a terrible over-thinker. It really annoys me and I still do it! Getting out of the house really helps, as you say. I also literally tell myself to stop ruminating when I catch myself doing it. Night time is worst for me. I play solitaire endlessly to get to sleep!

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