Most of us who overthink know from the reaction of our friends and family that there are certain areas of life we take more seriously than other people, but when does thinking become over-thinking?
For me overthinking is when we inhibit the natural flow of life, tying ourselves (and often others) up in mental knots trying to work out The Answer, trying to anticipate any potential outcome, and basically not being able to see the wood for the trees. We of course do this in all innocence and with the best possible intentions – to make good decisions and minimise the risk of things happening to us that we think we might not like.
Too often this is where my problem solving brain ends up – until recently I looked to my intellect (or at least I thought I did) to work out the best course of action, believing that the more I planned, analysed and anticipated the better something would go. Much of the time this seemed to work for me, but increasingly I run up against situations where there is no clear, rational answer, or that the sensible answer somehow still doesn’t feel like the right thing to do. The more I think about these kind of situations the more confused I can become, and the less able to get on and actually do anything about them.
I remember one particular occasion where I was trying to decide on whether to take a job and every time I thought about it and rehearsed the pros and cons I got a different answer. What was totally consistent was feeling tense and uncomfortable and not having any clarity. What finally made the difference was feeling so exhausted and exasperated by the circular discussion in my head that I had to just drop it for a while. In the mental space that this created, what emerged was an insight – the reason I was finding it so hard to make a decision was that I actually had a really strong feeling it was not the right thing to do even though on paper it looked like a practical, sensible move. Once I’d acknowledged that, all the thinking fell away and it was totally clear what the right course of action was. Thank goodness I listened as I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to work for the company in question!
This points to one of the most helpful things I have learned over recent years -that actually the most useful and truest guide is not my intellect, but something that communicates at the level of feeling – some people call it listening to your gut or acting on instinct. However confusing our thinking can get, we always know how we are feeling if we are looking out for it. When our feeling is tight, heavy or uncomfortable that is a clear sign that even if your rational mind is telling you something makes sense, you should perhaps be curious about whether you are really being honest with yourself. Conversely if you have a good feeling about something, even if you can’t see if or how it can work out, just trust that at a deeper level you know what’s right for yourself. When we act from that place things just have a way of working out.
What I have seen more and more is that trying to second guess how life is going to play out is counter-productive. Not only is it impossible to know the outcome of any course of action because there are so many more possibilities that we can ever conceive, but it’s actually unnecessary because much of the richness in life comes from that very unpredictability and unknowability of what’s around the corner.
If you’re an overthinker who’d like to spend less time in your head and more time living with greater spontaneity, peace of mind, love and laughter come and join us for a course at JW3 starting Thursday 19th May at 8pm – The Overthinkers Guide to Taking Life in Your Stride. For full info and bookings click here.