Sometimes, Thinking’s a Bad Idea
I like thinking. I do it a lot. It’s what a human is made to do. We have evolved to evaluate our situation. We need to consider options, plan for the future, and make an effort to see the possible, immediate future to prevent harm or to get an advantage.
But with overthinking, there’s no real advantage. It’s like putting your brain over a rotisserie; your’re spinning and your brain is cooking at the same time. Overthinking causes a great many problems for yourself. It takes thinking that is already cognitively distorted and creates a world of illusion around that thinking.
My Head Is On Fire
When I overthink, my brain’s on the fast spin cycle on very, very high heat. Rationality goes out the window. Forget clarity. All my energies go into creating the momentum of my cranial explosion. Everything is flame and black smoke. Can’t see anything for the smoke or get away from the pain of the fire. It’s chaos. I’m completely unable to see where I’m going and that makes a dangerous path to tread. It means I’m making myself miserable.
And indecision. Indecision is the enemy. If I can’t make real and proper decisions, then why choose, allow or engage in overthinking in the first place? Isn’t that a bad decision?
Let’s take a look at the equation that creates it::
problem(s) (x) urgency (x) cognitive distortions (=) Overthinking
So let’s discuss. You’ve got a problem. Actually, you’ve got many. And in your mind those problems have a high level of urgency. They need something done about them right now. But which problems? Is there one thing that needs addressing first, or do we take them on all at once? For this example, we take them all on: security, finances, love or lack thereof, self-doubt, bad situations – why, the list is endless. Choose your poison.
Then we multiply that by urgency.
All of the problems you’re thinking about end up screaming at you. This must be taken care of right now, this minute. The solutions must present themselves right away and if they don’t happen my way, right now, then these problems are going to make my life a living hell. I will never solve them. Sound the Alarms!
And those blaring klaxons are of course multiplied by cognitive distortion. You know somewhere in your brain that it’s not good for you to have this angst but you just can’t help it. Your cognitive distortions run rampant and then suddenly you’re on fire.
You’re overthinking, and overthinking is exponential; it’s like a runaway uranium chain reaction. Everything blows up in your brain and then — catastrophe! Your head practically explodes. Your anxiety is over the top.
There, See What You’ve Done! Are You Happy Now?
Once you’ve reached critical mass, you’re incapacitated. Nothing is going to be solved unless you are able to calm down your thinking, give yourself a break, don’t hate yourself over your overthinking and move toward the ‘one thing at a time’ thinking posture.
Personally, I have quite a bit of trouble taking this ‘advice’. It’s very hard when the problems you have are seemingly static and seem to have no solutions at all. You can attach hopelessness, anxiety and far too much gravitas. Your feel that your situations will never resolve (see black and white thinking on the list of cognitive distortions).
Therefore, since you have made a very bad decision to accept the worst possible outcome — complete and total failure to resolve anything — you’re allowing perceived failure to rule the outcome. I do this a lot. Things can be pretty hopeless — if I’m not learning how to deal with the problem. It’s my willingness to give up vs. willingness to move on. These are learned negative responses and positive learned skills.
The Negative First-Response Team
When I go into overthink mode, one of my very first responses is to demand that everyone else just shut up.
Stop giving me more to think about. Stop giving me more problems. And for god’s sake don’t give me your solutions, thank you, because I’ve got plenty of my own and none of those seem to be working right now.
You stop hearing others (or force yourself away from them) because you can’t make headway (please excuse the pun) on your own problems and they’re just annoying you by trying to assist. And just who asked them for an opinion? Well, maybe you didn’t ask for help, but other people can see you floundering, They can see the smoke signals rising from your brain fire. And they want to help you put the fire out. Nice of them, really. But if you’re overthinking and stressed out, you’ll have none of that.
So if you’re going to make any kind of effort to stop overthinking, you need time to effectively consider why you are so against taking time to figure things out with some perspective. You’ve got to slow down, try to be calm, make a worthwhile and reasonable effort to gain some focus. I suggest the Frankenstein’s Monster technique.
Let’s Have Some Tea, Then
Even a very popular and very busy monster needs to have a spot of tea and collect his thoughts. If not, well, how much more of a monster would he be? I mean, there’s frightening and then there’s terrifyingly frightening.
So, sit down. Get the kettle on and get a nice scone. Look out the window and try to put everything else out of your mind for five minutes. It’s amazing what a lovely cup of Earl Grey and a scone can do for your attitude. Even better if you have some lemon curd.
I think what the monster is trying to say is to please, get yourself away from yourself.
Sounds impossible. I mean, you’re on fire. This is critical. Everything must be resolved right now. If it isn’t, then the world will fall apart and I will throw myself from the nearest castle’s ramparts.
And therein is the proof of our equation.
But if you sever that buzzing connection of overthinking, then you’re moving your focus toward something peaceful and quieting. And isn’t that a good choice of action? Isn’t that a good decision?
Yes. Yes, it is. Most certainly. And there are many ways to take the path to bring you to quieting your brain down. I suggest that none of them involve any chemical agents other than those prescribed by your therapist. Any others, such as street drugs, alcohol or other really bad decisions, too — well, that would be defeating the goal.
But I have found that there are many, many paths to quiet. For me, it’s medication and lots of talk therapy but for you, there might be many better pathways, better techniques.
Oh, Yes, Jolly Good Idea, That
I’m grateful that my therapist found medication that helps me to focus on problems with a little more clarity. But it isn’t medication that’s the whole, complete pathway — it’s learning how to find that quiet spot in order to think. And my therapist offers many suggestions on how to do that. It isn’t easy, it isn’t perfect, it isn’t simple. Not for me, anyway. But I do strive on because overthinking is an intolerable emotional state for me. I hate it. And I want to learn how to approach problems in a rational way. It’s a fight to overcome emotional thinking as well, because I’m an emotive person and emotional thinking is not the best solution for me.
Quiet in the Most Peculiar Places
I have learned over time that quiet isn’t complacency nor is it lack of action. Quiet means order. And ordered thinking is something active, not passive. In learning to be quiet you are making a choice to think clearly. It does not mean that you aren’t thinking at all. It mean you’re taking action to understand yourself.
Van Gogh’s Starry Night is a very good illustration of how there can be quiet even when there is action. The rolling clouds above, the dark town beneath, the stars shining so brightly with intense and flickering light — and all in the very deepest depths of night. Well, that says it all. Only a madman/genius could produce such a profound work that shows us that quiet is relative.
So before you explode, before you worry yourself into a big quivering mass, before you come to believe that you’re situation is hopeless, just remember that it can change if you work toward being quieter. It’s then that you’ll find the steps to your solutions. You may not have an immediate answer for your long-term problems but at least you can turn down the volume and find steps to take that send you in the right direction. Maybe even allow you the pleasure of some real perspective to see the stars on your journey.