Do you overthink? Do you have thoughts that seem to swirl around your head? The more you focus on them, the more frustrated you get. And the amount of time wasted on them can be enormous and with not a great result.
I used to be an overthinker big time. I remember numerous times being in the car with Tim, my husband, with my thoughts zooming from one subject to another, overthinking and feeling exhausted. I’d look over and ask, “What are you thinking about?” “Nothing” was the response. That concept of not thinking of anything was alien to me.
It transpires that Tim was thinking – we all think continuously – however, he wasn’t caught up with his thoughts. It was like having music playing in the background.
I was curious to discover why many of us become an overthinker and came across “Slowing Down to the Speed of Life” by Richard Carlson and Joe Bailey. I highly recommend it.
The authors share an interesting idea that our tendency of becoming an overthinker comes from trying to sort out our problems with our analytical minds. We are using the wrong tool. It’s a bit like trying to dig a large hole with a teaspoon – a lot of effort, not very effective and exhausting.
There is nothing wrong with our analytical minds. It is an excellent tool for analysing and recalling data, scheduling, calculating, and memorising. It’s fantastic to learn languages and improve processes.
It’s not so great at solving problems such as working out our next career, relationship dilemmas, or overcoming feelings of overwhelm and anxiety. As Carlson and Bailey describe, “The downside of this mode of thinking is that when we don’t know all the variables, we continue to churn inside; we obsess about and rethink problems without result—a draining, frustrating, and stressful process.”
I imagine that this misuse stems from our culture and educational system. We are praised for using our analytical mind, learning data and focussing on what is already known. I remember those “dreamers” in the classroom were often ridiculed for gazing out of the window and not given time to reflect and have space to see what creative ideas transpire.
Recently I was troubled about the slow pace of our van being converted to a campervan. Let’s just say that I started creating a massive monster of a problem in my head about this. Gratefully, I noticed what I was doing and stopped. After a good night’s sleep and allowing this issue to rest, Tim and I had a lovely chat; we remembered how well we worked together when we were travelling and now adopting this way of working with our latest project.
But what could have happened if I hadn’t realised the fallacy of overthinking?
I’d go over and over, processing the problem, creating conversations in my head that don’t exist. Ruminate what Tim was thinking (even though I have no idea), feel annoyed, angry. I’d search for other times I felt irritated and then think our relationship was damaged, creating a thought-storm out of a gentle breeze. What a mess!
Over time, being an overthinker can lead to anguish and mental illness. It’s not worth it.
Carlson and Bailey describe in their book our other mode of thinking, like a river that flows, “bringing us new information and thoughts in the moment—some from memory, some from the creative source.” One of my clients called this “waterfall thinking” – I love that.
It’s that type of thinking that we hardly notice; we are inflow. New thoughts seem to pop out of nowhere; it’s effortless. When I am coaching, I see wisdom being spoken by my clients when they get out of their busy process minds. That’s where insights are created that can be transformational to people’s lives.
Often clients tell me that their thoughts flow effortlessly when they are in nature amongst the trees, in the shower or driving a car. They attribute this to the circumstance they are in. However, it’s not got anything about where we are or who we are with.
The reason is that they are no longer in their process, analytical thoughts. That’s it. We can’t be in both modes of thinking at the same time.
Now, I am not saying that “waterfall” thinking is better than analytical thinking; both have advantages and disadvantages. Free-flow thinking isn’t helpful when completing your tax return! It’s in the wrong mode of thinking, using the wrong psychological tool that causes us issues.
What I have discovered since letting go of my overthinking tendencies is that life is so much easier. I don’t hold onto dramas in my mind for so long, life is more pleasant, and I am far more relaxed and creative.
If you google “how to stop overthinking”, you will find over 7 million results – Wow! Researching this could cause a lot of overthinking!
Rather than “how-to”, what if we realise that we have a choice. We are the thinkers. We are not our thoughts. Perhaps you haven’t considered this before?
It’s like listening to a piece of music in different ways.
In Free-flow, we hear from a place of pure enjoyment, we simply feel the music, sense the rhythm, be in flow; it can evoke emotions within us.
Our analytical mind is like studying music and evaluating a composition. We listen and notice the repetition of melodies, chord progressions and tempos.
So, for today, just notice which mode of thinking you are having and if you are using the most appropriate tool. And if you realise you are overthinking –fabulous – this is your inner guidance giving you a nudge that you are using the wrong tool.
Hi, I am Lindsey Reed. I love connecting with people and enabling them to remember who they really are, their true selves. Coaching is online, the wonders of technology. If you would like to connect with me, pop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s have a conversation. I look forward to hearing from you.
My book Got It: The Answer to a Confident, Productive & Stress-Free Life is available from Amazon in over 25 countries. It describes how we create our experience of our own reality called life. Through this understanding, we can have a more confident and freeing life.