Over-Thinking is Bondage

You might wonder why John Cripps would be writing an article criticizing the process of “over-thinking.” Its true how you constantly hear me railing against people who never seem to use their brain at all. You would guess I’d have an appreciation for those who spend too much time thinking out an issue. Deep thought and critical thinking is good…it will extend your life. But over-thinking is a disease that will make you miserable and shorten your life. Pausing to let logic and experience have a moment before speaking or acting is certainly commendable, but over-thinking goes past that…way past that. Over-thinking is bondage and it will steal away life’s happiness.

There is a difference between study, research and contemplation about different scenarios and possibilities, and an endless cycle of spin drying in the mind. The former can prompt decisive action and move you forward. The latter robs you of all progress and the accompanying happiness that comes with achieving goals.

There was a major study by University of Michigan professor, Susan Nolan-Hoeksema. She found that over-thinking is a national epidemic among young and middle aged adults, but is relatively rare among older adults: 73 percent of 25-35 year-olds over-think compared to 52 percent of 45-55 year-olds and just 20 percent of 65-75 year-olds.

She wrote that over-thinking contributes to severe depression and anxiety, and interferes with good problem-solving. Women are significantly more likely than men to fall into over-thinking and to be immobilized by it: 57 percent of women and 43 percent of men were found to be over-thinkers. The professor said that over-thinkers are significantly more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and over-thinking may push some individuals to consider or attempt suicide.

Epidemic, huh? So, when do thinkers become over-thinkers?

When truth and reality become distorted, and the simple becomes over-complicated. When fears paralyzes the feet and hands leaving only the brain intact. When focus and resolve give way to a negative, hazy restlessness. When you can’t sit or lie down and relax without the mind demons revving up the engine.

If you are an over-thinker you can’t accomplish great things in your life because your car is stuck in neutral. It can’t go forward or backward no matter how much pressure you exert on the accelerator. Many believe thinking is action. If so, it is the action of a dog chasing his tail. He’s expending a lot of energy, but getting nowhere. Over-thinkers believe they are making progress as they think and think and think. The truth is they are getting further and further and further away from resolution, peace and happiness. They turn the simple into the complex to the detriment of their soul.

Things seem more difficult than they really are. As you turn things round and round, over and over in the clothes dryer of your mind, they get more and more tangled. Things can twist around in your head til they tangle into a knot you cannot untie. You over-complicate things to the point where you find great difficulty even getting back to where you started. The knot is just too tight and complex to untie.

You can get to the point where you cannot move in any direction. Your compass develops magnetic deviation and bounces all around a 360 degree circle. Your sense of direction becomes lost in that seasick brain nauseously caught in a swirling sea of thoughts. It occupies your days and certainly keeps you up at night. Maybe you seem helpless over some lack of control in your life. If so, take control. Make a decision and run with it. If it turns out to be a bad decision, try another tack. At least you will be acting, and not merely thinking something to death. Obviously, I am not talking about rash decisions void of any sober thinking. But if all we ever do is think, we will never act. We will constantly be tossed about the raging sea with no land in sight.

Oftentimes, over-thinking is due to fear. Thinking is safe. Taking that step forward in action can be scary. Fearful over-thinking creates more problems than it solves. It never pushes “stop” on the spin cycle, so nothing is ever finished…no problem is ever fixed. Fear has many many faces:  fear of making the wrong decision, fear of losing face due to failure, fear of not having everything you need to act and so forth. Fear is slavery. You must break the chains and escape or your life will be a miserable mess.

How do we stop the spin cycle and put the car in drive?

Slow down, take a deep breath. Here’s a dime’s worth of advice:

1. The first step is simply to realize you are an over-thinker and have a problem. It’s not like you are a serial killer or bank robber. It doesn’t mean you have a mental disorder and need psycho drugs. It does mean you have a problem, and are not living your life as happily, and fully, as you can. So call a spade a spade, and be truthful with yourself.

2. Take your “issue(s)” and ask yourself just how important the need to solve it really is in the great scheme of things. Knowing that we turn meaningless into end of the world, determine whether or not you really have to tackle this particular issue. A lot of spin cycles can just be unplugged and abandoned. Ask yourself if this is something within your ability to control or outside that ability. Learn to accept what you have absolutely no ability to control. It happens, we all hate it…get over it.

3. Study your pulse. When does your mind start beating faster than your heart. Pay attention to the hours, or situations, that push your mind into overdrive. Be the master of this time and do not let it master you. Whether it’s at first light, late night, or afternoon delight…get control of that cycle…now!

4. Stay occupied. When the temptation arises to fly off to Thinkville, ground the plane by keeping yourself busy. The old saying “The idle mind is the devil’s workshop” is not without merit. Do not play solitary with your mind. You will lose every time.

5. Get a hobby. Sometimes you need some serious treatment. Turn to your favorite hobby or better yet, try something new. The mind will focus on learning rather than churning. Take up exercise and focus your mind on positive things like optimum health.

6. Command yourself to take the train out of the tunnel and bring it into daylight. Give yourself a deadline. Force yourself to take action! Be merciless! Do not cut yourself any slack. Act like your very life depends on it. Sometimes its just doing the simplest things that might “possibly” work. As you wind on down the road, you can fine tune as you go.

7. Stop that particular spin cycle which keeps you dwelling on the past, or positing the future. You live in the now, so keep your mind in the now. Be in the present. Learn from the past, but cut the umbilical cord that keeps you tied to it. Give thought to the future, but do not fret over it. The things you do in the now determine more about your future than anything you can dream up.

8. Beware of negativity in yourself or in your friends. This needs an article all to itself. You will never find Brer Rabbit’s Laughing Place if you park on Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water. We only get one life, make it a happy one!

9.  Stop worrying about what others think. Coveting the blessings of others is the chain that ties the dogs collar to the stake, and makes it easier for him to chase his tail. Round and round it goes keeping within the circle of friends. Your friends should not dictate your life. After all, it is your life, not theirs.

10. Embrace fear. Fear can sometimes be like a fire-breathing dragon that blocks your path in life. On the other side of the dragon, or the other side of fear, is a beautiful place…Shangri-La or Beulah Land. OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but it is certainly a better place, and one you want to get to. So, bear up and find the courage you need to slay the dragon and open up the road to a higher life. Fear is normal, but courage is necessary to rise above the fear.

This article is a bit short for me because I did not want to over-think the issue! If you walk away with anything from this little bit of writing let it be a desire for balance. Ice cream is a great thing. Using our brain for thinking, even deep-thinking is another wonderful thing. But how easy it is to over-indulge good things? Just as too much ice cream can lead to bad physical health, likewise too much thinking can lead to poor mental health. If over-thinking really is an epidemic in America, then we need to seek out the vaccine!

Ponder this:
“If a tree falls in this forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” No, not that one – this one: “Is a problem really a problem if you never think on it?”

Photo Credit:
John Cripps
Audubon Zoo, 2010