“You think too much.” This line would definitely make the short list of things people tell me most commonly. I’m a teensy bit cerebral.
If they issued PhDs in Overthinking, I’d have earned mine a long time ago. If analyzing were an Olympic sport, I’d be a gold medalist. And if my mind were a game, it’d look like Twister crossed with chess and ping pong.
I’m a teensy bit cerebral, which is great for solving problems and critical thinking on the job, but not so great when it comes to engaging in everyday life. “Cerebral” can teeter on “neurotic” and “high-strung” in a hurry.
I still think a lot. But a few years ago I committed to embracing spontaneity, insecurity, change, and the unknown–which has helped me lose a lot of the anxiety associated with overthinking.
Here are some important things to remember before you finally forget the 15,000 variables and just go with it.
Every decision will have its flaws.
We have a tendency to think that there is a perfect decision out there for us to find–and if we ruminate enough, we’ll locate it. If you can’t decide on a grad program or a car to buy, and you’ve been thinking it over for weeks, trust me: You’re in too deep mentally.
Overthinking a decision usually has more to do with your insecurity about stepping out into the unknown than reaching the best possible decision. You can think of all the potential flaws–the car doesn’t get enough gas mileage, the grad program is pricey, etc.–but at the end of the day, life is full of flaws and imperfection. Committing to a decision and trusting that you can handle whatever comes next is better than paralyzing yourself in the middle of a million reasons it may not be the right choice.
Go with the flow and the flaws.
Every plan will have its bumps.
Overplanning is a cousin of overthinking. But when is the last time you executed a step-by-step plan exactly as you mapped it out beforehand? That’s right. Never.
If you plan everything, you’ll wind up thinking there is a “right” way for the baby shower to go. Or you’ll be furious when the house isn’t built on the exact schedule you originally stated. But this just leads to anxiety and rigidness. Sometimes the best moments happen in the midst of unexpected circumstances when you can just relax and make gut decisions right there in the moment.
Follow your plans and intuition.
Every person is not upset with you.
Overthinkers are marvelous at creating imaginary little scenarios that are not 100 percent true. Maybe they send an email to their boss (which perhaps sounds a little short in retrospect) and there’s been no response for two and a half hours. To an overthinker, the boss is clearly upset. Daily interactions become a series of mental minefields.
Men and women interact all day, every day, rubbing each other the wrong way sometimes, before letting it roll off their backs 9 times out of 10. For the most part, people do not walk around pissed off at everyone in their lives. If you believe a coworker’s or friend’s opinion of you hinges on every interaction you have with them, you will never feel settled operating in the world. And you’re placing too much importance on your role in everything.
Let it go when you’ll never know.
You never have the whole story.
My dear overthinker… The reason we analyze is because we are constantly processing information. We always have bits of evidence that we are attempting to assemble into a larger picture. The problem is, life’s puzzles are always missing pieces.
We have a series of texts or interactions that we can take at face value, but we don’t know a person’s underlying intentions. We know the circumstances of the present, but we don’t know what they’ll be in the future. We know how a plan should be executed, but we don’t know if a problem will pop up or someone will ask for a change.
Forget overthinking, and start favoring action over analysis.
If you feel mostly confident in your decision, make it right then.
If there’s no new information, don’t think about the situation–get on with your day.
Make your plans in pencil, not permanent marker, and move ahead.
Get comfortable with insecurity. Once you do, you’ll lose the anxiety, save time, and feel more confident knowing you can just go with it.