Twice today I’ve stumbled across admonitions against overthinking. I’m beginning to take it personally. What is this overthinking whereof they speak? How can one distinguish between overthinking and mere thinking? There’s no posted speed limit. The “over” variant of thinking seems a subjective judgment–some people consider the slightest cognitive exertion excessive and unnecessary. Personally, I never know it’s over (thinking) until it’s over–until I’ve spent hours upon fruitless hours cogitating, analyzing, reflecting, replaying, and re-imagining, all to no effect except distilled confusion. Thinking is like a bad movie; you can’t write it off until the end, because an epiphany could arrive at the very last moment and redeem the whole wretched business in an extraordinary and unforgettable way. Life is like this too.
It also made me think about the different kinds of “thinking”. Many of us probably experience writing or reading something and totally getting lost in our thinking or imagination, at least for a moment. I experience a sense of freedom in those moments as I move together with my thoughts that transcends itself without imposed control. In contrast, there are other moments where I develop more thoughts to react to thoughts that I don’t like. For example, if I think “it’s another cold day”, it then leads to “this has been a long cold winter”, “will it ever stop?”, “It’s awful and I hate it”, “my day is ruined by it”….This can go on and on and simultaneously gives birth to ever increasing negative emotions. So I guess control is an issue here. When we can just let the thoughts flow, it goes through its own journey and brings us to new discovery and insight. However, in attempting to control our thought, it often ends with a downward spiral of over thinking – a spiral of control that can’t escape itself. In addition, the emotional quality that accompany thinking may also help to distinguish thinking from over thinking. When I second guess or over think, it’s likely driven by anxiety and fear. There could be a tacit existential need underneath: am I OK? It also gives an unpleasant body-feeling: uneasy, restless, or tightness in my chest or stomach. In contrast, wI know I’m not second guessing when I feels much more space inside and experience a gentle relationship between me and my thoughts. Under this condition, I can make a better choice – the best for the given situation. So it seems thinking and feeling are connected. Our body-feeling probably may provide a good barometer to gauge the very thin line between the right amount and over dose. Just like anything else, the middle way is always so slippery!
Yes, the middle way is slippery indeed! But that’s also what makes it fun, right?! I think your comments about the various emotional qualities of thinking are right on, as well as the correlation with body sensations. I agree that both of these give insight into whether we’re tipping into the “over” part of thinking.
Very pertinent question!
Here’s my experience: thinking is to assist with making a decision; overthinking is to forestall and delay making a decision (usually fear masquerading as thinking). Thinking covers new ground, discovers and provides new information; overthinking goes over the same old sh**t, makes more sh**t and eventually makes you feel like sh**t.
LOVE this distinction! Will subject all further thinking to this test.