How many hours per day do you think? I never thought about that. So let me get this straight. You’re thinking all the time, and yet, you never realize how much time you spend thinking. That sounds like an addiction to me. I know, because I’m addicted to thinking too.
I am constantly overthinking things, whether it be focusing on irrelevant details, over complicating problems, psyching myself out, or getting overwhelmed by too many thoughts. It’s something I know a lot of people deal with, seemingly more in this generation than most, and it’s an interesting phenomenon. I can’t say exactly why I tend to overthink things (keep in mind I’m not a psychologist), but if I had to guess, I would say that it ties into the high expectations created by society and myself to be perfect, resulting in an unrealistic perfectionist attitude when approaching problems. I constantly have to remind myself that I’m focusing on the wrong parts of a problem and wasting time considering things that have little to no difference in my life in some futile search to be perfect. This problem of overthinking is most noticeable when I attempt to create art. Whether it be writing, drawing, making music, or even doodling, I always hit the brick wall of perfectionism.
Overthinking can be one of the most frustrating, debilitating habits one can develop. Besides putting you through undue amounts of stress, overthinking can put your life on hold by preventing you from succeeding at work, damaging your relationships, and keeping you from chasing your dreams. It can throw your sleep patterns out of whack, cause you to stress-eat, and hold you back from appreciating your life for the gift that it is.
Much of the time, when we are overthinking, we are engaging in a destructive thought process that leads to unfavorable outcomes.
The “critical inner voice” in our heads that hones in on the negative aspects of a situation. This “voice” is like a sadistic coach that feeds us a ceaseless stream of criticism and undermines our goals. It’s that thought that pops up when we are about to go on a job interview: ‘You’ll never get this. You’re going to embarrass yourself. Just look how nervous you are.” It’s the dialogue that plays in your head analyzing your relationship: “Why is she so distant today? I must have said something stupid. She’s losing interest. She probably likes someone else.
So, why do we nurture this internal enemy that feeds us such negative commentary and dreadful advice? The truth is, we are all divided. All of us are split between our real self and our “anti-self.” While our real self is life-affirming, goal-directed and represents our true values and desires, our anti-self is like an internal enemy that is self-denying and self-critical, paranoid and suspicious, both toward ourselves and toward others. Our real self is built from positive life experiences, healthy developmental events and characteristics we witnessed in our parents and early caretakers. Our anti-self is shaped from our negative experiences, harmful events and attitudes we were exposed to early in life.
Why do we live in our minds when we can just be living our life?
It’s all about perspective and mindset. While we’ve been contemplating situations that haven’t even come to fruition , or worrying about where we’ll be in five years, we could be celebrating the present and all the things going right in life. Take a moment to breathe and think about all the great things in your world, and the things that make you happy: family, friends, children, relationships, vacation….football. The list is endless, but it takes a conscious shift in mindset to realize that what is bringing you down can weigh you down mentally, physically, and emotionally, too if you let it.
If you’re a classic over thinker, you analyze everything that happens in your life. You mull over every decision until you’re exhausted. You even brood about your tendency to brood. People who overthink tend to score high in the neurotic department. Neuroticism is one of the five big personality traits, along with openness, conscientiousness, extraversion and agreeableness. It’s linked to anxiety, fear, moodiness, worry, envy and frustration.
A lot of world-famous problem-solvers and artists were indeed worriers and over thinkers
There are a lot of incredibly creative scientists and artists on that list. If you have a tendency to worry about things to the point of being neurotic, there is a good chance you are a creative genius yourself.
Cheerful, happy-go-lucky people by definition do not brood about problems and so must be at a disadvantage when problem-solving compared to a more neurotic person. It is easy to observe that many geniuses seem to have a brooding, unhappy tendency that hints they are fairly high on the neuroticism spectrum. For example, think of the life stories of Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Vincent Van Gogh, etc. Perhaps the link between creativity and neuroticism was summed up most succinctly of all by John Lennon when he said: ‘Genius is pain.’
The overthinking hypothesis also explains the positives of neuroticism. The creativity of Isaac Newton and other neurotics may simply be the result of their tendency to dwell on problems far longer than average people.