I’ve recently had to catch myself from allowing my mind to run rampant. I received some unexpected news that was a bit unsettling – one of those sh*t-is-about-to-get-messy-again kind of things. As always, a decision needs to be made and because my life seems to be too damn interesting, it can potentially be a life-changing one – for better or worse.
As you may have guessed, I have a knack for analyzing and reanalyzing situations – especially when they are of great magnitude and importance. However, I never thought myself to be one to overanalyze – at least not in some years.
When I was younger, it was a whole different story – overanalyzing is basically what killed the one serious relationship I had. I thought I grew out of it, but it turns out that it managed to sneak up on me and only when I was already deeply lost in thought and entangled in all the possible choices, instances and outcomes did I catch myself and snap myself out of it.
Overthinking and overanalyzing problems that need to be solved is never a good thing – we can all agree on that. However, what most of us won’t agree upon is on where that line separating the two lies. Overthinking things doesn’t mean the same for every person.
Some people will give things little to no thought and call it a day while others will dwell on the issue at hand, mulling it over for hours on end, feeling that they are giving the situation the necessary amount of thought. What I had to come to realize is that most of the thinking that we do is overthinking. Furthermore, most of the thinking we do is entirely pointless.
People see thinking as being an end in itself – we think because that’s what we humans do; we think. It truly is unavoidable. Even those who seem to not be capable of thought are in fact thinking. Maybe irrationally, but nonetheless they are experiencing thoughts. We can’t avoid having thoughts – you can’t entirely stop them because otherwise you’d stop existing.
To think is to exist – or as Descartes put it, “I think. Therefore, I am.” What you think about literally makes up your existence, your reality, your life. Forget about everything that you know to exist in the physical world and you’ll come to accept that if you weren’t thinking about these things, as far as you’d be concerned, they wouldn’t exist at all.
Where it gets more interesting is that because these thoughts often trigger emotions, and vice versa, not only does what we think affect us, but how much we think does as well. We all know the feeling of stress that washes over us when our mind gets stuck in a short looping, making circles around the problem(s) we’ve been having.
Or the feeling of being overwhelmed when we simply have too much on our plate and too much information to process. It can be incredibly difficult to stop ourselves from dwelling on the thoughts that make us uncomfortable and unhappy, but it has to be done.
We should always be actively steering our minds away from that which we find unpleasant because when our thoughts are unpleasant, our life is unpleasant.
But how do you steer away from thoughts when your mind seems to be on autopilot? What seems to work well for me, and hopefully will also work just as well for you, is only allowing yourself to think with a purpose. Thoughts aren’t simply a means in themselves; in fact, looking at them in such a way ought to be avoided altogether.
Where most people get lost is thinking that thoughts have a purpose in themselves – they don’t, or at least shouldn’t be given purpose. When we think we should be thinking with a purpose. Our thoughts shouldn’t be allowed to run on autopilot, taking us on an emotional roller coaster ride. Don’t forget that being capable of thinking the way we do is an evolutionary trait. The development of such cognitive properties is what allowed us not only to survive, but to flourish as a species.
Thinking should be aimed at coming up with a solution to a problem. We have something that we need to deal with so we think about what actions we can take in order to resolve the issue. Mind you, your thoughts alone can produce no results in the physical world. If there are actions that we believe we should take at that moment then we should take them.
If there are no actions that we can currently take, then we figure out when the actions will need to be taken and we remove the related thoughts from our minds until it is necessary for us to dwell upon them again. We should try to only think about our problems when it is necessary for us to think about them. The only time it is ever necessary to think about them is when there is a solution at hand.
If we can’t do something right now to fix the problem then remove the issues from your thoughts. If there is nothing you can physically do, no change that you can create that will either resolve or bring you closer to resolving the situation, then accept that dwelling on those thoughts has no purpose and let them go.
In this day and age, we are fed so much information that dwelling on any thoughts for unnecessarily long can quickly make you feel miserable. Did you ever wonder why people say that ignorance is bliss? Because if you don’t know the problem then you can’t think and worry yourself about the problem – it’s the thinking that hurts us.
I have an issue that needs resolving, but I refuse to address it until a time comes that I have to make a decision, have to make a choice, have to act. Until that time comes, there is no reason for me to dwell on the issues. I initially looked over the situation, looked at my options, looked at the likely results of making those choices, and then had to accept that I won’t be able to make a decision just yet. I need more information.
I need to wait for several more variables to come onto the scene before I can make the call. Now, I could sit here and mull things over in my mind again and again, but to what purpose? My thinking about the problem won’t resolve it and neither will your thinking about yours.
Think with a purpose or risk convoluting your life with irrational nonsense. Try to actively come to conclude when it is time to let thoughts go and you may very well be able to convince your mind to do so.
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