I recently received some really good advice. As most of you probably know, I’m a thinker. My mind never, ever shuts up. I’m always trying to think through something that I’ve experienced, some issue that society is facing, or some topic that comes up in a class. I am always, always thinking about something. Last week, I was talking to a friend about something I was thinking through, and he said, “You need to take some time to process it, but don’t overthink it.”
Wow. I thought that was so profound. Processing instead of over-thinking. It sounds like an arbitrary distinction, but it actually makes a huge difference. And I’m really bad about crossing that line from processing to over-thinking. So I started to think about things I could do to prevent myself from falling into the trap of over-thinking, and then I realized it would make a great blog post! So here are my reflections on the distinction between processing and over-thinking as I’m trying to toe that line.
Over-thinking is constant. Processing isn’t.
I often find myself thinking about one thing all the time. To the point where I can’t truly focus on anything else because at least part of my attention is always dedicated to that one thing that’s on my mind. It’s there when I wake up, and I think about it until I fall asleep at night. In class, when I’m driving, even when I’m trying to watch something on TV. It seems like I can’t stop thinking about it. That’s obviously over-thinking.
Processing, on the other hand, is much less intrusive. It does take time, and it doesn’t happen all at once, but it also doesn’t keep you from living your life and focusing on the things around you. It’s something that comes into your head for a while until you’re ready to put it away, and then it fades into the background until it’s time to do some more processing.
So how do I keep something from taking up my attention all the time and pushing me into the realm of over-thinking? It may be hard, but I have to get myself to focus on something else from time to time. The best thing I’ve found to do is to be intentional about being present in the situation I’m in. If I’m having a conversation with a friend or listening to a lecture, I choose to devote my full attention to that and simply be present. Sure, other things may try to creep into my awareness, but if I’m being truly intentional about being truly present, I’m able to avoid over-thinking.
Over-thinking isolates. Processing is communal.
This is something I struggle with a lot. I cherish my solitude, and even more so when something’s on my mind. If I’m trying to work through something, I have a tendency to withdraw so that I can spend some time on it. I end up sitting alone for a long time trying to make some progress, but really what I end up doing is going in circles over and over, and I don’t get any closer to working through whatever it is I’m thinking about.
So I’ve learned to take a different approach. Instead of withdrawing and trying to work through whatever I’m thinking about on my own (which always leads to over-thinking), I choose to intentionally seek out people I can trust to talk to about it. Just the act of saying what’s inside my head often helps me make sense of it, and it leaves me feeling a lot better. And helpful input from a trusted outside source is always helpful when trying to process something.
I’m not saying that processing is completely communal or that you should become co-dependent on other people to help you think through things. There’s a balance between processing on your own and processing with others, and you don’t want to go too far one way or the other. But if you find yourself constnatly withdrawing to think things through like I do, you’re definitely over-thinking, and you need to open up to someone so that you can start processing.
Over-thinking is cyclical. Processing resolves.
I’ve touched on this already, but I think it’s important to note. When I’m over-thinking something, I always end up stuck in a cycle. I’ll start somewhere and think that I’m making progress, only to end up at the exact same point where I started. This leaves me feeling frustrated and no closer to actually thinking through the subject than before. This is an unhealthy by-product of overthinking.
Processing isn’t like that. Processing leaves you at least a little bit closer to a solution when you’re finished than when you started. Processing may be a winding road that takes you all over the place, but it never leaves you right where you started. If you find yourself going over the same things over and over in your head, you’re overthinking, and it may be good to just take a break. I’ve found that I can get out of the cycle of over-thinking only when I choose to focus on something else for a while and then revisit the topic later with fresh eyes. Then, I can truly process.
I’m trying really hard to process things rather than over-think them. I’m not saying that I’ve been completely successful in this endeavor. I often find myself slipping back into the trap of over-thinking. But when I remind myself of these three distinctions between processing and over-thinking, I find it easier to keep myself healthy and on track.
That’s all I’ve got to say this week. I hope this has been helpful to at least some of you reading this. I know it’s been extremely helpful for me, at least. Thank you for reading my post this week, and I hope to see you again next Tuesday. Have a great week, friends!