Overthinking; When You Don't Understand. When You Don't Know
Over-thinkers, over-analyzers, hyper-active minds, welcome. This is the article for you. What do we do when we don't fully understand the situation? We think of every conceivable scenario and its outcome and we do it again and again. We confuse ourselves more than is even remotely necessary and the emotion is often chaotic and painful. You can read many books about how to get over it but you can never begin to triumph over over-thinking until you know exactly what is happening in your mind.
Speaking as someone who overthinks a lot (i mean look how many bloody articles i've written) i have thought about overthinking so much i have created my own paradox. It is a wholly uneccessary, destructive and unhelpful force. We overthink when we don't know because we try to assume the answer before it comes and act accordingly. When most think of overthinking when we don't know what's happening or what will happen we think of it as being super prepared when actually it's a defence mechanism. What do we know about defence mechanisms? It all stems from our nature as human beings.
Ok, here's what happens that leads to overthinking. I hope you have your science hat on because this is about to go brainiac! You have three lobes of the brain, the left one to do with analytics, langauge and detail, the frontal cortex to do with rationale and reason etc and the right bit which is where creativity and mental imagery arrive. The right one is where we will be focusing a lot of the attention. When we know what we are doing, so to speak, we are mainly using the left part of the brain. When we don't know what we are doing we use the right part. Why? If a gap is formed between our understanding of the situation and that actual situation in front of us, the left part of the brain takes a knee, and the right part of the brain is fired up. That gap is filled with images, and there are loads the brain can think of, to try and make sense of the gap. That is where the overthinking comes in to play.
Taking a step back from science, imagine if you will a child at night scared of the dark. The child doesn't know what lurks in the dark because his/her understanding of what happens in the dark is not yet known or has been influenced by tv and films. The brain will therefore bring up images of scary monsters to justify the fear even though it is not true. Of course there will be an image of nothing being there but that won't satisfy the brain. The monsters become ever so real to the child and the fear is manifested. The gap between understanding and the situation is well and truly filled.
This happens to us on an almost daily basis. We can't begin to conceive half of the information given to us especially when it comes to other people. We know how weird and wonderful we are individually, and we struggle to understand ourselves sometimes. Imagine being able to understand everyone else! I'm trying to and dear God it is tough. The right part of the brain is responsible for overthinking, overanalyzing and in doing so can try to make us slip away from the reality of the situation itself.
Ok, now the moment you've all been waiting for. The solution time!
The cognitive-behavioural solution to overthinking or rather rumination is to imagine these unhelpful thoughts are leaves on a slow moving stream in front of you. Rather than wading in to be amongst them simply watching them float by and away from you is the way of acknowledging the thoughts but not letting them affect you. If you let them affect you they will bottle up in the stream and cause a blockage of thought and that's where the rumination begins. Letting them float past means they will leave your mind just as easy as when they entered in. Sensory activities really help this happen as well. This is a really good solution to when the thoughts occur.
To help sort out overthinking long term you first need to know what's going on. We've done that. Big tick. We then try to make the overthinking affect us less. The CBT approach is to my mind (no pun intended) one of the best ways of reducing the pain of rumination. Big tick. The next step is to address the thoughts at the source. That's the tough bit. The article we published recently called 'Mental Momentum' greatly outlines the way to do it. To cut a long story short finding the source of the problem or the cause for the gap is key to stopping the thoughts.
We can first address the thoughts at source by stating what it is the brain is trying to tell us about the situation. If we overthink we are are assigning value to thoughts rather than the real world, to truth and to honesty. When we value thoughts we let them affect us and we assume reality. That's an oxymoron. You can't assume reality. It's either real or it isn't. If we assign value to what we know for sure we anchor ourselves and our thoughts to it. The wind that is our overthinking can blow us around as hard as it can but if we hold on to the truth, what we know, then it cannot affect us. Once the wind has ceased to blow we can continue to search for more truth in order to close the gap. We increase rationale and realistic intelligence to close the gap because that is the only real way of doing it. Going into isolation which many people do when they overthink cuts you off from learning more truth and honesty in the situation. Submerge yourself with as much as you can in order to find the answer. Self-help books, talking to people, writing down your situation and thoughts, all of these things can be the solution to the problem of the gap.
When you don't understand something know that it's ok not to understand. It's fine. If you find you are overthinking it means that you have found something you care about in terms of the source. Fundementally find out the truth and you will understand more. Rather than being lost in space find a ladder and add more steps to it until you reach an acceptable level of understanding of your situation.
When you watch films the hero is not the profound thinker, its the one who understands enough to make the leap, make the jump, take on the responsibility and acts accordingly. The hero may fail but at least they will know what is going on. At least they will stop asking questions and start doing.
Be the hero. Face the monsters, discredit them, find the truth, close the gap and be free.