Thinking about overthinking

May 24, 2017 Comments Off on Thinking about overthinking

I went to bed at 8pm last night, so tired I was almost in tears, and fell into one of those deep sleeps where you wake up and feel like you haven’t moved a muscle. It was 2.07am, and as is my wont at that time of the morning, I began to think.

Thinking is one of those things that is underrated in today’s world, I fear. Certainly, a day spent on social media will probably convince you that thinking is on the brink of extinction. At 2.07am, however, it’s highly overrated. If your mind latches onto an idea that carries even the smallest shred of anxiety with it, you can be assured that your sleep is about to be severely interrupted at best, and over for the night, at worst.

Luckily I managed to distract my brain with a book, but it did get me, erm thinking. About overthinking. Because I do try to remind myself of that lovely line which only appears in the movie version of The English Patient, where Caravaggio says: “You get to the morning and the poison leaks away, doesn’t it?”

And that’s certainly true. Something about the sunrise makes all those anxieties in the “wee small hours of the morning” seem a lot less important – if you can even remember what you were worrying about in the first place.

But there’s another form of overthinking that is just as debilitating, and that’s analysis paralysis – where we spend so much time plotting and planning and perfecting that nothing ever happens. “I’ll do it when it’s ready,” we tell ourselves. “When I’ve done X and Y and Z.” And the list of all the things that have to be in place gets longer and longer, and we never do the thing.

I’ve been trying to change that recently. Because there are oodles of people out there who don’t do all the planning – they just do the thing and make up the rest as they go along. Those people are my heroes. They’re also often pretty successful. And I really admire these kinds of people – people who aren’t risk averse, who can throw caution to the wind and themselves into everything they do without stopping to tick off a myriad to-dos first.

In both cases of overthinking, I think, the cure is action. I treat my anxiety wakefulness in two ways now. If I’m lying there worrying about something I can do something about, I get out of bed and do it immediately, regardless of how ridiculous the hour is. Because sorting something out is the obvious way to stop worrying about it.

If it’s not something I can sort out straight away, I make a note of how I’m going to fix it and when, so that I don’t lie there worrying that I’ll forget to do it. Out of my head and onto the page – that’s my mantra.

As for the analysis paralysis, the answer is also action, I think. Because I know that it’s just a form of procrastination, which almost always stems from fear – fear of failure, fear of success, fear that I’ll be found out, fear of looking like an idiot, fear of boredom.

So I tell myself to be brave and I try to think of one thing I can do – actually do, not plan – to move myself forward. It can be tiny, but it has to be an action. And often one small action leads to another, and you’re doing what you’ve been saying you’d do for so long. And you can’t for the life of you remember where you put your to-do list but things are getting done regardless, and no one has yet exposed you as the impostor you’re convinced you are.

I know so many super talented people caught in a downward spiral of thinking they’re not good enough or cool enough or experienced enough to do X or Y, or in that downward spiral of impostor syndrome that can leave you curled up in the foetal position in a corner of your mind, hiding from the world. I know, because I used to be one of them.

But I’m not anymore. Certainly, I’m not as bad as I used to be. I’m not cured yet – it takes time to reverse half a lifetime of faulty thinking – but I’m working on it, one small action at a time.


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