Maybe sometimes you shouldn’t think

I love to learn. I especially love to figure things out on my own. Most of my cognitive strengths come from a constant need to understand, to make sense of whatever’s going on around me. It’s the reason I’m so observant when I want to be, why I’m capable of precise detail work, why I can make good educated guesses on things I have little first-hand experience of.

But on the flip-side of this, I am an overthinker. My habit is to try and think my way out of things. When applying this to emotional problems, a little bit of thinking is sometimes perfect for getting unstuck. But if I’m just using thinking as a method to avoid my feelings, it leads me into harmful rumination.

Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

I notice that I’m almost constantly thinking just passively in the background. The other day, I was in a store with a ton of sensory overload. While there, I noticed how I was constantly, involuntarily looking around, letting my eye be led by advertisements and signs, and digesting it all as fast as I could, trying to make sense of it. But I realized, there’s no reason in principle I couldn’t be tuning all that out and just regarding it as incomprehensible chaos.

I feel like I’m getting better about not overthinking all the time. It was a lot tougher for me as a teenager, but I’ve developed (and am still developing) a lot of hidden mental skills that help me with it. Now I’ll sometimes catch myself latching onto a bad train of thought before it happens. The thing is, certain trains of thought may be good for you at certain times but not at others. If you know the difference and you know your current state of mind, you can navigate those possible paths better.

This doesn’t have to look like some kind of sophisticated “metacognition” either, where you play out 20 chess moves ahead or something. I think the approach to store signs I mentioned applies to the contents of your mind. Sometimes it’s alright to just look at your thoughts as “incomprehensible noise” and tell yourself, “I’m not going to deal with that right now”. Or at least, “I’m not going to deal with it by thinking”.

Are you an overthinker? Are you able to recognize and disembark from bad trains of thought? Do you treat store signs as incomprehensible noise? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​