I haven’t been blogging as much as I’d like to, in part because I’m busy and in part because I’m kind of depressed and in part because I’ve been working on my super important new Tumblr (Kevin Arnold Is a Dick) and in part—all right, you get the idea. But I’ve been sitting here for half an hour trying to figure out what to write, and this phrase popped into my head: “Don’t overthink it.” So I made that the title of my post, and I started typing, and here we are. Color you fascinated.
“Don’t overthink it” is one of my favorite phrases, because it’s almost always the right advice. It’s also one of my least favorite phrases, because it’s completely useless. I spend a lot of my life thinking and talking back to my thoughts (a therapy technique that’s not nearly as schizo as it sounds), and I’ve never once been able to shut off the thinking entirely. I can distract myself to various degrees of success. I can sleep and dream about things only tangentially related to what I’m obsessing over. I can smoke a bowl and let my mind wander in a notably more pleasant way. But there’s still a lot of thinking going on.
Probably too much. It’s funny—I’m not really sure what “overthinking” entails, and I’d be delighted if anyone could explain it to me. I mean that seriously: how do you define thinking too much? I know when I’m doing it, because I feel anxious and crappy, but I’m unclear on when the line is crossed between the standard amount of thinking and the “oh, God, why doesn’t my brain have an off switch?” It’s frustrating, because I like to think through my problems, or at least make an attempt to do so, but more often than not, the thinking just makes it worse. I’m not seeing solutions: I’m seeing ways in which the situation could get worse.
Or on a smaller scale, when it’s something as simple as a blog post or, hell, a tweet, the consequences of overthinking aren’t as severe. But I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent staring at the screen, trying to force the writing out of me, all while questioning every idea that pops into my head. It’s hard to be productive when you can’t reign in your thoughts. And for someone who considers the act of writing to be therapeutic, I guess, yeah, the inability to write is a pretty big deal. (I’ll admit that I started to feel better about halfway through writing this post, then felt predictably antsy as soon as I got stuck.)
I wish there were some sort of warning—a sign that popped up before my thoughts went careening over the edge. But it all happens so fast. I’m having a perfectly rational time thinking (like you do), and suddenly I’m mired in a thought spiral that’s as illogical as it is upsetting. Where was the blinking red light, or the helpful brain siren? Because once you start overthinking, it’s nearly impossible to stop. The only thing I feel like doing when I’m thinking a lot of thoughts is to think even more.
And as I said, knowing I was about to slip into dangerous thought territory wouldn’t stop me from doing it. I don’t know if most people’s brains come with an internal set of brakes, but mine definitely didn’t, and the more I try to stop thinking about one thing, the more I stop thinking about everything else. All my energy gets focused on the problem or the question or the blinking cursor, and it’s paralyzing. That’s a tremendous amount of mental effort put into nothing. It would be one thing if I were thinking in a positive way, but I am not MacGyver: I cannot figure out how to turn three paperclips and a can of Diet Coke into a cure for ennui.
At this point, I’ve thoroughly overthought the process of overthinking. Give yourself a pat on the back, me. And as expected, I’m still right back where I started, sure to dive back into my fixations and neuroses the moment I close the browser. But on some level, writing makes it OK: I have something (rambly, unfocused, redundant) to show for my thoughts. Thanks for bearing with me while I sorted that out.