The Unbearable Burden Of Overthinking




Can we turn overthinking from a super problem into a super power?


Overthinking is when what you think gets in the way of what you want. It's one of the most expensive things in the world because it wastes time, creativity, and productivity. It's an epidemic of inaction, a tsunami of stuckness.

In my 20s, I was the queen of someday, high on thought, low on motion about a litany of things I'd do eventually. Then over the years I realised that thoughts are something you have, not something you hone. Whenever we talk about thinking, we describe it as something outside of us that operates on its own agenda:

"I got lost in my thoughts."

"She got carried away by her thoughts."

Even if we are deliberate in other areas of our lives, we tend to treat our thought life as something we have no control over. If we don't control our thoughts, then our thoughts may end up controlling us.


Are There Soundtracks Secretly Shaping Our Lives?

If I hear Belinda Carlisle's "Summer Rain" I am immediately transported to a time in my teenage years when I loved dancing in the rain. I can remember the smell in the air, the summer heat, the joy of being young without a care in the world! Some songs have the greatest shot at getting added to our permanent soundtrack, that list of songs that will always impact us.

Perhaps, we can use soundtracks as a helpful metaphor. Your thoughts are the internal soundtracks you listen to even more than your favourite song. Over the years, you've built a soundtrack about your career. You have a soundtrack for all your relationships. You have a soundtrack you believe about your hopes, dreams, goals and every other aspect of life and if you listen to any thought long enough, it becomes a part of your personal playlist.

If the soundtracks you listen to are positive, your thoughts can be your best friend, propelling you on new adventures with creativity and hope. Unfortunately, when you don't create, curate, and choose what soundtracks you'll listen to, the music doesn't stop. You just hear a bunch of songs you don't like.


Broken Soundtracks & Our Brains Being A Real Jerk

One of the things that causes flashbulb memories is the degree to which the memory of the event is rehearsed, i.e., how often are people likely to recall the event? That's overthinking's jam. It finds a negative soundtrack "My boss did not respond to my last email because she's mad at me" and plays it a thousand times. Our brain then goes on panic mode and dumps opioids into our body to help us survive the perceived emotional distress. Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School found that when we experience a social rejection, our brain releases the same kind of opioids it releases during a physical trauma. It has a hard time telling the difference between real trauma and fake trauma. It likes to believe the things it already believes. Our brain's tendency for confirmation bias makes us magnets for information and experiences that confirm the things we already think about ourselves and the world.

Remember, your brain builds on overthinking's habit of negativity by doing three additional things:

  1. Lying about your memories

  2. Confusing fake trauma with real trauma

  3. Believing what it already believes


Flashbulb Memories, Panic Mode & Confirmation Bias

Hopefully, we can all agree that dramatic experiences create vivid recollection in our heads or flashbulb memories but the crazy thing is that even as the accuracy of our memories declines, our confidence in them doesn't.

One of the things that causes flashbulb memories is the degree to which the memory of the event is rehearsed, i.e., how often are people likely to recall the event? That's overthinking's jam. It finds a negative soundtrack "My boss did not respond to my last email because she's mad at me" and plays it a thousand times. Our brain then goes on panic mode and dumps opioids into our body to help us survive the perceived emotional distress. Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School found that when we experience a social rejection, our brain releases the same kind of opioids it releases during a physical trauma. It has a hard time telling the difference between real trauma and fake trauma. Our brain likes to believe the things it already believes. Our brain's tendency for confirmation bias makes us magnets for information and experiences that confirm the things we already think about ourselves and the world.


Use Ideomotor Effect & Neuroplasticity To Harness Power Within You

The Ideomotor Effect is the formal name given to the phenomenon of priming. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow , defines it as "the influencing of an action by the idea," and it works both ways. Basically, your thoughts and ideas influence your actions. Your actions influence your thoughts. Remember: what you think influences what you do, which influences the results you get.

And the good news is that you're bigger than your brain. It's just one part of you, and it's under your control in the same way an arm or leg is. We know this because we are fortunate enough to live in the age of neuroplasticity - the power to physically change our brains by changing our thoughts. So, the solution to overthinking isn't to stop thinking. Why would we ever get rid of such a powerful, efficient tool?

You can remind yourself that with neurogenesis, "every morning when you wake up, new baby nerve cells have been born while you were sleeping that are there at your disposal to be used in tearing down toxic thoughts and rebuilding healthy, empowered thoughts to harness your inner resources.


Remember: If you can worry, you can wonder. If you can doubt, you can dominate. If you can spin, you can soar!





Image credit: Heavy Thoughts by StudioThomasLeRooy

Reference: Soundtracks by Jon Acuff



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