We just talked to you about memory, and how sometimes, it may not be the most accurate gauge of our experiences. Let’s now venture a step further, and look at what happens when we ruminate over past situations way too much. When we are unable to recall something or create our own perception of it from our pool of memories, we often start to think harder and harder in order to create a substantial account of the event that has occurred.
We strain our mind and wrench it out of all its juice in order to try and recall certain things, and this is when the mind starts to ‘overthink’. Overthinking is essentially when we put our mind into overdrive, while trying to form a concrete account of something that we have been through, or when we are foreseeing or to gauge an outcome . Suppose you’re thinking about something said to you at work that could hint at your competency like ‘few people in this office are competent with research’. When you think about this normally, it sounds like it could be addressed to anyone.
However, to an overthinking mind, this statement could present several possibilities. It could possibly lead to the perception that the person saying these words is trying to target your ego, or that they are trying to comment on the efficacy of your peers. This is like reaching too far away and trying to make an association that is too far-fetched, in order to give a particular statement some flesh in our minds.
We always desire to have a complete picture of what we hear and see. However, thinking too much about the events around us to try and piece them together fully often puts our brain into a cycle of worry, especially when we create negative connotations that associate with our own selves from these situations. One of the best ways to prevent the mind from going into overdrive can be developing an awareness about the emotions one feels when overthinking.
To know when you overthink is pretty hard, but observing the emotions you feel when you do so can be pretty helpful. When you’re deep in thought, and notice yourself getting anxious or antsy, give yourself a hypothetical pinch and tell yourself to stop! Many individuals also start to overthink because they catastrophize situations in multiple was in order to look at all the disastrous possibilities that could lie ahead rather than gauge the possible positive outcomes. One can try to picture the things that could go right, and it may just help manifest that vision.
Another way to prevent one’s self from overthinking is to keep active and distracted in a healthy manner. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop, and keeping it busy through leisure, exercise and work often leaves us with no time to ruminate and overthink, but only time to do. When we are able to translate our desire to do things into agency, rather than thoughts about the possibilities, it could dispel the need or tendency to overthink. When you see yourself reaching for invisible stars in your thoughts, go for a run to clear your head! A 6 minute sprint can do wonders to de-clutter one’s cognition.
Remember; water your mind just the right amount, like a plant. Just the right amount engagement with thinking about possibilities can lead to wholesome, positive experiences.
An undergraduate in Psychology, Shantanu is an aspiring Educational Psychologist who will be pursuing his Master’s in 2018 at the Ohio State University. He is adept with psychometric and statistical research, and has honed his grasp over psychology through a 4 year undergraduate course in Liberal Education at FLAME University, Pune.