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  • When Overthinking Controls Us – 3 Ways to Problem Solve

    The human brain has the amazing capacity to think as well as over-think. We have probably progressed in society due to our ability to think beyond the norm. If I am about to undergo surgery, I would much rather be matched with a medical team that has rehearsed and planned for the multiple scenarios that can come up during and after surgery. Another example of the benefits of overthinking is when a contractor is meticulously going over the pros and cons of a service to you so you know exactly what you are getting into. There are great benefits to thinking beyond the norm, and there is a time and a place for this. However, as with all good things in life, there are also major drawbacks when overthinking occurs in a way that is inappropriate to the context of a situation.

    When overthinking controls us, rather than the other way around, it can be debilitating. Decision-making can be a paralyzing process. We can ruminate on the decisions we have already made, and wonder if we made the right choice. We can miss out on opportunities from thinking of all the pros and cons, when the reality of the situation may have been much more simple and straightforward.

    Overthinking can also lead to burn out and fatigue as well as pessimistic thinking. Thinking processes that are oriented towards problem solving, however, can be preventative in nature and can bring a sense of relief.

    Here are a few examples of overthinking vs. problem-solving to help determine if your thinking process is leaning towards debilitating overthinking, or structure problem solving.

    Example 1

    Overthinking: I got overlooked for that promotion again. This always happens to me. I am never going to work my way up in this company. I am not good enough. There is always someone with more experience or the right connections, so what is the point of trying?

    Problem Solving: I got overlooked for that promotion again. I wonder what it is that the company is looking for? I should ask for feedback to get a better understanding of what is needed. In the meantime I will get some outside experience and ask my friend from another company if they have any insights that can help.

    Example 2

    Overthinking: I really like the person I met the other day. I want to ask them out, but honestly, I don’t think I am their type. They seem out of my league. I bet they get asked on dates all the time. What do I bring to the table? I would rather not try to ask them out, that way I don’t have to feel rejected again. I am going to be alone forever.

    Problem Solving: I really like this person I met the other day. I think we had a good time and shared some nice laughs. It seems like we get along. I am not sure if they see me in a platonic or romantic way, but I should probably find out rather than get paralyzed. I will ask them for coffee as a friend and take some time to see how they feel. The worst thing they could say is no, and that would allow me to open the opportunity to maintain a friendship.

    Example 3

    Overthinking: I have to choose between two potential rentals. I have drawn up a list of all the pros and cons but, I don’t know, I just can’t stick to one. What if I move into one and I hate it? What if I keep thinking about the other choice, even if the one I choose is a decent option? What if I am stuck there for a whole year? What if I have terrible neighbors? What if I lose out from waiting too long to choose? Ugh, the deadline to choose is tomorrow and I just can’t sleep from thinking about this.

    Problem Solving: I have to choose between two potential rentals. Since they are pretty equal in terms of pros and cons, I am going to ask the leasing office about their contracts and what options I have if I run into any issues. Perhaps they can offer to move into another unit if I have problems with neighbors, or if there are environmental issues down the line. I will choose the rental that ultimately provides more understanding and flexibility.

    While you were reading the different thinking-processes, you may have noticed some common themes. Overthinking is fueled by anxiety, negative perspectives, and poor self-concept. Problem solving acknowledges the dilemma at hand and also acknowledges the strengths of the individual, and the ways to ask for help or more information. The differences can be tough to pick apart at times, especially when you are stuck in the middle of a big decision. But learning to lean towards problem solving can greatly reduce our daily stress and overall health.