Well, recently I mentioned we were hoping to adopt a dog, and he has finally arrived. He’s a most gentle greyhound, about two years old, and we’ve named him Fynn. It’s taken us a couple of days to attune to the change - humans and dog that is - but we seem to be settling in very well.
I mention Fynn because we all got caught in the trap of overthinking things. We’d diligently watched the DVD sent to us by the dog rescue people, then we ploughed through the literature, then we listened to advice from the person we liaised with and then we listened to even more from the person who was in charge of the kennels. Armed with this glut of information what could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, apart from a couple of ‘accidents’ on the carpet, very little has gone wrong. However, none of us being dog people, we spent quite a while trying to remember everything we’d heard and seen and being a little too concerned about getting it right. Once we stopped trying so hard it all slotted into place.
Overthinking involves too much analysis, too much vigilance and too much emphasis on trying to control or fix situations. It’s something we tend to do more if we’re uncertain and once you get a couple more people in the same room doing the same thing it gets downright silly. It reminded me of some patients who were great over-thinkers. It got them nowhere of course because it never does. But what it can do is lead to a mindset where there’s a belief that something has to be fixed, that there’s a lack of personal control, that something is wrong and that somehow you aren’t measuring up.
Another feature of overthinking is that it rarely if ever results from anything positive. It’s much more likely that something involving uncertainty or stress has triggered it and if it isn’t seen for what it is the whole thing can spiral into greater confusion, negative emotions and even depression.
But let’s not overthink the issue, because thinking about how we think - well, you know But for those of you who are reading this and thinking ‘that’s me’ let me offer a couple of tips. If you find yourself in a loop of thought try to get out of it by doing something completely unrelated to what’s on your mind. If it’s a problem that needs solving a break is often all that’s needed to generate new solutions. Or you might like to try the timed approach to overthinking where you allow yourself a set amount of time to let your brain do its thing, and then you draw a halt. First of all you have to believe overthinking serves no purpose. Once you believe that, it may be possible to do something about it.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.