“Relax, Tim, don’t think about it so much”

In my previous blog post, I gave a detailed illustration of how my mind generally works to try to explain why I sometimes talk to myself. To put it briefly, I stated that my brain produces so many thoughts at such a rapid pace that I find it tough to keep what’s on my mind entirely to myself. In my view, the chief problem is that it’s near impossible for me to calm or slow down the constant activity that’s happening in my mind. As a result, I very often feel compelled to observe and contemplate things in an excessively analytical, critical matter. In other words, I tend to overthink things. A lot.

Now, before you go and say “Wait a minute Tim, all of us overthink things from time to time, what makes you think you’re special”, I fully realize that no one is immune to excessive analysis. Heck, overthinking is something that we sometimes depend upon to get important work done or to solve complex problems. I’m not saying that I’m special because I overthink. What I am saying, however, is that I believe that I do it a bit more often than most people, as in practically all the time.

So, referring to previous post again, I like to see the minds of most human beings as something that works at a relatively steady, manageable pace. For the vast majority of people, the brain produces one or two thoughts at a time, and they are usually able to react to them in a prompt and efficient manner, without having to worry about whether they should keep it to themselves or not. The way my mind works, however, is slightly different. My mind evidently likes to produce a lot of thoughts at once, far too many for me to handle effectively. Instead of having one or two thoughts at a time and allowing them to sink in before responding, I am thinking so rapidly that I’m given barely any time to appropriately react to them. I’m essentially forced to keep up with my thoughts and observations as they come, constantly trying to make sense of everything and prevent myself from being confused or overwhelmed.

The best way I can describe this habit is that whenever I observe something or try to work on something, I will often dwell on waaay too much and form of these massive webs of thought. Apparently, pondering something for only a little bit isn’t an option for me. For whatever, reason, my mind feels as if it’s required to thoroughly analyze and elaborate on what’s going on, to look at it from all possible angles. One thought will immediately lead to another and then another and then another, and in a way that doesn’t always seem normal or consistent. Indeed, a lot of times my mind won’t stick to one topic at a time, but rather change topics every few minutes or even seconds. There are tons of times when I’m thinking of a topic and it somehow leads to another topic which has nothing to do with the first one – and yet I’m still obsessing myself over it!

Moreover, my mind is never content with having one thought or piece of information and sticking with it. It has to expand upon it. In many cases, this causes me to try to figure out everything all at once, or force myself to have a “complete” understanding. It is not enough to start to understand something piece by piece, and it’s never acceptable for me to “not get” a few things or to feel a little behind. My mind will not be satisfied unless it feels like it is perfectly in-tune with everything to the very last detail. If there’s even the slightest confusion, then my mind feels insecure and paranoid. In some cases, “knowing everything” isn’t even enough. I must elaborate beyond what’s presented to me, and apply it to my own situation

A great example would be when I’m reading a textbook for one of my college courses. As I begin reading a chapter, new concepts, ideas, and facts will be thrown at me. Instead of casually taking in each fact and detail one at a time, trying my best to remember as I go along, I mentally obsess over nearly each line of text and paragraph, especially when it teaches me something new. I try to ensure that I have an absolute grasp of everything that I read. It’s never acceptable to just move on if I’m even a tiny bit confused or may have missed something. Not only that, but I also want to have perfect, crystal-clear idea of what I’m reading. I want to make sure that the images in my head exactly match up to what’s being presented to me. Even when I already have a pretty good idea of what I’m being taught, I will still spend several minutes contemplating – just it to make absolutely sure that I fully comprehend it. All of this partially explains why it takes so long for me to read in general, and hence why I don’t like to read all that much (see this post for a further discussion on me and reading).

The same thing applies to when I do something that shouldn’t require that much thinking, such as watching a movie. Whenever I watch a film, much like with reading, it often takes me longer than it should to mentally absorb and comprehend things such as plot points and dialogue. My mind will waste a lot of time thinking about what’s being presented to me, as opposed to relaxing and enjoying the film. To make things worse, my mind is extremely adamant about understanding 100% what’s going on in the film – making sure that I’m not missing a single detail. Consequently, I might rewind a couple of times while watching to ensure that I’m completely “in sync” with everything. I just cannot be satisfied with having a basic understanding of what’s going on, and so it’s pretty easy for me to get frustrated when watching a more complex or dialogue-heavy film.

Needless to say, my tendency to overthink is another common source of anxiety and stress for me. All of the constant mental noise and activity can be a lot to deal with, and it makes calming myself down and letting things go more complicated. It’s a little like having tiny voices in your head that like to go on long, annoying rants and rarely ever shut up. Even when I’m doing something that is meant to reduce the constant mental chatter, like meditating, I will still instinctively think about what I’m doing and why it’s important. There are times when I wish to myself that I had a “normal” mind; that I could think at a much more steady, manageable pace – a mind that didn’t force me to think so much or waste so much time obsessing over things that really don’t matter in the long run.

The most frustrating part is that overthinking has been exceptionally challenging for me to reduce. I have tried a couple of strategies, such as meditation and positive affirmations, to help me with this issue, but I haven’t made much progress so far. I believe that part of the problem is that overthinking has become such a deep-rooted habit that it’s kind of hard to imagine a life without it. It would definitely be nice if I could experience what it’s like having a mind that’s much simpler and more quiet. Of course, I can’t be entirely sure that other people’s brains work that much differently, as I am unfortunately unable to read others thoughts. Also, I am unable to confirm if overthinking is relatively common among people on the Autism spectrum. Once again, it could simply be something that I have to deal with as Tim Kirtland.

I will say this though: if you don’t consider yourself to be much of an overthinker and believe that your thoughts are mostly simple and straight-forward, then you have no idea how much I envy you!