“I’m OK, just going to work” I answered “Eurgh! I know, I hate Mondays, too!”
I wanted to tell him that the reason why I looked grey and felt sluggish was that I was a bit tired and trying (unsuccessfully) to fend off a cold. That I didn’t hate Mondays, but I was just out of sorts.
But I wasn’t quick enough, so he patted my shoulder encouragingly: “What can we do? Work is a necessary evil!”
Judgements we make on others based on our assumptions are so funny sometimes. And so far from the truth.
It’s so interesting to see how we presume our labels to be true for everybody else. Sometimes we’re spot on and we’re satisfied to share a mutual like or dislike.
Other times the answers we get vary from stone silence to a slap in the face (aka. free face massage).
When was the last time you got some funny looks for assuming something without checking?
Are you reading too much into situations or spend too much time trying to make decisions?
Are you going over the same things that have already happened or might happen in the future?
Do you panic at every physical discomfort and suspect some life-threatening disease? (Like the appendicitis scare when you were bloated and crampy because of the Brussels sprouts?)
Everyone overthinks sometimes, but for some people, this is a constant.
Overthinking is rooted in uncertainty and is a way to deal with fear and anxiety. Unfortunately, it can also be like temporary selective blindness, where you see nothing but doom and gloom all around you
Up until my teenage years, whenever there was an event I would look forward to, after the initial positive anticipation, there would come fear.
What if something went wrong? What if X didn’t do what he promised? What if I wouldn’t be good enough? What if my parents wouldn’t be happy about it? (I know, that was a lot of anxiety for a child!)
I would think and turn things over and over in my mind, without showing anything outside. Because somehow, by expecting the worse, if it came true, it was not as much of a blow. If it didn’t, I could enjoy the happy end.
I was trying to be prepared for everything. But it cost me a lot of tears, sleepless nights and stress.
Maybe this sounds familiar?
I could give you the traditional, sensible advice, like challenge your worries, stay in the present or focus on the positives. And these things work, of course.
…except when the horse is already out of the barn. That is, when you’re already so far off into your projections, you are either paralysed and covered in cold sweats, or you’re more hyper than a chihuahua.
Three unconventional solutions
They work great, especially when your overthinking got your stomach tighter than a triple gastric band:
– Get physical – do vigorous movements or exercise, jump, run, punch, do Pilates. This trick works because you’ll feel a sense of control by taking some form of action. After all, our mind tricks us into believing we can accomplish something by worrying, so why not trick them back? Besides getting a wave of endorphins, you’ll maintain a fit shape – winning!
– Get musical – voice your concerns and stress by singing it. If the melody doesn’t match the words, that’s even better – it’s throwing your brains off. Baffled, it’ll say ‘Wait, what? Am I happy or am I stressed right now?’ (added points if you can also shake your limbs wildly to the rhythm)
– Get artistic – sculpt, paint or crochet your worries into oblivion. The focus here isn’t on creating a masterpiece, but on giving form to the invisible monster tormenting you. Chisel or cast abstract shapes, slosh a cacophony of colours or stitch those yarns fiercely! No rationalising, no judgement – just do it!.
IF ALL ELSE FAILS: if you’re tired (whether of ruminating or because of all this exertion), throw it all in front of God, Higher Power, Universe, or Natural Wisdom.
When creating the worst case scenarios made me suffer too much I surrendered my feelings and problems to the Big Boss and told Him to fix them Himself because I surely couldn’t.
And that “Thy will be done” attitude gave me relief. The conscious transfer of responsibility ended the unnecessary struggle. (Why carry it all, anyway?)
Which is also why the Serenity Prayer has always been one of my favourites.
I’m curious to know, which of these ideas do you feel tempted to try?
Which sounds so appalling that you wouldn’t be caught dead doing it? (That’s the perfect one for you then!)
Overthinking, like anything else, can be both a blessing and a curse.
You do it in a battle, prepare for the worst, you’re a good strategist.
In day to day life, it’s tiresome, and you don’t need it all the time.
Plus, in relationships, it kills the spontaneity and romance. Your partner comes to you all excited about something, but then you start to speak, and the sparkle in their eyes dies.
When you suspect you’re going down the rabbit hole or when people start to wilt next to you, it may be a good time to ask yourself:
Is this really necessary? Right now? Maybe I can join in the joy of the moment and start dissecting later when things have cooled down a bit.
Am I acting like a control freak? Can I loosen up a little or is it vital that I remain uptight as a bolt screwed snugly?
What am I afraid will happen if I relax a bit? Will things really come undone or will they be just fine?
What feelings am I trying to avoid by over-complicating things? There are many ways in which people avoid their uncomfortable feelings; excessive rationalising is one of them.
What would be the most useful action right now: examining possibilities like a chess master or staying flexible and present in the moment, dealing with what comes up? (There is merit in both!)
=== EXERCISE ===
In case you forgot, you don’t have just one brain in your body: the gut and the heart are brains, too (yep, science says so!)
Why are they called brains?
Because they have their own intrinsic nervous systems and they are capable of doing complex adaptive processes. They can take on information, process it and store it; they can change and adapt. Basically, if it can learn, it’s a brain.
So if your first tendency is to overthink, here’s a process that can help you balance things out.
1.- Let your brain do its job, let it froth and spill – but only for ten minutes, then focus your attention on the gut. If you had years of practising shutting your feelings or intuition down, it might feel a bit weird to reconnect. (Just like any relationship where one party was ignored or silenced for decades 😉 )
2.- Place one hand on your belly and check what is your physiological reaction when you think about that problem. Is it tightening? Is it tingling? How does it feel? What would it have you do in that instance – run? Fight? Wait? Go with the flow? Listen just as intently as a pregnant woman is listening to the life inside of her.
3.- .- Now place a hand and focus on your heart. What does it “say”? How do you feel about that problem? What course of action does it advise? Maybe the events triggered a strong, almost overwhelming reaction – stay with the feeling, like a silent observer. Don’t judge and don’t fight it. Just be mindful of what your heart has to say.
4.- Now bring all three messages from your brains in the space of the heart and see how you can reconcile them. What solution would satisfy them all? What would feel good on all levels?
This is something you can try when you have a decision to make because it can bring alignment with yourself. Instead of being stuck in the head and feeling fragmented or cut off from an essential part of yourself, you’ll feel at peace and whole.
And this is important, because “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
So, to sum it up, I’m not saying you should never analyse things logically and check for multiple possibilities.. There is a place (and a time) to put this ability to good use.
Is your decision important?
Does it have life-threatening implications?
Then sure, don’t take things lightly.
But if not, overthinking will get you trapped in your mind, while life happens next to you.
And all the while, you may be fighting shadows and illusions.
What is your experience with overthinking? How are you handling it?
Have you seen the new Marco Polo on Netflix? While I liked the 1982 version and was totally in love with the soundtrack (Ennio Morricone!), this version had my eyes glued to the screen for hours.
The episode I watched last night made me think about applying the Ying Yang theory when dealing with adversities.
Yin and Yang are the two mutually complementary forces that act continuously in this universe. One cannot exist without the other and harmony is the cosmic field in which they are eternally dancing, eternally changing.
Nearly all things can have both Yin and Yang properties; sometimes Yin and Yang can describe two relative aspects of the same phenomenon or they can describe two different objects.
Yin can be passivity (rest), gentleness, internal, female, night, moon, darkness, water etc.
Yang can be activity, firmness, external, male, day, sun, light, fire etc.
In last night Marco Polo episode, the blind martial arts master was doing his routine when his former student and love comes in quietly. She watches him and then she engages with him in a succession of fluid movements of such breathtaking beauty and elegance that illustrates the idea that one should be in harmony, not in opposition with the force of their opponent.
We’re used to reacting with violence to violence, toughness to toughness, anger to anger. And sometimes it comes with great costs. The result is rarely harmony, but a self-perpetuating escalation of violence, loss and exhaustion.
When the aim is to attain and maintain the balance between Yin and Yang, the answer to a Yang type of action is a Yin type of action, and vice-versa.
When your partner is yelling with frustration, your loud, angry reply won’t bring peace, but make things even more explosive. Peace will only be restored when at least one of you opposes the Yang (hot, volatile, angry) with Yin (cool, stable, calm).
When your resentful friend gives you the silent treatment (Yin), a bold and direct conversation (Yang) can clear the air and end up the cold war.
Similarly, when facing an avalanche of disruptive events (Yang), maybe it’s a good idea to not give in to the first impulse (Yang), but step back (Yin) enough to be out of danger and evaluate the challenge from a more distant (and wider) perspective.
It is true, gentleness alone can’t forever dissolve away great force, nor can sheer brute force subdue the enemy forever.
To survive, in combat and life, the harmonious interfusion of gentleness and firmness is necessary. Sometimes one dominates and sometimes the other; then the defence and attack, expansion and contraction, pushing and pulling will produce one another alternately, in a harmonious wave-like succession.
Nobody likes to feel they’re not good at something. Although we know that we can’t excel in all areas, having the proof to the contrary shoved in our face is just as annoying as a pebble in your shoe. It spoils your good mood and ruffles your nice opinions about yourself.
For a perfectionist though, things are a bit different. That is no pebble, that feels more like rubbing sandpaper on a freshly shaved cheek. Because, with the precision of a diamond cutting through the glass, everything leads straight to the same conclusion: YOU are not good enough.
Your toddler runs out of the door when you pick him up from daycare – you’re a bad, unfit mother.
Your house doesn’t look like the cover of the magazine – you’re not good enough at housekeeping.
The grapes you bought are not sweet enough – you’re not a savvy shopper.
Every single time, the same conclusion: something about YOU is not correct, appropriate, up to standards, etc.
I can’t remember how old I was when I first listened to a concert using headphones. But I remember I felt a bit overwhelmed – all of a sudden, the sounds were not around me, but in me.
In years to come, I developed a weird habit when listening to music through the head/earphones. Instead of focusing on the obvious, the lead singer or the solo instrument, I would focus on following the other musical lines and beats that were part of the piece. Like the second voice in a chorus or the backup singers. Or the triangle that rings occasionally and sometimes gets lost.
I would try and discover as many instruments, voices and sounds as possible, one by one – and then return to the perception of the whole.
I imagine that would be the musical equivalent of a wine tasting experience?
Although there may be a lot of explanations why something didn’t go well, the hidden belief that you’re not good enough points everything in just one direction: YOU.
And most of the times, it’s not the true reason.
Toddlers run away from good mothers too because they’re excited or curious. Houses get messy because that’s what happens, whether they’re inhabited or not. Fruits come in batches – some sweet, some sour, you can’t possibly know ahead what they taste like, no matter how savvy you are.
It’s easy to fall prey to the voice that shouts ‘you’re not good enough!’ After all, it’s the loudest, while common sense barely dares to whisper.
Still, listening not just to the concertmaster, but also to the second violins (and glockenspiel, and flute, etc.) can offer you a more balanced and complex experience.
And save yourself from unnecessary suffering in the process.
How did this resonate with you?
What hidden beliefs make your life harder ?
If you’d like to discover and banish them into the Great Nothingness… well, drop me a message.