It’s good to think things through. Critical thinking is an important skill. But you can also overthink things.

One of my sons, a careful and precise thinker, was often told by his baseball and football coaches to “stop thinking.” Of course, they didn’t really want him to stop thinking, but to stop over-thinking. Sports is very much about thinking and acting quickly. Yes, a baseball fielder needs to carefully analyze the situation when a batter comes up to the plate. If he pops up to the infield or the outfield, or hits a grounder at you or to another player, what is your move? But when he hits it to the outfield and the ball is not caught as expected, you need to think and act much more quickly.

The more scientific term for over-thinking or over-analyzing a situation is analysis paralysis. In this extreme, the thinking is overdone to the point that a decision or action is never taken.

Why do we do it? Sometimes it is because there are too many options. It can also be a perfectionist streak where you search for the optimal solution and become afraid to make any decision which could be less than perfect.

The also-rhyming opposite is known as “extinct by instinct” which describes making a fatal decision based on hasty judgment or a gut-reaction.

Advice about how to stop overthinking will suggest the more obvious things like realizing that being perfect isn’t possible and that perfectionism is highly overrated.

Then again, it is much easier to advise an overthinker that she needs to overcome the fear that comes from projecting the worst outcomes of an action, than it is for that person to overcome the fear.

There are many ways that over-thinking can destroy your happiness. For example, it keeps a problem a problem. Things are not solved.  You worry about things because worrying is your imagination imagining a negative future state.  Over-thinking leads you to second guess yourself and that creates self-doubt.

Socrates said that “The unexamined life is not worth living” but he didn’t mean to examine it in such a way that you can’t enjoy that life. Some people refer to as rumination. That word comes from the same root as the ruminating that a cow does when it constantly rechews its food. Psychologists say it is a destructive mental habit that is linked to depression, kills our confidence and our abilities to solve problems and control our lives.

I’m not sure that I completely agree with professor of psychology Susan Nolen-Hoeksema who contends that over-thinking is predominantly a woman’s disease in her book Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life. I think I know as many over-thing men as women.

I feel a bit guilty labeling this post in the category Think About It. I don’t want any overthinkers who are reading it to start to overthink their overthinking.

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