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overthinking

We have an interesting question on overthinking from a listener this week.

I’m going to share something personal right now… I could very much relate to this topic because I, too, am an over-analyzer and overthinker.

Before going into most situations, I like to know exactly what to expect. Dinner at a friend’s house? Alright – what’s going to be served? Who else is going to be there? Are we going to play games or watch a movie? Which games? Which movie? When would you like us to leave? Do I need to bring anything?

These are the mental gymnastics I go through in most situations. And the experience I just described was for a familiar situation… going to hang out with friends! Yet, I’ll still go through that mental exercise. You can only imagine what it must be like when I have plans to encounter the unknown.


Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic of overthinking on Episode 1036 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.


Overcoming Analysis Paralysis

Frankly, it’s exhausting. It’s something I struggle with and work to change. I want to be more spontaneous. I don’t want to suffer paralysis by analysis. But, I’ve realized spontaneity brings me a lot of anxiety.

By simply admitting this, though, and allowing myself to have these feelings, has been a huge relief in itself. So, here’s what I’ve learned: sometimes you have to “just jump.”

And I’ve realized that I am not overanalyzing or overthinking every situation. I can be quite spontaneous at times as well. After monitoring my thoughts and behaviors, I found that there’s a pattern. I find that when I’m going into a social situation, like just hanging out with friends for the evening (even friends that I’ve known for over 20 years), I want to be at my best and so I like to feel prepared. I want them to know that I value their friendship and a way to represent this is to be at my best – to be ready to play games with an hors d’oeuvre in hand to ease their burden.

It’s kind of ridiculous when I say it aloud, but what can I say? That’s how my mind works. I want to please others. That’s my way of showing that I care.

But, when it comes to other situations, I’m ready to just jump.

A Lesson on Waterfall Heights and Perspective

I’ll give you an analogy from an experience I had: while on vacation a couple of years ago, I signed up for a waterfall hiking tour.

At one point, we walked to the top of a waterfall. It was here that the tour guide stopped us.

He told us to step into the water’s current and encouraged each of us, one- by-one to walk down a very steep, and obviously very slippery rock so that we could jump from the top of the waterfall into the wading pool below. I watched as others carefully walked down this rock towards the edge of the top of this waterfall and then triumphantly jump into the pool below.

walking-down-waterfall

The walk down the waterfall on the slippery rock that I did NOT jump from…

As I watched, I couldn’t get my head wrapped around the fact that these folks weren’t slipping. I mean, plenty of water was flowing over the rock as they eased themselves down to the waterfall’s edge! How is it possible they weren’t slipping?? And, the rock had a steep downhill angle!

My brain kept trying to figure out the physics behind the phenomenon I was witnessing. And, I just couldn’t understand it. It was like a magic trick. I kept thinking that I would be the one person that would slip and fall and crack his head open ruining everyone’s tour.

“I’m NOT doing it,” I said, and I hiked down the waterfall to meet the group at the bottom. You might be thinking I did the intelligent thing. I mean, my safety could have been at risk. Looking back, I still feel I made the right choice.

The tour continued and we made our way to another waterfall. Instead of having to climb down a slippery rock to jump, there was a platform that someone had built – complete with a sturdy set of stairs. The platform jutted out from the rocks so that we would avoid hitting them on the way down. I was determined to jump. Others, after the slippery rock experience, were too shaken up to attempt this one. But, this felt safer to me, so I climbed up the stairs to the platform.

jumping off waterfall

The height from where I jumped!

I didn’t realize how high the platform was until I got to the top. I heard some ask the tour guide how high the platform was over the water. He said it was about 35 feet above the water. I could feel my brain start to overanalyze the situation. That’s pretty high. Maybe these stairs aren’t so safe. But, I pushed those thoughts aside. I was determined to do this.

When I got to the top, a twinge of panic set in. It didn’t look this high from the bottom! I could tell that I was starting to over-analyze again. I quickly ignored it and before the panic had the opportunity to grow, I started running. I ran towards the edge of the platform and leapt into air. No hesitation. I just jumped.

Looking back, I’m so glad I did. It was thrilling.

How to Stop Overthinking Everything

So, there are times when we need to ignore our instinct to overthink and over-analyze. But, there are definitely times when we need to trust ourselves, like when our safety might be at risk.

Here are what professionals in the field recommend to curb overthinking:

  • This first tip is probably the most profound. Ask yourself: On my deathbed, what will I regret more? Doing this or NOT doing this? What’s the worst thing that can happen if I don’t do this?
  • Perfection may not be as important as you think. Making a decision should simply be a step towards your ultimate goal. It is ok to have a “ok” decision to support making progress towards your end goal.
  • Remove some options. Sometimes, too many options can lead to over-analysis. Think back to what you hope to accomplish. Get rid of any options that will not support your objective.
  • Just Jump. If you are not sure which option to pick or how to proceed, and none of them would be harmful or detrimental to you or your goal, then just pick one and try it. Don’t worry about the outcome at that moment, but just be comfortable with the fact that you made a decision and are moving forward.
  • Learn from past mistakes, but don’t let them stop you. Try not to over think decisions you made decisions in the past, especially if you often suffer from paralysis by analysis. Learn from them but try not to let them prevent you from striving towards your current goals.
  • And, finally, consider setting a time limit. Since every decision is different, it’s hard to recommend a specific time limit. But, saying, “OK, I’m going to make a decision by 1 pm this afternoon” can help avoid spending too much time over analyzing.

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic of overthinking on Episode 1036 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.


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Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik ("Dr. Neal") is currently a professor at California State University, San Bernardino. Before this, he served as Department Chair at Bastyr University California. Dr. Neal has also published peer-reviewed scientific research and presented at national conferences.Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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