We live in a time and place in which information is more plentiful than clean water, and it’s not surprising that many find it overwhelming. It’s also not surprising to see so many invitations to “switch off”, “detox” and generally quiet the noise for a little while. I get this. I crave it too. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was space in every single day for the “there, but not there” kind of feeling that comes with meditation?
What concerns me are rampant messages about “not overthinking” things. When things get hectic, stressful or confusing, we’re encouraged to turn off the little nag in our heads, to go with our gut, or just not go at all. To be honest, I don’t think we overthink things at all. In fact, I think we are a culture of chronic underthinkers. We praise people who’ve managed to “get out of their heads.” When things get complicated or difficult, we cut corners in our thinking, committing just about every fallacy there is, floundering to find easy answers. It feels awful and chaotic because we know, somewhere in the back of our heads, that we haven’t followed our ideas to their logical conclusions, that we’ve left them hanging there, half-formed.
Here’s an analogy: Imagine you have a gym membership, and you’d like to get into really great shape. While at the gym, you pile more and more weight onto the machines, you do obscene numbers of reps, and you run on the treadmill until you feel like your lungs will burst. At the end of it all, you feel completely trashed, like you want to do anything but exercise. You worked hard, but you didn’t work smart, as the old adage goes.
We often do the same thing with our minds. Rather than being rational, objective and circumspect in the ideas we accept, we suck up as much information as we can, we spin it around in our minds at full speed, and eventually, we get exhausted. We mistake being pedantic and picky for being logical. Pick your favourite social media platform and do a search for a major issue. You’ll see what I mean.
In thinking, as in workouts, quantity is never an adequate substitute for quality, and the ironic thing is that there’s as much (maybe more) peace of mind to be found in thinking well as there is in thinking less. Thinking properly, as opposed to thinking too much, helps us avoid being taken of advantage of and lied to. Thinking properly leads us to awareness of the fact that there are always other options and choices, sometimes even good ones. Thinking properly helps us to know ourselves better, and to know the world around us better, as opposed to being overwhelmed by it all.
So it’s okay to overthink things. Stretch first, use the correct weight, and if it feels like you’re about to pull something, make sure you’re not doing it the wrong way. In life, as in a workout, think smart, not hard.