I can’t remember where I heard it, but someone once said, “life is full of problems, living is solving them.” We deal with problems everyday, some big, some small. Some can be fixed by a simple hug, and others take years to be resolved. Then there are those that just simply cause undesired stress, whilst others force us to draw from within us our greatest mental potential.
Whatever problem life throws at us, whether we have the capacity to solve them or not, we think about them.
We think about what to do, what not to do, and how our action or inaction will impact us, as well as others.
But how often is it that we think about our thinking? At what point do we stop to question our train of thought? Are we focusing our mind on what’s really important? How are we to judge what is important? Are we taking the right aspects into consideration?
Are we just overthinking everything?
My first bout of overthinking hit me around the time I graduated from University. You could probably call it a quarter life crisis, the kind of event that many face a lot later in life. After a lifetime of rigid routine and study, I suddenly had no boundaries, no guidelines, no deadlines or even schedules.
How on earth was I expected to decide what to do with my life at 21? The young naive child who just expected it all to happen had caught up with me. Thus began the process of rumination – the human trait that we would surely benefit from evolving out of.
Stress, confusion, indecisiveness, and sleepless nights became as common for me as a Punjabi behind the wheel of an Uber cab. At this stage in my life, I had no direction, no inspiration, and no ability to think clearly. For the first time in my life I felt lost. I had no idea what I wanted, or what was waiting around the corner. Uncertainty was my only certainty.
To my great fortune, I managed not to drop the bundle – well at least I think I didn’t. Underlying this tough period was a deep curiosity that led me to question my thinking and approach.
Too much of our behaviour is determined by not how things are, but how we think things are. This kind of thinking is not worth paying attention to for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is probably wrong. I mean, let’s be honest, we are rarely objective in evaluating ourselves. We over-exaggerate both our strengths and our weaknesses. It’s human nature. And secondly, these thoughts don’t really make us feel any better, rather, leaving us feeling about as useful as Anne Frank’s drum kit.
We need to discover a new relationship with our thoughts. We need to muster the courage to view the world not as we think it ought to be, but as it actually is. We need to be able to stop and recognise that our catastrophic thoughts and judgements are actually just ruining a moment, a week, or a relationship. Often it is just a poisonous thought that makes us feel bad, not the experience itself.
But how the heck are we meant to cultivate that sense of detachment from the poisonous and polluted stream of thinking?
Well, at this stage, your guess is as good as mine. It is no easy game. We have all been prisoners of our own minds at some stage or another. You can feel isolated, alone, and rather helpless.
In moments where I’ve felt my mind getting the better of myself, I look for a distraction, something to occupy my mind, or at least to tire me physically.
Acting leads to clarity, thought doesn’t.
Instead of obsessing, fuming, stressing, contemplating about things that we don’t have to, we need to shift our attention to celebrating what we do. Rather than worrying about things we cannot control, people’s opinions of us, for example – we need to focus our mind towards things that we have some influence over. Better than judging others, and ourselves, we must simply take as we find, and leave the rest to be.