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Thursday, May 2, 2013


You know that feeling of getting stuck on a concern and going over and over and over it again and again in your mind? The way you imagine every possible scenario and outcome associated with it, hearing every conversation in your mind, playing out every fear to its awful conclusion?  And how upset and tired and unhappy you end up?  Over-thinking like this comes from fear and anxiety, but ultimately, it creates fear and anxiety.

When you're caught up in that sort of vicious cycle, of thinking and over-thinking, of using your imagination destructively, creating negative scenarios in your mind, you're feeding the habit of over-thinking, feeding anxiety and insecurity and uncertainty.  Which is so easy to do.  They have voracious appetites, and will feed off of whatever tidbit you give them.

And then they come back, demanding more and more, and, like the parasites they are, they start feeding off your happiness, destroying your contentment  and getting you to question everything you know.  Or think you know.  They feed off uncertainty, so if the only thing you are certain about is how potentially awful everything, including yourself, might be, then you're letting your imagination run wild, and feeding into the anxiety, which feeds into the uncertainty...

How to stop it?  First, recognize the pattern.  So much of over-thinking comes from nurturing the habit. And it's easy to do.  We think so hard about ways to protect ourselves so that we don't make mistakes or get hurt.  And if we've done this before, then we're doubly concerned with making sure we don't repeat mistakes.  So we look for patterns in ourselves, in others, in our circumstances, to give us clues and signs about how we're doing and how things are going.

But rarely is life so clear, so we question what the clues and signs mean, and wonder if they are clues and signs at all, and, if they're not, then what?  Then what do we use as a guidepost for our decisions and judgments when we already know we can't rely on ourselves? And, if you're tired or hungry or grumpy on top of all this over-thinking, then there's a good chance you're making bad decisions.

After you recognize the pattern, make sure you're not hungry or tired or grumpy.  If you are, eat or rest or go for a walk.  Get yourself back to a better place in an easy way.  And then, once you see the pattern, and realize you can't just blame it on a dip in your blood sugar, take that same energy you're using to spin around in circles about someone or something, and turn its spotlight full on you.

What is the fear or anxiety or uncertainty that's fueling this spinning around in circles?  You don't have to explore every psychological component, or discover the root of every feeling you have going back to childhood.  Just ask yourself what it's about, and have the courage to answer honestly.  Are you trying to protect yourself from getting hurt?  Are you distancing yourself from someone or something that you don't have the courage to face?  Are you distracting yourself from something requiring real action?

You know the right answer.  What matters is that you are honest.  Because when you are honest, when you admit and acknowledge what's at the heart of it, what's in your heart, there is a sudden peace and quiet internally.  There is an identification of reality and an acceptance of your own responsibility for the chaos you've created in your mind.  It doesn't mean you always know what to do or how to do it, or even when, but it frees you from tying yourself up in knots about the imaginary and illusory and immaterial and gets you to pay attention to you.

Sometimes you have to do this over and over, creating a new habit to replace the old one of over-thinking.  And that's okay  Because it takes time.  If you're trying to protect yourself from getting hurt, or over-thinking some scenario because the last time you experienced something like this, it turns out you were naive and too trusting and it ended badly, then you do need to protect yourself and take care of yourself, and watch out for your safety emotionally and spiritually and maybe financially or in whatever way you need.

But you don't have to rely on anxiety and crazy-making worry and over-thinking as your protection because there is no protection in worry and over-thinking.  You just have the illusion that you are doing something, but all you are doing is wearing yourself down, and the part of you that can think and judge well, the part that you really need to count on, is weaker from all the overwork and distraction.  And the part of you that needs comfort and care is having to pick up the slack, which it isn't designed to do.

You can handle the truth.  You can handle it at least as well as what you're spinning out in your mind.  And with the truth comes clarity, even if there's some pain too.  But with over-thinking, you have all the pain without the benefit of truth or clarity.  So instead of spending so much energy spinning around, spend just a little time asking yourself the really hard questions you're been avoiding and see what answers you get.  And then, take a deep breath, and keep moving forward.

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