Am I thinking? Or am I overthinking?
This post examines my relationship with overthinking, how it really gets in my way, and how a different kind of thinking can help me.
I have an amazing friend (in fact I have a few, I’m very lucky!) but this one told me a story over Christmas that has both inspired me and really made me think.
As she and her partner returned from some well needed time out together, they came across a young woman, with two young children and some big bags of washing.
She approached the woman, who was lost, apparently looking for the launderette and clearly struggling under the weight of bags while trying to keep her kids in check.
There and then, my friend made a decision. She invited the woman to her nearby home and did her washing for her! They stayed and chatted for a while, before the kids got bored. So, they exchanged numbers. My friend finished the washing, and returned it to the woman, dried and folded, the next day.
On doing so, she saw the conditions that this woman was expected to do her washing in. A filthy council funded washroom that was full of other people’s dirty clothes. She made another decision.
“You can’t do your washing in there. From now on, text me when you need a load doing, and bring it round. I’ll do your washing for you.”
The young woman was obviously very grateful, and they’ve since struck up a friendship. This lady, who it turns out is living in temporary accommodation having escaped from domestic violence, has brought her washing round a few times. She has also started talking about how she is getting her confidence back. Even the idea of going to college.
“You’re amazing” I said, when she had finished telling me “just amazing!”
And she simply said:
“You wouldn’t have left her there either!”
But what would I have done? Really?
I’ve thought about that a lot since. What would I have done in that situation? I’m still not sure.
I would have checked if the young woman was ok. That much I’m pretty sure of. Perhaps walked her to the launderette. Perhaps even offered to sit with her and help entertain her kids while the laundry was on?
But would I have brought her into my home? Washed her knickers for her? Become a much needed friend? Given her ongoing practical and emotional support?
My friend is one of those people who just seems to know, in her bones, the right thing to do.
And then she just gets on and does it.
I think I would have wanted to do the same as she did. But the question remains:
Would I have actually gone through with it?
I think that I would have got caught up in my own head, making up stories and worst case scenarios.
“What will my Partner think if I bring her home?”
“She might think I’m really patronising”
“She might be terrified if I insist she comes home with me and think I’m a lunatic!”
“She might be a lunatic!”.......
And I think, ultimately, my overthinking would have tempered my response. Or potentially delayed any action until the point that it was too late.
I would have helped her. But the next day I think I would have been left with a nagging feeling that I could have done more.
I talk a lot about thinking, and the importance of thinking well for ourselves. I’m not changing my mind about that!
It has made me consider though:
What is the difference between great thinking, and over-thinking?
You know - the kind that causes us to pause, even stop completely. To not take the action that we know to be right. Or to miss opportunities. Or to wake up the next day knowing in our bones that we would have preferred to do something different.
And what can I do to stop myself doing it? Or at least reduce it a bit!
My conclusion? Work in progress, it’s probably a myriad things. But I have a working theory, for me anyway. I think that there are two things I can work on.
First, it’s about developing a real grounded confidence in my personal values. A confidence that I can return to when my overthinking fearful mind kicks in.
My friend has that in spades. It is something that I deeply admire about her.
And then it’s about recognising when I’m being my own worst enemy. My overthinking is generally borne from anxiety, fear, and worry. And when that takes over, I don’t think well.
None of us do.
So, the more in touch I am with my feelings, the more likely I am to be able to notice what’s going on and take a step back. To call on what I know to be true and important for me.
I know that my regular Thinking Sessions help me with both. I am becoming far clearer on my personal values and what really matters to me. Becoming clearer on my own patterns of thinking, and what sorts of things trigger my emotional responses.
And that is slowly equipping me better to make those quick decisions in my day to day life that I sometimes need to, when my go-to response might be overthinking fear.
My thinking is helping me with my overthinking!
And there are other, smaller things too. Because overthinking can stop or delay me taking action in so many different ways.
My perfectionism can cause me to procrastinate over starting a piece of work - overthinking and wanting to know how things will turn out before I even start.
Noticing that it’s fear driving the procrastination, has meant I can take small steps to change it. So "Progress not Perfection" - has become a mantra - just take a deep breath and decide what’s the next small right step, and take it!
My fear can mean I delay having that difficult conversation. Usually because I’m trying to work out every possible response so I can be completely prepared and not be caught out.
Now I try instead to use my thinking time to get clear on what it is that I want to say, and remind myself to remain connected and compassionate. Oh, and to remind myself that getting started is always the hardest bit! With most things actually….
Thinking sessions are helping me to see these patterns more clearly, and understand my behaviour. Then I can work out how to change things and get less tied up in knots!
Work in progress…..
Sorry, Progress, not Perfection!
If you are interested in arranging thinking sessions for yourself, to help you get clear on what really matters to you, I would love to hear from you. Please get in touch.