overthinking

Thinking Can Ruin Your Life

If you are reading this you probably think about life more than the “Average Joe” out there. This is a good thing, but you should also be aware that your thinking can potentially hold you back – even to the point of ruining your life. How so? The following are a few ways that have been particularly relevant to my own life.

Matters of the Heart

“You don’t always have to hold your head higher than your heart” – Jack Johnson

When it comes to love, most people have experienced the feeling of receiving different messages from their head and their heart. There is no right answer as to which one you should follow – ultimately it depends on the unique set of circumstances surrounding your situation. You should, however, be aware that sometimes you need to trust in your heart over what your head tells you.

A personal example from my own life is my relationship with my wife. She is Canadian and I am Australian, and we met at a time when a relationship was the last thing on my mind. I had just come out of a long term relationship and I was enjoying the freedom of traveling in a foreign country with no responsibilities. Upon meeting we quickly became very close, but I had to endure my mind telling me, “Don’t get too serious as there is no way this relationship will last”. It is true that we have had more obstacles to overcome than your typical couple, but we trusted in our hearts and have made the relationship work.

My point here is that the mind will often focus on reasons why a relationship won’t work rather than why it might. These may be valid reasons, but you should treat them very carefully and not be afraid to follow your heart on occasions.

Analysis Paralysis

“The maxim ‘nothing but perfection’ may be spelled ‘paralysis’.” – Winston Churchill

golf.jpgGolfers will be familiar with the concept “analysis paralysis”. Basically it involves over-thinking the correct way to hit the golf ball, and usually results in a poor shot due to the natural rhythm of the stroke being lost.

Analysis paralysis is not limited to golf. It can appear anywhere in life where action is required. In my younger days I experienced it when I wanted to approach someone of interest, but was unable to because my mind overanalyzed the situation. Uncontrolled thoughts would race through my mind, such as “what will she say?” or “what if she ignores me or says no?”. I never found out the answer to those questions because I didn’t get to ask them. My thoughts had, in effect, paralysed me.

I have also experienced analysis paralysis with university assignments, work projects and, yes, even blogging. Instead of just getting on with what needs to get done, often I will get bogged down with minor details, tweaks, research… anything really that keeps me from the main task at hand.

If you feel analysis paralysis is something you struggle with, you need to work on silencing your mind. The best way I have found to do this is to practice meditation. If you are interested in learning to meditate, I recommend reading one of our most popular articles: 4 Powerful Reasons to Meditate and How To Get Started.

Possessed By Your Mind

“Most people are so completely identified with the voice in the head – the incessant stream of involuntary and compulsive thinking and the emotions that accompany it – that we may describe them as being possessed by their mind.” – Eckhart Tolle

Many of us are all too familiar with the incessant stream that Tolle describes in the above passage. I know once was. It is, of course, natural to have thoughts continually arise in your mind. The problem occurs, however, when we become fully identified with these thoughts.

If you are familiar with Eckhart Tolle, you will know that one of his teachings is that we human beings are not our thoughts, but rather the awareness that perceives our thoughts. The key then to not being possessed by our mind should be obvious: awareness.

You can start to cultivate awareness today by slowing down and paying attention to what you are experiencing in the present moment, rather than letting your mind live in the past or the future. Avoid simply labeling people or things. For example, if you see a bird don’t simply attach the label of “bird” to it and then look away. Instead, take a moment to just observe it and appreciate the complex simplicity of nature.

* * *

In this article I have surveyed some ways in which thinking can potentially ruin your life. Perhaps it gets in the way of true love, stops you from taking action or completely possesses your mind. There is obviously a lot more to say on these topics than what can be discussed here, but rest assured that if these are areas you struggle with, and you can begin to bring awareness to them, you will begin down the path to controlling your thoughts, and in turn your life.

Since this article is about “thinking”, I would love to hear your thoughts about anything discussed in this article in the comments below.

Peter writes about how to enjoy life at The Change Blog. If you enjoyed this article, you may wish to download his free e-book, A Year of Change.

Images courtesy of Fabbio and Jurvetson.

Link Karma

Here are a few articles that I have recently enjoyed:

5 Signs You’ve Married Your Problems (and How to Divorce Them) – Jonathan Mead

Mind vs. Brain Part I: We Are Only Human – The Financial Philosopher

3 Simple Steps to Kindle Your Inner Fire – Success Soul

Making Your Dreams Come True – Effortless Abundance

Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci – Marelisa Online

Reality Check: Are You Doing What It Takes to Get Ahead in Life? – My Super-Charged Life

Catalysts of Creativity – Be Playful

  • http://foodformind.wordpress.com/ Avani

    Peter, great article. I could relate to this completely. I get paralysed when there are too many choices. I always want to pick up what is right and best always and get stuck over there. Keep running through all pros cons in my mind and end up hating having to choose most of times.

  • Ben

    This is truly great. I never could come up with a name for “Analysis Paralysis”. (The meditation link is bad, by the way, should be: http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/4-reasons-you-should-meditate-and-how-to-get-started/)

    There have been many marketing studies done on just the right number of choices. The common theme seems to be “6 choices or less, and the customer will buy something. More than 6, and they’ll walk.”

    Another highly recommended talk on this: Barry Schwartz, on “The Paradox of Choice”. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/93

    Look forward to more great articles!

  • http://www.mysuperchargedlife.com Jeff@My Super-Charged Life

    Peter, you are right that too much thinking is usually a bad thing. This often opens the door for fear and anxiety to step in. If we take action immediately, we can overcome our fears and dispel them. As one of my readers recently pointed out, our initial instinct seems to be the right choice most of the time. Nice article!

    Thanks for mentioning my reality check article!

  • http://www.slowdownfast.com/blog David B. Bohl @ SlowDownFAST.com

    Peter,

    Great post! I can complicate a straight line if I spend too much time thinking about it. What goes hand-in-hand with this is letting go of my ‘need’ to know and understand everything.

    David

  • http://www.erhnam.com Edgar Pina

    Hello, first time i came here and let me tell you i wont be the last… great reading…

    About the post, totaly agree with you Peter, too much thinking and no action = ilusion

    Keep up the good work!!!

  • http://yes-to-me.com/ Akemi – Yes to Me

    Great post that points out what I call the tyranny of mind, or ego. We are essentially spiritual beings living in our bodies. So I think there are two kinds of thinking — one is the thinking supported by our awareness /soul and another is the one that our ego runs incessantly. The ego is tied to the physicality and causes limiting thoughts.

    I’m glad you trusted your inner awareness in your relationship.

  • Markie

    Hi,

    Great post! I enjoy reading your current blogs. I am looking forward to new posts!

    Thank you!

  • http://www.SelfImprovementTV.com SelfImprovementTV.com

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    I also ran into http://www.SelfImprovementTV.com , It’s actually the largest Free Self Improvement and Success TV Channel out right now, it’s free. You can watch full-length self improvement videos, that you can even download and burn to a dvd, also MP3s, 100′s of ebooks and articles to read and download, and theres a big community there also, that I always communicate with.

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    Keep up this great blog and articles!

  • http://financialphilosopher.typepad.com/thefinancialphilosopher/ The Financial Philosopher

    Peter,

    Thanks for the mention! Once we stop thinking and begin “thinking about thinking,” we are on the path toward self-awareness. Much of human behavior is a result of “hard-wiring” in the brain. Once we are able to identify this hard-wiring, we are given the capacity to overcome its limitations with our mind.

    Essentially, it is the formation of good habits that help us to win the battle of mind vs brain! I’ll address those habits in part two and three of my blog post series…

    http://financialphilosopher.typepad.com/thefinancialphilosopher/2008/05/mind-vs-brain-p.html

    Thanks again…

    • http://blog.rameshbhaskar.com Ramesh

      I disagree. Thinking about thinking just runs in to more thinking.

      I probably suffer from this problem of thinking ruining my life and relate to a lot you have written (or maybe, most people do). Well written though. Conveys what I’ve always thought, but never (and still don’t) have a solution to.

      • http://financialphilosopher.typepad.com/thefinancialphilosopher/ Kent @ The Financial Philosopher

        Ramesh:

        I believe you are getting a bit too far into semantics and absolutes. One cannot escape the fact that humans are thinking things. Once one understands his or her thinking nature, the prudent behavior is to “think about thinking.”

        Thinking about thinking can become a circular exercise; but not if done correctly.

        Perhaps we can agree that living life unconsciously, with a lack of self-awareness, is potentially destructive behavior. At the same time, thinking too much can create analysis paralysis.

        Thinking about thinking, done correctly, is simply making decisions consciously with the objective of recognizing and removing bad habits and forming good ones.

  • http://jonathanmead.com Jonathan Mead

    A balance of the heart and the mind is so important to living a happy life. Especially when it comes to relationships. =)

    Thanks for the link Peter!

    Jonathan

  • http://www.successsoul.com/blog/ Shilpan | successsoul.com

    Peter,

    Anything in excess is detrimental including thoughts. Allowing mindfulness and flowing thoughts with the nature is the key to everlasting happiness.

    Thanks for the link.

    Shilpan

  • http://stanleybronstein.com MrAchievement.com (Stanley Bronstein)

    I respectfully disagree.

    Thinking NEVER hurt anyone.

    OVERthinking hurts people all the time.

    MrAchievement
    Stanley Bronstein
    Attorney, CPA, Author, Blogger & Professional Motivational Speaker
    Scottsdale, AZ

    • http://www.pickthebrain.com Peter

      Stanley,

      Thanks for the comment – different opinions are always welcome on this blog.

      To me, overthinking is still thinking. Hence the can in the article’s title.

      Question: you say thinking never hurt anyone, but what about negative thinking? That is not necessarily overthinking.

  • http://abundance-blog.marelisa-online.com Marelisa

    Hi Peter:

    When you’re in “the zone”, which is when you’re so into the activity that you’re involved in that time stops and you can almost experience bliss, it’s basically when you’ve moved beyond thought, to the place where you just are.

    I loved this post and thank you for including me in your karma links.

    Marelisa

  • http://www.coloryourlifehappy.com Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D.

    You have just touched on one of my biggest problems: overthinking. The fact that I’m aware of it keeps it from letting paralysis completely overtake me, but it’s a challenge that rears its ugly head frequently.

    Your article, 4 Powerful Reasons to Meditate and How To Get Started, isn’t available at that link anymore. How can I get it?

    Thanks

    • http://www.pickthebrain.com Peter

      Hi Flora,

      It’s under “Popular Posts” in the right sidebar – “How to Meditate”. Will also fix the link soon – thanks for pointing it out.

      Peter

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  • http://www.varsityblah.com/about Eugene (Editor, Varsity Blah)

    I love the idea of getting out of your ‘thinking’ and into your ‘feeling’. It’s like Gary Zukav and Linda Francis said:

    “You must become aware of everything you are feeling all the time. Continuously scanning your energy system and the accompanying thoughts, moment by moment, is emotional awareness. Emotional awareness means relaxing into the present moment even when it contains painful emotions. Intimacy means trusting that the universe will provide what you need, when you need it, and in a manner most appropriate for you.”

  • http://www.improvedlives.com Improved Lives

    Peter, your post has a lot of similarities to existentialist philosophy, are you familiar with it? Existentialism says that our entire lives can become paralyzed because ultimately we WILL die one day and so anything we do is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. If everything is worthless then what is the right course of action?

    Sounds depressing I know but it’s a philosophy that’s worth looking in to.

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  • http://churchofned.com Ned

    This is something I struggle with regularly. I appreciate the post.

  • Jack

    Peter,

    Great post, this often holds me back like a couple of the readers have said. Often I’m afraid to take action and the opportunities pass me by. Thanks for this post I think it has been the kick in the teeth I needed to take more action.

  • gala

    Liked this article a lot,i can completely relate to it. My mind ruling is ruining my relationships, ability to dare to live things for what they are and to share bits of myself..i think the bird example is really inspiring, by putting the world around you before yourself, it just all feels so much more fulfilling and stimulating and right, wherever it leads you

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  • Peter

    What a fantastic article! Thinking truely can ruin your life. Since i finished my school, i think all day about the past, about the future, about who i am, about who i will be .. 

    This leads to despression, loosing your identity and so on .. in your like you NEED distraction and WORK. 

    So: STOP THINKING – JUST LIVE