The Right Kind of Thinking

One of the questions I get when I encourage deep thought is “Isn’t overthinking something bad?” My response is “It could be, but thinking deeply isn’t the same as overthinking.” It’s not the same as underthinking either. Who knew there was so much to the simple act of thinking? It helps if we can recognize when we are doing each different type of thinking.

According to the Oxford dictionaries to overthink is when we “think about (something) too much or for too long.” This is a scenario where you gather so much information and invest such a degree of thought that you overwhelm yourself. We generally consider overthinking to be a “bad” thing because it often leads to never making a decision or taking action. You get caught up in all the analysis (aka analysis paralysis) and find yourself unable to move forward. When this is taking place, it becomes exasperating just to bring the topic up because it seemingly leads to the maze you can’t escape. If it goes on too long that frustration can even turn to anxiety (at least for me).

In my experience we have become so fearful of overthinking that we have over compensated and now make thoughtless decisions – we under think. We go with the default response or with what others are saying or doing without too much actual consideration of the topic. This is just skimming our thoughts ever so gently around the issue and then moving to an outcome. People often say they are good at making quick decisions. If you’re not thinking I don’t see how you are drawing any conclusions, so for me this is just picking a direction to go in. That is not a quick decision it’s just doing something. The speed of the process is not the same as the quality of the process. You can engage in deep thought and still be quick about it. When I’m under thinking I often don’t even remember the topic never mind what decision was made. That’s probably why this type of thinking triggers an awkward sense of confusion, especially if someone asks me about it later.

Now we come to deep thinking, which I define as actively considering a topic and its impacts. Deep thinking requires you to embrace the subject from different points of view, to bring your awareness to the process of thinking and to consciously determine when you have considered it sufficiently. It’s about arriving at the appropriate degree of completeness in your thinking before taking your next steps. When you have brought the right level of thought to a topic you feel closure and purpose in your decision. You may not love the next step but you feel ready to move forward.

Since I’ve been trying to bring my attention to my thoughts this month I’ve also noticed my self-talk and language is a clue about what type of thinking I’m doing. It looks like this:

When I am underthinking about the topic my response tends to be: “OK sure” or “Yea whatever” or “I can live with that” or the real kicker “What is everyone else doing?”

If I am taking part in deep thinking I tend to say stuff like “I’m not ignoring you, I’m just thinking” or “my wheels need to keep turning on this for a bit” or “that needs more brain power than I have now, can I get back to you”.

You’ll know I’m overthinking when I say things like “I’ve been thinking on this and I’m just stuck” or “I don’t know at this point” or “I’ve gone around and around on this” and the big red flag “Is there more information?”

What I’m learning is that we want to make the most of our thinking time, which means avoiding overthinking and underthinking. Now that I’m getting familiar with how each one looks and feels, I’m getting much better at using deep thought for the issues that need it most.

What deserves your deep thought today?  Go ahead and Maple it!

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Christine is a consultant, coach and collaborator. Her vision is a tool to nudge people towards the insights that are just out of reach; connecting their deeper thoughts and truest selves to make big leaps forward.

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