In the February edition of O magazine they published 20 Questions Every Woman Should Ask Herself and question number 17 was “Am I Overthinking Things.” I’d read one through 16, of course, and while some resonated a bit, and others elicited a “meh” response this one was the “Aha!” Author Maile Meloy is clearly a kindred spirit. And it’s just nice to know I’m not the only one with an overthinking issue.
“But self-editing becomes a habit. I lose sleep rerunning conversations in my mind. All the dumb things I said (the inane questions, the indiscretions, the inadvertent slights) could have been avoided if I’d been able to take some time to consider and revise.”
So. Very. Me. Things can be over and done for years and I will still dredge up those conversations with an internal cringe and try to re-think how I could have reacted, what I could have said, so that I didn’t look like an idiot or hurt someone’s feelings. I’m fully aware that it’s a waste of time to go over the conversation yet again. Maybe I’m searching for a way to ensure I don’t make a similar mistake in the future, but it doesn’t feel all that productive.
Where it does, occasionally feel productive, is when I do the same thing thinking about tech. After using a tool we built, or working with the data types in a database, does the structure really work? How could we have done it better? Rather than a URL field with a label should that have been drop downs with selection options to offer more flexibility in input types? How are the users really working with it? Did we make it too complex?
In an industry where we often build the same functionality again and again, I get a chance to customize the tool, consider new approaches, and ask better questions about use cases in each iteration. However, that doesn’t mean I appreciate lying in bed at three a.m. re-running those issues through my head either.
Meloy goes on to explain that she has picked up flying trapeze to force herself to live in the moment, to get her brain to stop and take a break. That’s intriguing, and seems like it might work to create a hard stop, but I find the wind-down method works better for me. It requires a long session of distraction where I can let the thoughts wane as they are replaced by other visuals, sensations, and problem-solving that require my attention. I have a few go-to activities.
Number one is always the outdoors – the woods are best. It requires a long walk and usually dog companionship. The sunlight, trees, and chatter of wildlife soak in after ten or twenty minutes and calm my mind. Keeping an eye out for dangers for the dog (or of the dogs pulling me off-balance as they dart after something wild) occupy my mind. There’s also something to the rythym of walking itself. If no dogs are around the kayak and the lake are a great alternate though the brain quieting takes a little longer.
Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. – John Muir
Number two is cooking – gathering the ingredients is my ramp down time and problem solving starts as I customize recipes (since I rarely leave one alone) or figure out the timing if I’m trying to get a whole meal on the table at once. And if it’s a dinner party throw in the efforts of setting a pretty table and I am well and truly occupied for hours.
Number three, thankfully, is writing. If I can get myself to sit still and focus on my writing everything else falls away (including the paranoia that I’m not a good enough writer to ever fulfill my dream of selling my novel(s).)
And, if all else fails, and I know I need to get out of my own head, the solution is to lose myself in a book. I have to admit, this is the one that I most of all of my solutions. My parents, bless them, taught me to love reading early on and it has always been the master back-up plan.
While it’s good to know yourself, as this article clearly pointed out, it’s also a challenge to figure out how to turn what could be a weakness into a strength and determine when the ruminating is valuable and when you need to break away and seek that distraction to clear your head.