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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Mindfulness - The over thinking trap

markheybo, Flickr

“I swear to you, sirs, that excessive consciousness is a disease - a genuine, absolute disease.” (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

Have you ever been accused of "thinking too much?" Many years ago, I was (it might have happened more than once). I found it insulting. To me, thinking a lot has always been the sign of a healthy, active intellect. Thinking a lot means that you are developing important skills such as problem solving and critical thinking, and that you are - hopefully - becoming clear-sighted.

Is it the same as mindfulness?

Mindfulness invites us to be actively attentive, present, conscious, aware. In addition, mindfulness implies the absence of judgment: our feelings and our thoughts are to be observed, not judged, as they are neither good nor bad - they simply are. But even without judging what goes through our mind (instead accepting it "as is"), we can feel tempted to dissect, examine, scrutinize. It can be useful, too. So how do we know when to stop?

This is something I have been struggling with, as I do not quite know where to draw the line between paying attention and actually over analyzing things. Being aware is great; thinking until exhaustion, not so much. Meditation, in particular, is described as the tool we use to overcome discursive thinking. But what about focused, logical thinking? Is it to be avoided?

What I have come to realize (with the help of mindful meditation) is that thinking is like working out: doing it regularly is a good idea, but taking regular breaks is just as critical. Just like over training is bad for the body, over thinking is bad for the mind. As Herbert Benson would say: you need to "give your mind a rest from [...] mental onslaughts or loops of thinking".

Indeed, after a bout of thinking, our mind needs a rest. That is particularly true for reflections that address profound, disturbing, or potentially life-changing issues. Thinking about those is draining. Do analyze the situation, but also let it simmer. A thought won't get lost if it is an important one. You might not have found all the answers yet, you still need a break from thinking. Know when you've had too much. Recognize the thoughts that are swirling, becoming obsessive, turning into anxiety. Give your thinking a rest.

For more on the practice of not-thinking, click here.

Mindfulness this Week

Do you ever find yourself over thinking? 
How does it feel? 
How do you deal with it?

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  1. There is though, a genetic component at work here. Like suggesting to someone that their hair should be a little less red. Overthinking is my disease and I'm stickin' with it xxoo

    1. As long as it doesn't hurt you too much! That's where I draw the line for myself. Which is not to say that interrupting the flow of my thoughts is easy, oh no.

  2. My dad once accused me of over-thinking, or it might have been over-analyzing. Maybe I'm like Roy, but I think he under-thinks :-)

    I've learned how to turn it off, especially when I'm dealing with a relationship , not doctoring.

    Thanks for the link, very useful!