In June of 2020 I posted a piece of writing about overthinking. It was meant to be a little ‘wry’ but did pose some questions about thinking, whether there was an optimal amount of thinking, whether there were rules about how much thinking is appropriate and that maybe overthinking should be treasured or, perhaps didn’t exist at all. I’ll attach it below, but don’t feel you have to re-read.
In the past week, in an artistic context, I had a discussion about thinking. We were teasing out the act of painting and decided that thinking sits at the opposite end of the continuum to instinct. A work of art, particularly a successful one, balances the two elements of instinct and thought. There is, or should be, the imprint of both to make the piece live and yet be unified. The place each piece sits on the continuum will depend on the stage of development of the work and the particular preference or comfort level of the artist.
Overthinking in art then, we decided, sits beyond and outside that continuum. Overthinking occurs when all reference to instinct has fallen away or, in reverse, overthinking in itself kills the instinctive element of creation. In that respect, it’s not a good thing, or to be treasured. It is to be avoided. The antidote? Perhaps a deliberate dive into the far, gut-led end of the continuum.
It may not be an answer, or the only answer, to the questions I posed last year. In other contexts the picture may be entirely different. I have found the visual image useful, though. I think about it often. Not too much, though.
10 June, 2020
I’d hate to self-fulfil the prophecy …. but what is overthinking?
Is there a certain amount of thinking that could be called optimal? Certainly, underthinking could be said to be rife but how do you know when you step over the line and think too much?
That’s assuming it’s even possible. Perhaps the capacity of issues to be thought about is infinite. Perhaps the distinction, then, is the type of thinking. There is musing, ruminating, evaluating, comparing, remembering and anticipating, just to name a few. Does overthinking apply to one, some or all of these? Are some more damaging than others when done excessively?
Is overthinking a habit or something we do randomly? Can it lead to greater understanding? If so, can it really be called a negative thing? Overthinking has certainly had some bad press and I recognise there is no smoke without fire, but one could argue that thinking more than is necessary leads to concepts of greater depth, ideas of greater complexity, solutions of greater creativity. Overthinking might be what generates the great developments, the outstanding decisions and the history-making discoveries.
Perhaps overthinking is, in fact, a skill that is not universally possessed. Perhaps it is a gift exclusive to a few and learned by a few more through awareness and practice. Is it something we should actually be treasuring and cultivating?
But, I don’t want to go on about it …