In Defense Of Overthinkers


I overthink. I can sit and stew over a phrase or gesture until it has replayed for longer than it originally lasted. Even now, I’m overthinking. I’m doubting whether the internet is a suitable place to air my thoughts. I’m wondering whether I can show readers a piece of my mind without losing them to verbal diarrhea or worry or boredom. I’m second-guessing whether this (metaphorical, duh, [insert rant about the culture of “literally”]) cloud looming over me is here to stay or whether it will disperse after a sunny joke.

I’m even overthinking whether I can justify writing on behalf of overthinkers as a collective. I’ll cut that thought short: I can’t. I can’t stand on a (metaphorical, duh, see above rant) soapbox, commanding, “Overthinkers, unite!” The only view I can represent is my own and the only overthinker I can defend is myself, but for my sake, let me refer to overthinking in the plural form. Let the record show that I can’t be the only one, that there are others who overthink just as I do, perhaps going as far as writing about it too.

And with that, I move on to my actual point.

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me I was overthinking things, I’d have lots of nickels and also lots of shame for using that cliché. The people informing me of my excessive worry do so with good intentions. They’re attempting to reassure me, to comfort me. Keyword: “attempting.” Usually, these attempts succeed. Even if they don’t, I can’t fault others for talking sense and concerning themselves with my peace of mind.

But here’s the thing about overthinkers: if you’re saying it, we’ve already thought it. We know we’re overthinking. We know we’re being a little stubborn or selfish or unrealistic, but knowing that we’re overthinking won’t actually make us not do it. Addressing the symptoms won’t cure the cause.

Breaking out of the overthinking habit is out of the question too. I’m going to let my wise pal Plato, by way of Socrates, explain this further. The following excerpt from Benjamin Jowett’s translation of Gorgias addresses pleasure:

There are two men, both of whom have a number of casks; the one man has his casks sound and full, one of wine, another of honey, and a third of milk, besides others filled with other liquids, and the streams which fill them are few and scanty, and he can only obtain them with a great deal of toil and difficulty; but when his casks are once filled he has no need to feed them anymore, and has no further trouble with them or care about them. The other, in like manner, can procure streams, though not without difficulty; but his vessels are leaky and unsound, and night and day he is compelled to be filling them, and if he pauses for a moment, he is in an agony of pain. Such are their respective lives: And now would you say that the life of the intemperate is happier than that of the temperate?

To think and think and overthink, is that not to constantly fill a leaky cask with intemperate thoughts? This passage is followed by a comparison of pleasure to itch-scratching. The itch-scratching part has a more memorable argument in my opinion, because it likens itch-scratching to pleasure-finding and uses that to explain why someone who works towards obtaining pleasure by perpetually scratching an itch can never be satisfied. Parallels can be drawn to overthinking, because to overthink is to obsess over and scratch at one’s mental itches without making progress.

Us overthinkers, we perpetuate a vicious cycle of overthinking. We spend so much time listing out possible scenarios that one is bound to come true eventually. And that’s all it takes. A single confirmation of our paranoia turns us into dogs of a Pavlovian experiment.

For all this overthinking, who is to blame but ourselves? We’re the ones who instigate our internal panic. We’re the ones who search for clues on which to base our baseless worries. Heck, we’re the ones, the only ones. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I’ll stop here. I’m overthinking again.

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This post originally appeared at MEDIUM

image – Daniel Stockman