The Art of Overthinking: Why You're a Genius at Creating Problems That Don't Existby@casproffitt
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The Art of Overthinking: Why You're a Genius at Creating Problems That Don't Exist

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Overthinking sucks, but it can be comforting. Curb the destructive habit by naming your thoughts, math-ing your way to faster decision times, feeling your feels, and remembering you have a body.
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Cas Proffitt @The Guardian Assembly HackerNoon profile picture

Am I Overthinking Things? Am I Overthinking About Overthinking?

TL;DR Overthinking sucks, but it can be comforting. Curb the destructive habit by naming your thoughts, math-ing your way to faster decision times, feeling your feels, and remembering you have a body.

Okay, nerd, we’re gonna play a game. It’s called “Put a finger down: overthinking edition.” Ready? Hold up your hands.

Put a finger down if:

  1. You’ve ever spent more than 15 minutes deciding what to wear in the morning on a completely normal day.

  2. You’ve rehearsed entire conversations in your head before they happened, including multiple, branching, scenarios.

  3. If you've ever worried about something you said in a conversation days, weeks, or even years ago, even though it was seemingly innocuous.

  4. You’ve procrastinated about making a relatively insignificant decision because the thought of analyzing your options or choosing the wrong choice felt overwhelming.

  5. You’ve ever spent more than 10 minutes deciding what to order at a restaurant.

  6. You've ever hesitated to send a message because you weren't sure about the perfect emoji to use

  7. You've ever mentally prepared yourself for an argument that never actually happened.

  8. You've ever drafted an email and then spent more time editing it than it took to write it initially.

  9. You've ever worried about how your actions might affect someone you haven't spoken to in years.

  10. You've ever spent too much time deciding which movie to watch that you ended up not watching anything

How many fingers did you put down? Did you spend more than 60 seconds thinking through your answer to any of those? Put another one down if you did (if you have any left, that is.) If you’re still reading, congratulations!

You're a genius at worrying, ruminating, or otherwise creating issues that don't exist. While your mind might be an unstoppable force of analytical prowess, it's time to reel it in and stop letting overthinking hold you back.

Thinking vs. Overthinking

There is a fine line between productive thought and mental chaos. How do you know when thinking becomes overthinking? You overthinkers might be wondering: when do you know you’ve thought enough?

Let’s define the two concepts, then we’ll delve into a way to personalize your decision-making timer.


Thinking is necessary. Thinking is the process we use to analyze situations, make decisions, and solve problems. It involves processing information, considering various perspectives, and weighing the pros and cons of each option before making a decision.

When we think, our minds work towards finding solutions and achieving goals, making it a productive and necessary aspect of our lives.


On the other hand, overthinking is when our thoughts become obsessive, spiraling into a never-ending loop of worry, doubt, and fear.

Overthinking often leads to rumination—constantly dwelling on past events or worrying about the future, without making any progress or reaching a resolution.

This mental state can result in anxiety, stress, and, where we become so overwhelmed with options and possible outcomes that we end up with analysis paralysis where we feel unable to take any action.

Enough Is Enough: The Mind Wizard’s Stopwatch Formula


T = (C × I × P) / S


  • T represents the time to spend on the decision (in minutes).

  • C represents the complexity of the decision (scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least complex, and 10 being the most complex).

  • I represents the importance of the decision (scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least important, and 10 being the most important).

  • P represents the potential impact of the decision (scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least impactful, and 10 being the most impactful).

  • S represents a personal speed factor, which varies for each individual (higher values lead to less time spent, lower values lead to more time spent; choose a value between 5 and 20 to start with and adjust according to your needs)

For example, if you're faced with a moderately complex (C=5), important (I=7), and impactful (P=6) decision, and your personal speed factor (S) is 10, the time to spend on the decision would be:

T = (5 × 7 × 6) / 10 = 210 / 10 = 21 minutes

With this formula, you can weight decisions on how much they mean to you in the scope of your life as well as adjust for your natural decision-making speed.

Once you implement the method, you can train yourself to make decisions faster and faster, and your instincts will follow suit. You’re literally built for making quick decisions.

So, let’s consider a couple of scenarios, assuming my speed is also a 10, and with consideration for my perception of importance.

  • Getting dressed for a day at home relaxing: (1 X 2 X 4) / 10 = 0.8 minutes = 48 seconds.

  • Getting dressed to work at a coffee shop in my hometown: (2 X 3 X 4) / 10 = 2.4 minutes = 2 minutes and 24 seconds.

  • Getting dressed to give a potentially life-changing talk in front of hundreds of thousands of people: (4 X 7 X 8) / 10 = 22.4 minutes = 22 minutes and 24 seconds

If my speed factor were a 5, these numbers would be approximately 2 minutes, 5 minutes, and 45 minutes. If I were a super-optimized speed-decision wizard, the times would be approximately 30 seconds, a minute, and just over ten minutes.

It’s easy to adjust for your personal decision-making speed, even as that speed evolves.

At a speed of “10,” the longest I would spend actively making an important, impactful decision is an hour and 10 minutes.

Whether or not a decision exceeds the normal bounds of this formula is entirely within your judgment—this is only meant to be a rough guideline to help you home in on your decision-making process.

Okay, but I’m Not a Robot. I Can’t Just Hit My Allotted Time and “End Task.”

Oh. Well, f*cking sucks to be you, huh, buddy?

Just kidding. There are ways to stop the overthinking cycle, and trying to will yourself to “just stop” is one of the least effective approaches you could use.

Accept That Your Overthinking Is a “Feelings” Thing

A lot of smart folks liken their overthinking brain to an overpowered machine that’s spinning out of control, as if it were a purely mechanical process that’s just the nature of possessing their hardware.

Let’s bypass the philosophical conversation about whether or not consciousness is a concrete physical phenomenon, and accept that overthinking isn’t just an uncontrollable byproduct of your design, but something that’s probably helping you (try to) feel okay.

The Adlerian Goal Behind Overthinking

In Adlerian psychology, overthinking is often viewed as a means to maintain a sense of safety and control, while also avoiding the risk of failure. For highly intelligent individuals who may not be living up to their potential, this behavior can be particularly detrimental.

According to Adler, people's actions are driven by their pursuit of a specific goal, usually in the form of an unconscious "fictional finalism." These goals often stem from a desire to overcome feelings of inferiority or to compensate for perceived weaknesses.

For those who are exceptionally smart, the pressure to succeed and the fear of underachievement can fuel an unrelenting cycle of overthinking.

…an individual's [subconscious] goals might be focused on maintaining the illusion of perfection or intellectual superiority, driving them to constantly analyze and reevaluate their actions or decisions.

In some cases, an individual's goals might be focused on maintaining the illusion of perfection or intellectual superiority, driving them to constantly analyze and reevaluate their actions or decisions.

This overthinking can serve as a self-protective mechanism, as it allows the person to avoid committing to a course of action that might expose them to failure or criticism. Unfortunately, this constant rumination can hinder progress and reinforce a sense of stagnation.

For others, overthinking might be used as a tool to avoid making decisions altogether. By remaining in a state of indecision, the individual can postpone the inevitable confrontation with their own perceived inadequacies.

This stalling tactic, while providing temporary relief, ultimately robs them of the opportunity to grow, learn, and achieve their true potential.

In order to break the cycle of overthinking, it's essential for individuals to recognize the underlying goals driving their behavior and to challenge the beliefs that perpetuate this self-defeating mindset.

By confronting their fears and embracing the inherent risks of growth and self-discovery, they can begin to unlock their full potential and thrive in both their personal and professional lives.

Give Yourself “Worry Time”

When you tell your brain “no-no,” it responds essentially like a super-brat. “Go f*ck yourself,” it says. “I make the rules here. I’ll think about it forever.

But when you give your brain a safe space to indulge in the thoughts without judgment but also let it know ahead of time that you’ll be stopping at a certain time, it often will let them go.

Telling yourself to think the thoughts, to focus on the thoughts, to essentially “get it out of your system” can free up your cognitive energy to proceed with other things.

If you’re concerned about training your synapses toward negativity, you can always set another, slightly longer timer for intentional focus on positive, reassuring thoughts and even explore gratitude for having had time to explore and release your concerns, because the weight of the world on your shoulders will, in time, surely begin to lift.

When In Doubt, Sigh It Out

Breathwork is gaining a lot of steam these last few years. Deliberate breathing practices are believed to affect brain function through vagus nerve pathways and has shown results that extend beyond even mindfulness meditation.

While there are many effective breathwork techniques such as box-breathing and cyclic hyperventilation, cyclic sighing—which involves a prolonged exhale and a double inhale—provides some of the most noticeable impacts.

Embrace your inner emo kid, and sigh it out so you can finally f*cking relax. Here’s a video about how to do the cycling-sighing technique.

“Name It to Tame It”

Censoring your thoughts doesn’t work to tame overthinking (example: Whatever you do, don’t think about giraffes.) but disengaging through acceptance can go a long way.

You can even give these ruminating or worrying thought processes a name, like this person’s friend’s “Peanut Gallery.” It may even help to think about your thoughts like a curious, if ill-timed and persistent, child. Shut them down, and see how long it takes for them to act-out for attention.

(What was that we were saying about brats?)

Or you can acknowledge them—and their value to you—and they’re likely to be satisfied. Remember, these thoughts have likely arisen out of a need for safety.

It’s okay to say, “Hey, I appreciate you trying to help me. I hear what you’re saying about x thing. Now that we’ve talked about it, how about we do something else? Would you rather do <option 1> or <option 2> instead?”

By personifying your thoughts, you may be able to treat yourself with more empathy and self-compassion. By offering yourself two alternative options (which you can have prepared in advance, but don’t have to), you help steer your mind back towards a more productive path.

You can choose options like: would you rather put your problem-solving skills to work on the task I’m working on or would you rather go for a quick walk? Which leads me to my next two points.

Remember You Have a Body.

Embodiment is powerful, especially for smart people who have a tendency to live in their heads.

Remembering you have a body, even with tiny movements like intentionally tapping a finger, trying to feel your eyelids meet when you blink, or feeling the ridges in your teeth with your tongue can stop an overthinking cycle in its tracks.

It pulls you into the present moment. Try to take in as much as you can about your body in your environment. What do you feel? Wind? Warmth? What do you hear? Smell? Your brain can only consciously think of so many things at once, even if you’re a super-genius.

Get out of your head and into your body and see what happens.

I had the opportunity to beta-test this wonderful embodiment program a year or two ago, and it was one of the most emotional things I’ve ever done. I cried during or after every single group coaching session. It was intense.

Especially if you have any trauma in your background, Tana’s embodiment coaching can change literally your entire f*cking life.

You’re an Animal. Nature Is Your Friend.

Okay, I don’t actually know that the reason nature has such a profound impact on mental health is that I have yet to receive my transhumanist cyborg body (yay, Singularity!), but, regardless, it does. You can read more about the impact of being in nature on rumination in this research, nerd.

*Ready to get out of the smart-people trap and embrace your real potential? Join us at Smart Motherf*cker here. *