I am an overthinker. I ponder, I pontificate, I do everything in my power to think a problem to death. To suffocate it with details and research, to drive the final nail with a resolute hammer of a choice, only to then wonder if I put the nail in the right corner or the right coffin.
I usually need to catch myself in these spins, either by giving myself ten seconds to break free or by trying to identify what I really want underneath it all or sometimes by realizing there is no right or wrong answer and just make a choice, already (like, choosing Thai or Vietnamese for dinner won’t drastically change my life either way).
Yes, there are plenty of times I make decisions and my life more difficult because of my propensity to overthink.
So, imagine my surprise, and my struggle, to find myself giving myself the opposite advice.
There are a couple places in my life right now—details not important—in which I’ve gotten new information from the outside or thought about something in a different way. I immediately want to start the analysis, the pattern of thinking that makes me feel super productive for a while because it fools me into thinking I’m busy getting something accomplished. Looking at the new information from all angles, conjuring elaborate what-if scenarios, calculating how to solve something with the least damage to anyone else (first) and getting myself what I want (second). Around and around it goes.
I don’t know how or why, but there is one specific thing that I have learned lately, that has made it totally obvious that I don’t have to immediately have all the answers. I don’t know if it’s a defense mechanism or what, but it’s like it entered my life with a very clear sign, “I’m not a problem to be solved. I am just a fact, a treasure, to be stored away for later.”
And then, for some reason, I’m listening to this sign instead of interpreting it as a challenge. I don’t need to prove it wrong. I need to add it to my collection of treasures that will be useful later, when their purpose is made clear to me. Like in movies, when a mysterious sage gives the hero a trinket, saying, “You’ll know when to use this.” Like a key without a lock, and instead of frantically running around my life looking for a lock, or forcing it into other locks, I just need to put it around my neck and wait until the lock presents itself to me.
So, although I’m not making a decision right away, I’m also not overthinking. The key is, I think, that the time I’m trying to give myself isn’t so that I can spend it ruminating and conjuring up a million different endings for the story. It is not overthinking to avoid a decision or because I’m scared of asking for what I want. Rather, it is giving myself some simmer time, perhaps admitting that I don’t have everything I need yet to make a final decision. So then the sitting on it becomes a choice in itself, a step in the process. This doesn’t feel frantic or out of my control; it feels deliberate and liberating.
Because the overthinking doesn’t feel freeing. It feels like I’ve trapped myself in a washing machine on an endless cycle, too scared to turn it off because there might be one more speck of dirt remaining, but also beaten and bruised by being tossed around basically for naught.
It makes me then look at other pieces of my life that I have defined as problems to be solved, and wonder if they’re also keys to some future door. What if, instead of trying to look for a solution to something that isn’t really a problem, I thread the key onto my necklace with the others, and clank along? This requires trust in myself that I will recognize the door when it comes along, to remember that one of the keys I’ve collected can open it.
I suppose there is a fine balance between collecting the keys for future use and hiding them away because I’m scared to use them. I don’t know how to distinguish these, to be honest. But I’m hoping that the little buzz in my head or patter of my heart can guide me, if I stop long enough to listen. They’re usually right.