Do You Overanalyze?

While I’ve never personally been to therapy (yet), I am most definitely one to overanalyze every minor detail of life until it’s whittled down to a toothpick. In fact, I think I am – in a sense – my own psychiatrist; the problem being I have no prior or professional training in this field.

I’m not sure where I got this tendency to overanalyze every single experience, but it’s both a valuable and completely unproductive tool. 

On the pro side of things, overanalyzing can make you more self-aware, and allow you to get more in touch with the things you feel about yourself and others in your life. In business, it can also help you envision lots of possible outcomes, therefore getting a jump on things others may not have picked up on. 

On the con side (and I do tend to find this column to be longer), overanalyzing can cause you to be paranoid about things that aren’t actually happening, more prone to creating scenarios in your head that aren’t real, and to pick life apart so much that you’re not able to step back and enjoy it. 

Over time, I’ve learned that while I’ll never be a person who doesn’t analyze things at all (I’ve tried the whole, born-again “I’m now a chill person” proclamation, and it didn’t work), there are things I can consciously do to curb the analysis, and try to channel it for situations that call for it: 

Consciously being more extroverted is a cure for overthinking things. While I am a person that truly values my alone time, I find that forcing myself to chat with neighbors in the elevator, striking up a conversation with a stranger while getting coffee, or going to an event I instinctively wanted to stay home from all help lessen overthinking. As they say, “waiting gives the devil time:” My personal moments of waiting are when I really fall down the rabbit hole of trivial self-analysis. It’s why I’m so impatient waiting in lines (or at least, it’s one of the reasons). 

Physical exercise is another miracle worker. Not to sound cliché, but I do think it’s a form of therapy in itself. No matter how easy or hard the work out is, it always feels like a bit of my headiness falls away after each work out. 

Owning my shit is both a relief, and a way to avoid picking thoughts apart. Sometimes I think that when I analyze, it’s an avoidance tactic. There’s a truth about myself or a current situation that I try to work around or not come to terms with. I then analyze it to death thinking that I can come up with an alternate answer or reality. For example, if I had an argument with someone and it’s not quite sitting right, if I’ve imagined 20 scenarios and extenuating circumstances to make excuses for myself and place the blame on someone else, chances are I was an asshole to that person. Chances are I’d feel a lot better just saying “Sorry, I was absolutely wrong,” and go on with my day. 

Writing thoughts down, almost like a list, also really helps when I’m picking things apart. The fact of the matter is so many thoughts are really stupid, but sometimes there’s no way to know that until you see them there on paper. Thoughts can seem almost encyclopedically true in your head, but you’d be surprised how stupid they become once you jot them down and read them over to yourself. It’s kind of like when actors read mean tweets about themselves aloud on Jimmy Kimmel: It takes the power away from them. 

I also find the whole “when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me” expression that we learn in grade school to be a good mantra to myself when I overthink. It’s pretty astounding all the assumptions I make about what people are thinking. If I never assumed things about people, and only took them for what they said to me or did to me, I would no doubt worry 80% less of the time. 

So what is there to do with all of that energy once you’ve curbed the analysis? Especially as Manhattanites, what in the world will we do with all those neuroses once we learn to quiet it? 

Well, they tell a superhero to use his or her power for a good and just cause, they tell them that with great power comes great responsibility. That’s what I say to myself about my own greatest superpowers, i.e. overthinking and worrying. Sexy, right? 

While it’s not the stuff of great Marvel movies, when focused on the right things, overthinking can be harnessed, channeled and used to your advantage. Save the analysis for the work problem that needs solving, the big picture research that will take your company to the next level, even the hunt for the perfect restaurant for a Saturday night. It took awhile to realize that when it comes to my personal life, overthinking usually causes me to pick the wrong fights, make the wrong decisions and just be anxious 24/7. 

The overthinking will never fully go away, but just like shape shifting, x-ray vision or time travel, it’s my responsibility to myself and to society to try to use it at appropriate times. 

Is over-analyzing your “superpower”? I’d love to get your take on this. 

23 thoughts on “Do You Overanalyze?

  1. When reading this article I felt as though you were writing it about me and thank you for the useful tips at the end!

    1. I was going to say what the two ladies before me did so I’ll just ditto them. I like the analysis and your honesty about the positives and negatives. I plan to reread when I am in a better environment. Here’s to our triumph over that which is negative and the morphing iI into positive.

  2. It’s as if someone channeled me and wrote this. I could not have described myself any better than this writer and am happy I am not the only one with these tendencies! I will likely go to my grave as this person, but good to read where to use these “gifts” as an asset and when to put on the brakes.

  3. Dear Laura,
    Your essay on overthinking couldn’t have come at a better time – I spent the hour between 5am and 6am ruminating on a calvacade of people, events, and the ever popular “things I could have done better” category. Like you, most of these thoughts tend to focus on self-criticism. For me, these periods of overthinking tend to occur when I am anxious about my own life or about the condition of the world and specifically between the hours of 3 and 6 am. Like you, I find that writing out all of the thoughts makes them concrete and if they relate to actions I need to take I can make a list for myself. If they are about the environment or politics, there isn’t much I can do but I still find that the process of writing to be beneficial. Recently I have been trying to “breathe” through the chaos of thoughts and images, a sort of “mindful overthinking”. In this process (still a work in progress), I do my best to stay focused on my breath and just make a note of the thought without allowing myself to react emotionally to it. When I am successful, I fall back to sleep, though it can take what seems like forever. But the sleep I get is refreshing. So there’s that. Obviously this isn’t the desired effect when you are waiting in line. Finally, thanks for the tips on what to do when not trying to sleep. I have experienced what you described – getting out of my own head when doing something out of my comfort zone – but I never thought of that as a tool to break the cycle of rumination and overthinking. Thanks for that!
    Cheers,
    Paul

    1. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment Paul. I really relate to what you said about the hours of 3-6 am. This is so often when I toss and turn and overthink! I find getting up and making a list even in the middle of the night helps me, as does yoga which is a lot about – as you said – focusing on breath. Let me know what you’d like to see more of, and if adding anything from the story to your routine helped!

  4. My greatest strength and my greatest weakness is overthinking things to the point where they all seem so pointless and I cannot find a suitable purpose in life. It all seems just a distraction from the ‘truth’ whatever the ‘truth’ is, which I think I can get to by thinking enough about it, but realize that I can’t and nobody else can either. We all live our own realities and that’s mine.

  5. Great article! I, too, am an over analyzer and have tried SO MANY THINGS to change it (unsuccessfully)! I will try to channel all of that energy into being productive with my analyzing and using it for good! Seeing it as a superpower and not a fault will really help! Thanks for the advice!!

  6. Needed this article just now.

    I dumped my over-analysis on my beloved boyfriend this morning. Sigh.

    My brain thinks it’s always right, so my conclusions must be spot-on. I can only say lol.

    Lucky, he’s the brooding patient type, so he broke down my every concern – he was and dispelled them all.

    I like the acknowledgment that, though this intuitive brilliance shines brightly in the exam room and OR (I’m a physician) it cheats me in my personal life. In the OR, I must consider every potential scenario – in my relationships, it robs me of wonder and surprise.

    Next time, I’ll take a walk – either spiritually or physically.

    And I’ll thank my boyfriend more – and God, for bringing me someone who gets me.

    Thanks for your blog, from the bottom of my little heart. So comforting to be heard! ❤️

    1. Thanks Karla! It’s good that he knows this about you, it sounds like he’s a great help in chilling you out about it! Hoping some of these things will help you, and again – it’s also a strength!

  7. Overthinking has been a large part of my adult life. I have found myself actually pulling away from social situations to go into an isolated area where I could focus on my thoughts about the interaction I was having. It is true however, that some of this power can be used for good like channeling it for preparation or thoroughness. Journaling has been one of the most helpful releases dealing with my overactive mind.

  8. It used to be that focusing on your navel was a metaphor for meditation oriented activities. Now we talk to our navels incessantly. Not that New Yorker’s have a monopoly on this but, well, you know. You said it in beginning with the “Waiting gives the devil time.” Go with your gut, your instinct, it’s usually right and you will decrease your stress. And yes, see a therapist. One you like, that is. A good one is like an exercise coach. They will guide you and when you get to far into the morass of your own hesitation bring you back on course, figuratively slapping you on the back of the head and saying something like ” OK, so you’ve milked that cow, now it’s time to make a decision. Not to imply that your inner thoughts aren’t beneficial. But to a point.

  9. oh my word. how this resonates. i have bookmarked this and just as a thought i feel like this should get sent out as a reminder once a quarter

  10. I d o believe that things come into our lives right at the moment that we need them the most. I read this article today after a particularly trying week – ruled by overanalyzing and ruminating. One thing I’ve found personally is that when I’m not being completely honest with myself this process is amplified. greatly Curious if anyone else can relate.

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