When I was in 6th grade, author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau was my personal hero. Thoreau’s Walden Pond concept of going off to a cabin in the woods alone seemed to be the epitome of deep. I considered myself to be a “deep thinker” and an “analyzer”; and I wore the badge proudly. In fact, take any given scenario and in a matter of minutes I could slice it apart, creating 17 different possible endings. My mind was a living version of a “choose your own ending” book.
Of course all of this speculating and over analyzing naturally led me to worry constantly. What if I choose the wrong thing? What would happen then? I needed to be ready for anything and realize what an impact each decision can have. Somehow I thought that this would give me power to control my surroundings.
Even now, I find myself standing on a train platform imagining what I would do if that person standing too close were to push me onto the tracks. I start creating plans of escape and wondering if I would have enough time to avoid an oncoming train. It isn’t pretty when my mind heads down those negative paths. My emotions and feelings being dictated by every line of thought that plants itself in my head. Feeling anxious or sad or angry, all tied to those thoughts bouncing around freely in my mind. It’s exhausting.
But really what can an analytical over-thinker do? It is just part of who we are right? It can’t be helped. And really to be honest, at times it invoked a sense of pride that I was somehow deeper or more unique than those around me. I believe it became a bit of an addiction, picking everything apart in my mind while seemingly carefree on the outside. And like most addicts I felt a lack of power over my own actions and emotions. It wasn’t until a few years back that I finally began to see things a little more clearly and realized the bad habit I had formed.
Recently the subject of over thinking has come up in my life again. Through conversations of those struggling with similar mindsets as well as through articles and books I have come across. And I realize that this is not a unique issue. In fact I believe at times all of us struggle with controlling our thoughts, or more distinctly with our thoughts controlling us.
So what can we do? Are we at the mercy of every thought and thereby emotion that infiltrates us? I would like to share with you a different approach towards the subject of thinking.
First, I want you to realize that having a personality that tends to analyze is not a bad thing. In fact I do believe it is one of the many gifts we have as humans. The ability to process, analyze, and come to a conclusion. The exploration of creating bold and beautiful new things and the ingenuity to fix problems. However, this ability can be used well or it can overtake us and become a hindrance to our emotional health. Truly it is about learning to balance.
Second, I believe it is important to realize that our thoughts are not who we are. Millions of stimulators come at us every day, each one having an effect. Marketing, movies, friends, and family to name a few. However, just because a thought enters our mind, it does not mean we need to own it. There are strategies to deciding what to let go of and what to take in as a part of us. Let’s talk about ways in which we can filter our minds.
The mind is a muscle to be exercised just like any other muscle should be. The more it is exercised consistently, the more adapt it becomes. Philippines 4:8 says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Meaning it is important to choose healthy and positive thoughts. Personally I often ask God to help me to choose these thoughts because I realize that this is a difficult battle. Addictions are not easy to break. They are an ongoing struggle because it is easy to slip back in to unhealthy habits.
One specific strategy I have to exercise my mind is what I call the swipe strategy. There is a dating app that was created a few years ago called Tinder. The app simply shows a photo of a potential date in your neighborhood. You are supposed to quickly swipe the photo left if you reject them and right if you accept them before moving on to the next photo. In my opinion it is a pretty narrow way to judge others’ compatibility, however I believe we can gather a good concept from the approach. Because honestly, most days I feel like I need a Tinder app for my brain. A way to sort through this bombardment of thoughts by rapidly judging them and swiping left or right. For instance, we all know pretty quickly if a thought is making us feel confused and negative or if it is uplifting and positive. So as thoughts come into my mind I can quickly rule them, swiping left to reject and right to accept. Filtering them as they come and thereby monitoring the road that my mind goes down.
A great leader that I respect often says, “Think about what you are thinking about. If you feel sad or anxious, see what you are thinking about and you will find the problem.” The more I access in order to reject or accept thoughts as they come in, the easier it becomes. Eventually a good habit is formed taking the place of the old ways of thinking. It doesn’t come all at once, and don’t be discouraged if you fail. Instead, plant in a positive thought that you may not be perfect, but even just by being aware you are farther along than you were before.
As you are bombarded with thoughts throughout each day, be encouraged that your mind and emotions do not need to be dictated by them. The negative thoughts are not who you are. There is another way to live and use your ability to analyze positively. To create and fix, and to build up the world and people around you.