Are you guilty of overthinking?
I’ve had a few nicknames in my day. Most of them felt loving, but in my early twenties one took hold that really stung— “Analison.” Get it? Analyze + Alison = Analison. Ouch! If a friend or loved one is pointing out your tendency to over-analyze, you might want to take a look at your tendency to overthink.
So what’s wrong with analysis? (Says my own inner “analyzer”!) Of all the protectors we’ll discuss in this series, overthinking can seem pretty benign. But if you’ve been trapped in the maze of analysis paralysis, you know that it can keep you distracted, indecisive, and immobilized. Most importantly, it keeps you on the sidelines, instead of engaging wholeheartedly in the contact sport that is ministry, family, relationships, and LIFE.
In week 3 of this series on the 7 most common protectors let’s take a look at overthinking. How do you know when it’s time to “get out of your head”?
Here are five signs that an overthinking protector has become extreme. You. . .
- exhaust yourself with your mental ruminations.
- have trouble sleeping because you can’t stop thinking.
- find it easier to think about your loved ones than to express your affection to them.
- feel detached from others.
- find it extremely difficult to make decisions or find it hard to commit.
If you notice yourself struggling in any of these ways, your tendency to over-think has become protective. Your internal “analyzer” is keeping you from connecting to the more vulnerable aspects of your soul by focusing your attention on mental mazes. It thinks it’s helping you solve problems. But when you’re stuck in your mind, you’re actually missing opportunities to wisely engage the very problems you’re trying so hard to solve.
Here are some of the vulnerable feelings that lurk beneath our tendency to overthink:
I’m terrified I’ll make the wrong choice.
If I don’t say it just right, something bad will happen.
I can’t proceed with any mixed motives or God will be angry with me.
It’s safer in my mind. No one can hurt me there.
As paralyzing as it is, overthinking gives you a false sense of control. That’s because this part of you believes that if you can just think about it long enough and from every angle, you can root out all risk. The problem is, you can’t. Life is a contact sport. Anytime you put yourself out there in ministry, a relationship, or a project for work, there’s some element of risk. You may make a wrong choice, or you may say a wrong thing. You might even discover a false motive. And you may get hurt. No amount of thinking is going to remove every possibility of discomfort or pain.
The trick is to move from overthinking to courageous, strategic risk-taking.
To start making this shift, try the following:
- Honor the part of you that can’t stop thinking. It’s a strong and important part of you that has developed to help you survive. At its best, this part of you is trying to help you be wise. Let that over-thinking part of you know that you get it . . . and that God is even wiser than you are. By setting boundaries with your over-thinking, you’re showing humility before God. You’re owning the reality of your human limitations, which frees you to step out into a hard decision or a messy relationship with courage.
- Set some practical boundaries on your tendency to over-think. Give yourself a deadline as you face a hard decision or a challenging conversation. Ask for help from a trusted friend. Weigh the pros and cons, and then ACT. At the height of indecision, a wise mentor once told me, God directs a person in motion. At some point, you have to get up and take a step forward, trusting your way to him.
- Give the analytical part of you a healthy work-out. If you have a lot of mental energy to expend, take up puzzles or word games. Find hobbies that activate your propensity to problem solve or watch clever mystery shows. It’s like taking your body to the gym – your mind needs activity, especially if it’s prone to over-thinking. Negotiate with this part of yourself: you’re keeping your analytical mind sharp, while creating space for other parts of you to move.
- Befriend your more vulnerable emotions. As you become more aware of the uncomfortable feelings your over-thinking has worked so hard to keep you from, take heart. You may notice fear, anxiety, or self-doubt. Get to know these feelings as if they were strange, but wonderful, new friends. They’re beautiful, God-given aspects of who you are. . . not reasons to turn back. Lift them before God, and let yourself feel what you feel before him. Feelings pass. And as you acknowledge them, you’re becoming more whole.
Getting out of your head involves inviting Jesus to be with your inner analyzer and the vulnerable parts of your soul it protects. You’ll open yourself up to risk, yes. But you’ll also open yourself up to the joy of being in the game. You’ll cultivate the kind of thoughtful wisdom that brings life to those you love. And you’ll enjoy the freedom of knowing you played your part well.
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