How To Stop Over-Thinking.
Insights on peace of mind
There’s this joke about a German lifeguard. A man is drowning in the sea, and he shouts out,
‘Help! Help! I’m sinking! I’m sinking!’ The german lifeguard rushes over to the water’s edge and crouches down next to him. He says,
‘Vat are you sinking about?’
It is easy to become submerged in the waters of your thoughts. Some mornings I’m not even out of bed, and I’m already telling Joe Rogan about the complicated political situation in Northern Ireland. How do I turn this off? How do I deal with my overthinking on a day to day basis? I’m a creative, verbal person, and I have always suffered from that endless internal monologue that can drive a person to drink, which is not a metaphor.
Carl Jung, Swiss founder of analytical psychology, in his book symbols of transformation, makes two distinctions in thinking; direct and indirect (or fantastic) thinking. Direct thinking is in words, and language, while fantastic thinking is through images. I did some vanguard research, and the numbers were about a third for image thinking and 2/3rds for words. At the same time, the vast majority of people had an inner monologue in the movie narrator, perpetual podcast guest, sense. Jung points out; that direct thinking, the inner monologue, is preparation for speaking. When you think in words, you are preparing for communication, and small muscles in your Larynx operate as if you were talking. An interesting device called the ‘alter-ego uses sensors to detect these signals and translate them into speech for people who are disabled. This way, your inner monologue can be heard out loud! However, it is this constant inner speech which is why overthinking is so costly to your body and requires a lot of energy, which can lead to exhaustion, fatigue, and withdrawal. But what hints does this give us for solving the problem of overthinking? I will list a few methods below.
The first part of the problem is we are isolated for so much of our life these days; we don’t talk to people face to face as frequently anymore, and the chances are if you are continually preparing to communicate, you have a few things to say. So the first method to stop overthinking is by writing or recording your thoughts in a notepad. You can’t talk to everyone about everything that crops up in your head, but you can keep a running list on your phone or paper. Taking notes constitutes a meaningful step towards resolving the root causes of patterns of overthinking and results in a clearer mind on a day to day basis.
The second way is exercise. An hour or two of cardio each day, and your internal chatter drops to zero. Training is a potent treatment for any kind of anxiety or rumination. As I mentioned, direct thinking is costly to your body’s energy systems. If you are good and exhausted, you won’t waste the resources trying to drive yourself mental.
Aldous Huxley made the point in his book ‘The Divine Within’ that a lot of thinking is what he called ‘Psychosomatic bubbling,’ the subjective manifestation of the complex chemical reactions of the body. I’m sure most of you have noticed how the quarantine has affected your thoughts. How having your daily 10,000 steps reduced to fifty-five has led to a volume increase in the old skull. Dissipating this daily energy is the key to lessening the grip of any inner demons and anxieties. I like to set my day up, so I use all of my energy. If I have too much internal monologue, then I have not succeeded in using my energy entirely. Also, habits like good quality sleep, a routine, waking up at the same time, eating a good breakfast, and not binge drinking three days a week is beneficial. While drinking temporarily cures the inner monologue, in the long run, alcohol makes any anxiety and rumination far worse.
My third and final tip is embodiment. If you are overwhelmed by continually conceptualizing reality, tighter and tighter, through speech, the way out is through your body; the road out of your head leads into your body. Embodiment is done through yoga, martial arts, any conscious physical activity, and even drama, or dancing. The basis of embodiment is the concentration on sensations rather than abstractions; what can you smell? How do your feet feel on the floor? What sounds can you hear outside the window? Focusing on your sensations, particularly in the legs, offers a means of grounding yourself when you feel like thoughts are taking you away from reality. A good habit is focusing on your feet while you are walking, and whenever your attention rises to your head’s thoughts, gently bring the focus back down to the body to the legs. If you are well practised in the art of embodiment, then you have an instant method to return to your body before you can start overthinking.
You would be surprised at how often I find myself overthinking and engrossed in the internal monologue, having to check myself. Even knowing the way to deal with your mind does not solve the problem once and for all. There is no solution except to live with discipline and courage as much as possible. You want that Shaolin monklike mind? What most people forget is that mindset comes through training. The inner peace comes from the rigour of what they eat when they wake up, and what they do. It’s not a free-floating, sensual burning man spiritualism; the path of the monk is one of complete discipline and dedication. The order of the mind is no different from the order of life.
In summary, the work to stop overthinking never ends. Jung’s view of thoughts are like animals in the forest, or people in a room, you would not think that you made those people if you just walked in. If you are hungry, you will think of food, thirst leads to water, loneliness to thoughts of love; every thought in your mind is an ‘an unworshipped God’ as Jung calls them. They have a never-ending fight within the brain, a competition of values, truths, and desires that is part of being a human being. Only when you accept that fight as the natural state can you start to get past the discomfort of overthinking. So what is the answer to the German lifeguard’s question then?
‘Vat are you sinking about?’
‘Not drowning you prick. Now throw me the ring...’