The Contemporary Overthinking Problem

Jitesh Jain
6 min readNov 26, 2021

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Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the following lockdowns and stay & work from home situations, the concept of Overthinking has gained popularity. Moreover, now and then, I find the gen-z people (and even me sometimes) replying to “What you doing?” texts with “Overthinking.” Surprisingly, I have seen people setting their social profiles’ status as Overthinking. It made me wonder if we have started treating overthinking as a clichéd concept that might overshadow the problems that the actual overthinking state brings.

This article will explain my opinion about overthinking and why it is becoming more cliché than a serious problem.

Disclaimer: I know many people (again, including me) make hand-wavy comments about overthinking as a joke. So, don’t consider this blog as an instance of overthinking about “overthinking.” These few of my observations have made me realize that overthinking can be an escape mechanism and just time squander at times without us even knowing!

I am afraid that overthinking has become the norm.

What is Overthinking?

Merriam-Webster defines overthinking as:

Putting too much time into thinking about or analyzing (something) in a way that is more harmful than helpful.

On the other hand, the Urban Dictionary defines overthinking as:

The art of creating problems that weren’t even there.

The difference between the definitions in a classical dictionary and a contemporary dictionary is a sound witness to how overthinking has been progressing in recent times. Regardless of the times to which one belongs, overthinking is not the smartest thing I have learned the hard way. So let’s begin my well-thought observations about overthinking.

Underthought approach about overthinking!

Why Overthink?

We need to identify the factors responsible for driving us into the state of deep thinking, which quickly turns into overthinking without us even knowing. Let’s list them out.

1. YOU are not the apple of everyone’s eye

I have seen people complicate a relatively simple and easy situation for no earthly reason other than “what will he/she/they make of me if this or that goes awry?” Well, my response to them is: Nobody cares for longer than a few minutes.

It is a great practice to deeply analyze the situation before an interview, exam or sending a proposal to your crush. However, there’s just so much you can control. Suppose the interviewer had a not-so-delicious lunch, or the examining body focused on the topic that you skipped, or you are already friend-zoned. In that case, second-guessing yourself with wasteful thoughts messes with your mental well-being. Don’t over-analyze yourself, please! Remember, you can’t know the result beforehand, sadly.

Let time flow, and you shall know the result!

2. The Past is Haunted

Sometimes, I tend to revisit past situations during my free time and start thinking about counterfactuals. It is good to an extent as long as I learn about my mistakes and react correctly to a similar future situation. However, it’s easy to get carried away and start imagining the “would-have” worlds. It’s not very healthy for the mind when this happens. The past is there to teach us. Let’s not convert the reminiscing and nostalgic moments into a self-imagined virtual world.

3. Humans are great at fiction

If you have read either of the epic works of Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind or Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, you would know that humanity owes much of the success to the ability to create stories and develop social contracts based on the imagination. It has worked well for society as a whole for millennia.

However, when an individual ends up in a mental reality where they won or lost the upcoming challenge (could be both professional or personal), the power of imagination has been misused by the overthinking part of the brain (it’s called the cortisol, in case you were wondering). As I described earlier, we can only control so much in the real world, so imagination is a quick escape into the comfy zone. Instead, it makes more sense to give up on the fiction and start the actions to make it a reality. Having a vision is excellent and well-thought. On the other hand, Overthinking leads to fantasies that may be too far off from the idea for the real world.

Have positive imaginations too!

4. Evading the Real Problem

In a few instances, we may try to analyze an utterly irrelevant situation to our present state. If you were dumped, there’s emotional trauma, incredible, and it’s okay. But don’t go floundering over it and wondering what went wrong; when you can ask the person next week or the next day if you get an answer, great. If you don’t, then it’s not worth the time to over-analyze the situation. Let me not be mistaken. I am not against being emotional; don’t create an overdosed mess of it. Things happen, but you have more significant real-world problems to face than the complex creation of a single issue that you have no control over.

Mentioning the real world brings me to the portrayal of fantasies in many web series or even novels. They are fictional characters with made-up backgrounds. Don’t try and overthink how you can be like your favorite character from Friends or if you can be Harvey Specter from Suits. Focus on real deals, man.

Duh! His whole life was shown to him written in the text before he incarnated into the character!

How to get the amount of thinking correct?

So far, I have listed various reasons for overthinking and how it negatively impacts the mental state and quality of life. Still, we must think, right? How can we ensure that we don’t overthink? Well, you may find numerous measures online for the same. However, my first answer would be to check if you are even overthinking in the first place!

Let’s face it, Gen-Z has a lack of patience when it comes to results. We come across a failure, and all kinds of questions pop up in our minds. Maybe the poppers are indispensable and require deep thinking. We are quick to term thinking as overthinking, which leads to problems in the long run because what we may be doing is underthinking.

Now, I have faced this problem earlier and developed a set of questions that I ask myself whenever I need to make a decision:

  • Is this all I can do (or control) to achieve my target?
  • Is it even possible what I am thinking, or is there any way I can find out?
  • In case I made a mistake: Can I do anything to atone for the error?
  • Emotional Case: Does the other person expect this from me? If not, would they be happy to be surprised? If I don’t know either, then it’s a gamble based on the stakes.
  • How long have I been waiting for this opportunity?
  • What are the risks?
  • Is this what I want/need in my present situation?
  • Do I have all the facts required to make a safe choice with few variables? If not, it’s better to think about the worst beforehand.

These are a few which come to my mind at this point. They don’t map to each situation. So it’s a dynamic process, but it has helped me leave the overthinking JJ behind me and live with a lighter state of mind, focusing on the things that matter.

Conclusion

Right, so that ends one of my most unorthodox articles to date. Overthinking has become a cliché in recent years due to the unwanted complexity that we assign to simple things in life. Life’s simple; live and think it sufficiently. Make mistakes, learn from them, move on in the actual present, don’t sulk in the past for too long, and you should be fine. Now, I may have been wrong about the observations, and I am happy to be educated about my mistakes in that case. Feel free to let me know!

Give it some time if you feel the same; it should be simple soon!

You can learn more about me on my webpage.

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