The term “overthinking” seems to have been stigmatized by society as a bad thing. Why is that? To think is to be human. Thinking is literally consciousness, or self-awareness, the most cherished of human traits. Some people think less and are less self-aware than others; therefore, they are less conscious. They are more animalistic and act on gut and instincts rather than thinking of the consequences to their actions. That’s certainly not good. Prisons are full of people like this.
Of course, there is also a dark side to overthinking. Overthinking about the future leads to anxiety, and overthinking about the past leads to depression. I’ve never really had a problem with depression, but I have suffered from anxiety, particularly social anxiety, or being overly worried about what other people think of me. I never wanted to say anything to hurt or offend anyone, and I didn’t want to say something that would make them mock or reject me, so I would play it safe by not saying anything at all.
In a sense, social anxiety is the inability to not think before saying or doing anything in front of anyone else. Social anxiety is essentially a result of being too conscious. But as I said, consciousness is the ultimate aspect of being human. It’s what separates us from all other species. We should never feel ashamed of social anxiety because there is no shame in being highly conscious. Consciousness is the greatest gift of evolution. The more conscious you are, the more evolved you are, the more human you are. There’s no such thing as too much consciousness, or awareness of yourself and others—the more, the better. We should never want to lower our consciousness, or never care what others think, or not consider the repercussions to our actions. Thinking more is what helps us become better human beings.
But there are side effects to high consciousness and overthinking. The problem is not that we think too much (about ourselves and others) because again, thinking more is good. The problem is that we’re not thinking clearly. That’s the only time when thinking too much can bring negative effects. Because if you think a lot, it will make you more intelligent and more creative. You’ll think of a funnier joke, a better song, and a more beautiful painting. You’ll come up with scientific breakthroughs, technological innovations, and make better financial decisions—or any life decisions for that matter. You’ll better understand yourself, others, and the world as a whole.
Without overthinking, Einstein wouldn’t have come up with general relativity, Newton wouldn’t have created physics, and Edison wouldn’t have invented the light bulb. Without overthinking about the origin of species, Darwin wouldn’t have thought of the theory of evolution by natural selection. America’s founding fathers would not have created the Constitution. Shakespeare wouldn’t have written his plays, nor Kafka and Dostoyevsky their novels. Elon Musk would not be the billionaire founder of a rocket company. Humans never would have even invented the wheel without first thinking long and hard about an easier way to transport things. All the greatest art, philosophy, science, and technology in human history came from overthinkers. Overthinking is quite good…when you’re thinking about the right things.
However, if overthinking leads you to believe people are going to reject you for saying the wrong thing, as in the case of social anxiety, then you are not thinking clearly. That is not a likely outcome, or even if it does happen, it’s not as catastrophic as you imagine it to be. These are irrational thoughts and worries. How do you overcome irrational thinking? One way would be to stop thinking altogether. A better way would be to think more rationally.
Overthinking isn’t the problem; thinking poorly is the problem. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness meditation are the keys to overcoming social anxiety (and any other psychological problem caused by irrational thinking) because they help you become more aware of your thoughts and think more rationally. The goal in overcoming anxiety, depression, or just about any other mental health problem should not be to think less—it should be to think more…clearly.