Thoughts Overdone

I’m starting to get nervous. Sleep has become a little more difficult. I’m reverting to my safe place in my head where I rehearse and try on various if…then scenarios. I’m making lists (Yes, plural. I’m just cool like that:) )and planning food because it keeps my mind off the imminent reality.

No, I’m not having surgery or facing some difficult exam. I’m not preparing for some intercontinental voyage or training for some intense race.

I’m going skiing.

Baby-level skiing. And not even for the first time.

(For a great laugh, read about my first time – and see my patented baby giraffe learning to walk pose – here.)

But I’m good great at overthinking. Trusting my analytical brain over the natural wisdom of instinct and body.

And sometimes well-done thoughts are appropriate.

Skiing is not one of those times.

I’m always fascinated by books that address how we think. In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell explores “thin-slicing,” demonstrating how we can often make better decisions with less information and time and that extra information simply tends to muck up the cognitive gears. He uses marriage expert John Gottman as one of his subjects, describing how Gottman can predict with a 95% accuracy rate if a couple will still be married in 15 years simply be observing them together for an hour.

Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, divides cognitive processes into two systems: one that is fast, intuitive and emotional (as detailed in Blink) and the other that is slower, more logical and deliberate. He shows that the faster system, although critical to our functioning, is also subject to error (like the sunk cost fallacy and confirmation bias). However, the more analytical system is also not without problems as too much information can lead to paralysis and this system requires more energy and attention.  And, as I am now facing with skiing, this system is not always appropriate for the situation. Sometimes, you have to go with your instincts.

Most of us have a tendency to either act too impulsively or to spend too much time overthinking before we take action. Rarely does someone walk a balanced line between the two systems.

Which for some strange reason, always reminds me of steak.

Stay with me:)

Even though I was not officially a vegetarian until my teenage years, I always had…issues with meat. I distinctly remember one summer evening at my grandparent’s house on Washington Island, WI when I was around ten. My grandfather grilled steaks for dinner, sliding them onto to the plates when they were probably about medium well. I cut into my portion and immediately asked if it could be put back on the grill. It sat over the coals while everyone else finished their dinners and the plates were almost completely cleared. By the time I deemed the meat ready to eat, it was more rawhide than shoe leather, certainly everything that would qualify it as a “good” steak had long since been cooked out. Too much time on the grill didn’t make it better (although to me, it made the texture less “meaty” and therefore easier to eat).

My ex was the opposite when it came to steak; he used to ask for his blue. As in still cold in the middle. Even the thought still makes me shudder. Obviously to him, the taste was preferable to cooked meat, but I know most people would agree that at least a little heat improves the flavor and texture of a steak. Not to mention the safety.

My thoughts can all too easily become like my steak on that night. When I find myself spending too much time thinking and not enough time trusting my instincts, I remind myself to take my thoughts off the grill before they become too dense and overdone.

On the flipside, when I sense myself acting too impulsively (rare, but it does happen), I remind myself to let the ideas cook a little longer. Much like raw meat, underdone thoughts can be dangerous and bloody.

In fact, most thoughts are best when they’re served medium.

If you find that you have a tendency to overthink, try some of the following:

-Set a limit for yourself (time or resources) before you act on your decision.

-Do something that takes you out of your head (dance, play, etc.).

-Make a pro/con list and then go with your gut once it’s done. In fact, write it and destroy it if you’re concerned you’ll spend too much time weighing the options.

-Trust that you handle the results of whatever decision you implement.

-If you have to wait to act (like me at the moment with skiing), distract your brain and give it other things to do.

-Mediate and soften the thoughts.

-Write it out. It helps to untangle your thoughts.

-Make sure that any resources you gather don’t simply support your decision; for better decisions, listen to the other side.

-And don’t forget to laugh. It puts it all into perspective:)

Now, just to take my own advice and relax and trust my instincts so that I can enjoy the mountain!

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