One day, a centipede walked by a tree where a wise old owl was perched. The owl asked the centipede, “You have so many legs! How do you know which one to move next?” The centipede froze in his tracks. He started thinking. He didn’t know which leg to move so he couldn’t move any. He cried to the owl, “Help me! I’m stuck!” The owl said, “My little friend, you are stuck because you are too focused on yourself. When you are focused on what is going on in the world around you, you have no thoughts about how to move. You simply move.” The centipede looked out to the horizon and saw the sun setting. “How beautiful,” the centipede said. Just then, his legs were freed and he began to walk again.
The story above has been told and re-told countless times, with countless outcomes. The owl is sometimes a hawk, a dog, or a wolf. In one version of the story, he was a frog and, in the end, the centipede got run over by a jeep! This animal lover wasn’t about to go with that version. I liked the version, above, much better. I got this version from a Christianity.com newsletter (Homeward with Jim Burns) from a year or so ago.
The only thing that stays the same with each version of the story is that the centipede remains a centipede and the fact that he’s rendered immovable by over-thinking.
When I first read the story, I thought of words my husband often uses with sports, especially golf, “Paralysis by analysis.” Baseball is another sport when it seems that players over-think sometimes. They’ll step away from the plate, seem to give themselves a little mental lecture, step back up to the plate… then watch the ball go right down the middle! When my team’s at the plate, I find myself begging for them to, “Just hit the darn ball!” When my team’s in the field, I (with cruel intentions) encourage the batter to watch all the strikes he wants to.
When the angel on my right shoulder says I’m not being very nice, the one on the left says, “She ain’t even trying.” She doesn’t have the best grammar – but what do you expect from that one?
Over-Thinking, of course, happens in more places than the sport’s world.
- How about the bride that nearly cancels (and often does!) her wedding because she can’t afford all the details her mind conjures up?
- Sometimes entrepreneurs and inventors will keep kicking something around in their mind while someone else jumps in front of them and walks away with the fortune and fame that could have been theirs if they’d gotten their plans out of their head and into the world. Anything left inside your brain is of zero use to anyone.
- In the world of blogging and website design, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people sit on great ideas while waiting for the “perfect design” or “right time.” Like the bride who cancels her wedding because everything isn’t perfect, their happily ever after might just slip away.
To bring over-thinking into a situation we can all relate to, think of the times when a spouse is a little late for supper and we’re all but ready to start calling local hospitals! Once, years ago, we were living in the Louisville, Kentucky area. Wrecks happened on a daily basis because, basically, Louisville’s a city where every driver is convinced they’re the only car on the road. My husband was an hour and a half getting home. I was pacing the floor, looking out the window each time I saw a light. I couldn’t reach him on his cellphone. Naturally, my brain decided that he’d been in a terrible wreck. When my oldest daughter reassured me that we’d have heard something if that’d happened, I thought, “Not if it happened on a cliff, in a ditch or in a remote area.”
Because there are so many cliffs in Louisville.
With six eyes on me (eight if we count the cat), I tried to act casual and nonchalant. Then the phone rang. I walked to it, singing, “Well, there he is now.” (Must be cool for the girls, must be cool for the girls…) I looked at the caller id and it said the name of our local hospital. I saw my cool sail by me as I said, “Oh my God!” I answered the phone with a shaky voice as a chipper voice on the other end said they were calling to conduct surveys. With emotions that ranged from relief to annoyance, I told her that I didn’t believe in surveys.
Seriously? That’s the best I had
As it turned out, he swears he had told me about a stop he had to make. As the mother of three teenaged girls at the time, he may have told me – I lived in a state of shock for a period of time there.
I wish I could say that this was the only time in my life my mind has ever played director and taken a normal story into the realms of a horror story, but I have the most vivid imagination in the world – so this is just a drop in the bucket.
Over-thinking has probably led to more broken dreams, unrealized potential, arguments, and good old-fashioned ulcers than anything in the world.
Personally, I’m only guilty of over-thinking when it comes to my loved ones. I suppose my efforts to keep them safe from harm causes my brain to conjure up every foreseeable harm, so I can try my best to eliminate it. Frankly, it’s exhausting.
I’ve found, over the years, a solution that works for me. When worry about my husband, daughters, sons-in-law, or cats creeps into my mind, I simply ask myself, “What’s in the room with you right now?” This odd question reminds me to look around and see reality as it is right now. It serves as a reminder to take things as they are rather than how they could be.
I will say this – if, like me, you’ve seen your fair share of losses (loved ones, etc.), you will be more susceptible to this type of over-thinking. Those of us who have lost people very close to us – sometimes completely unexpected – will, to a certain degree, be thinking three or four steps in the future for the rest of our lives. It seems to be the brain’s way of protecting itself and bracing itself from having the world pulled out from underneath it again.
Asking yourself, “What’s in the room with me right now?” will help you refocus and realize that everything is safe right now. Take a deep breath and remind yourself of this when your thoughts are running amok and you’re over-thinking things.
How to Overcome Over-Thinking in Other Areas of Life
If we could all eliminate the Over in front of Think and simply Think, we’d be a lot better off. For those who’s over-thinking prevents them from getting anything done, I’d say they need to eliminate OVER before THINK and add AND DO after it! Think and Do will get you so much further than Over Think.
I think the first step is… well, to take the first step. Pull your thoughts out of your head where you’ve been chasing them around (possibly for years) and proactively take the first step. If you have a book in your mind, open Wordpad or Microsoft Word and allow the words to finally see the light of day.
About six years ago, a woman contacted me through e-mail. She wanted to know if I’d help her set up a food blog. I’m a pushover when it comes to helping people, so I told her that if she’d buy the domain name, I’d set the blog up for her, design it, install plugins, etc. I told her she didn’t have to pay me anything, I’d just do it because I felt like paying it forward. She was over the moon excited and thankful…. Then… then… she tried to think of a domain name. When I finally helped her come up with one she loved, she got stuck on the colors she wanted on the blog…
This sweet, sweet, sweet woman never got off the first step. She was like the caterpillar in the story above – she just couldn’t move! She finally apologized for taking up so much of my time and said that it was all “overwhelming” to her and “taking too much time.” And she hadn’t written a word!
She had an obvious love for recipes and a need to make a little extra money. If she hadn’t over thought everything, she cold conceivably have a very active food blog today.
Not only will letting the thoughts out of your mind help you get things done, you’ll find that you have a lot more room in your brain for other things. Did you know that a lot of over-thinkers often experience minor memory problems simply because they have too many things vying for attention in their minds? It makes sense, doesn’t it? Dump some of these things out and see how much clearer your thinking will become, almost immediately.
In addition to…
- Taking a realistic look at the situation
- Turning thoughts into actions
… a great way to overcome over-thinking is to realize that there is no such thing as perfection. There will never be the perfect job, the perfect WordPress theme, the perfect opening paragraph, the perfect tie, the perfect food blog colors (!!!), etc. Perfect only exists in your brain and, ask yourself, where’s that getting you? Like the bride who’s still a bride-to-be because everything doesn’t live up to her thoughts, you’re postponing joy and putting off success with each thought you mull over.
Things don’t have to be perfect to be perfectly wonderful. Besides, when you jump in and start working, you may just exceed your own expectations and cause your brain to just say, “WOW!”
Stop thinking about magic and get out there and make some magic!