Carefully thinking about an upcoming decision is a good thing. But thinking taken to an extreme—overthinking!—can have negative results. How can we overcome this pitfall?
Thinking is a good thing.
We tell our children to think before doing something they will later regret. We remind ourselves to “sleep on it” before making major decisions, especially when we’re physically and emotionally stressed. We often think about past choices to avoid future mistakes.
Deep and critical thinking is vitally important for life.
Do we overthink?
Thinking is a God-given gift, but it can turn negative when we overthink. We can get stuck in a loop of overanalyzing, which can sometimes lead to decision-making paralysis, procrastination, missed deadlines, frustration for those who depend on us, crippling anxiety and constant guilt and shame.
What can we do?
We can start by taking back control of what thinking is supposed to do: help us make decisions and positively change our lives. This necessitates a timely end to the planning and thinking process and the beginning of the application or action process.
Before that, however, we should take stock of how we think and ask whether it aligns with how God thinks.
The way God wants us to think
We know that God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9), so it would be wise to compare what we think about with what He thinks about—or what He wants us to think about.
Philippians 4:8 lists various things that would be beneficial to meditate on: things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of a good report, virtuous and praiseworthy.
However, when we practice toxic overthinking, these kinds of thoughts are typically far from our minds.
Instead, overthinking usually involves these types of thoughts:
- Self-degradation (which is not “true,” “lovely” or “just” to ourselves).
- Anxious terror of self-preservation (which is not “praiseworthy” or “noble”).
- The tendency to mentally pick apart everything someone said and look for a possible offense (which is not of a “good report”).
- The desire to make sure we sound artificially smart or insightful to others (which is neither “virtuous” nor “pure”).
God wants His Spirit to work in an individual to produce a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7), not a mind paralyzed by fear and overthinking.
(For more insight on developing a sound mind, read “How to Have a Sound Mind.”)
So when we notice our thinking is deviating from what God wants us to focus on, it should be a red flag. Does an overthinking mind resemble God’s mind or a carnal mind that ignores His words and law (Romans 8:6-7)?
We can identify whether we are aligned with God’s thinking by whether our thoughts lead to positive action. If we are paralyzed by overthinking, our lives will become characterized by unproductive inaction—which is not a characteristic of God.
Visualize a finish line in our minds, where thinking turns to action
As mentioned above, critical thinking about life’s many decisions is beneficial and needed. A Christian will be careful and give adequate thought to actions, plans and decisions.
But before overthinking consumes the healthy process of examining pros and cons and making an informed decision, it may be helpful to visualize a finish line in our minds. We should always consider an end point for the thinking phase.
Overthinking can thrive when there are no deadlines and no real pressure to do something about our problems.
Refusing to choose between options can itself become an option, and this is often the option overthinking causes us to pick. Refusing to choose between options can itself become an option, and this is often the option overthinking causes us to pick. It’s an option that rarely has a positive impact on others—or on ourselves.
Setting a deadline, choosing an option and committing to it can help us move beyond overthinking.
What might that look like?
- “I will decide on this and send an email sharing my decision by Friday.”
- “I can see myself benefitting from either of these options, and there are no overwhelming pros or cons to either. I will choose one in the morning.”
- “I’m giving myself one more minute to go through all the worst-case scenarios I can imagine, then I’ll decide and move on.”
- “Unless more information becomes available, I will have to make this decision nearly blind, which is the best I can do. If it becomes obvious that I made a mistake, I will change and adjust accordingly.”
- “I’ve been beating myself up over my mistake for days now, which is not helping me or anyone. I will accept the situation I caused and do my best to improve it from this point forward.”
Overcome overthinking by stepping out on faith
Overthinking can occur when we lack all the facts we’d like to have to make a decision. Yet in reality, it’s rare to have all the facts. However, the solution isn’t decision paralysis. This is where faith becomes crucial. Sometimes we must make the most informed decision possible and then place our faith in God as we move forward.
Overthinking can quickly allow our human reasoning to compete with our faith, convincing us that we need to know everything. In the process, we can forget to place our trust in the all-knowing God. Recognizing that God knows everything (and we don’t) helps us accept that we can’t always have all the facts, but we can always ask for His help.
Thinking is a good thing, so let’s keep it that way
Always thinking deeply and critically about decisions and situations is essential for the benefit of others and our spiritual growth. Yet, as discussed above, this can be taken to an extreme, resulting in decision-making paralysis.
If we enforce a clear end point in our minds, align our thinking with God’s, practice faith and then move forward with well-considered action—we can overcome the trap of overthinking.