Confusing Ourselves by Overthinking It

In the EL James megahit series Fifty Shades of Grey, the “hero” is a deeply conflicted and confused individual who vacillates between seeking solace in unusual sexual practices while isolating himself from any real connection with others. Although there is much about the storyline that I don’t identify with, the fact that this fellow is at odds with himself, troubled and torn by wanting things he knows would disturb and upset those around him, and loathe to hurt those he cares about makes Christian Grey a regular sort of everyman.

What?!?

Setting aside the whole BDSM spectacle of the series, the reason I use this example is because this character is an exaggerated springboard from which to examine the topic of conflicting desires and the sort of quagmires we create for ourselves when we overthink a problem. The smarter we are the harder it gets because we can invent such clever reasons and counter-reasons to do or not do whatever it is we want. Note that I chose the verb “want” because, at the heart of the matter, we’re trying to talk ourselves out of taking an action or making a choice that calls out to us like a siren’s song. It’s irresistible.

What is it that relentlessly calls to you?

There are very, very few things in life that are permanent, which is why it seems so futile to me to strain so hard to retain our status quo—especially when whatever it is isn’t working for us. What I mean by this is that while, sure, the job pays our bills or the relationship gives a certain definition to our identity, if we continue to fantasize at length about our lives minus these core obligations, these thoughts are telling us something critically important. I cannot tell you the number of people I know who spend part of everyday fighting against or actively suppressing instincts, desires, or ideas that they are inexorably drawn to. Repeatedly, they chastise themselves for being ungrateful for what they have, for being “bad” people for wanting something else, for being profligate or astonishingly naïve to play with such dangerous ideas. If they were to take such steps, they reason, the fallout would be significant—made worse by whatever unanticipated consequences may be lurking in the shadows. It’s “more honest,” they reason to imagine all the bad that could happen instead of all the good…

Thinking like that would freeze anyone in their tracks.

When trapped in thinking like this, we basically become both the spider and the fly, wrapping ourselves in layer upon layer of seductive thoughts counterbalanced by sticky reasoning as to why we shouldn’t or can’t. This “reasoning” slowly immobilizes us from taking any action at all; eventually, we petrify, unhappily caught in a web of our own making. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Our catastrophizing possible outcomes does a grave disservice to our life’s potential. Telling ourselves over and over that we can’t, that we dare not, that to try would be suicidal or disrespectful or unkind or could subject us to ridicule—what purpose does this serve aside from sheer self torture? Instead of imagining the positive possibilities, we fixate on the worst.

How many times have you done this?

When was the last time you took a risk? Was there a disastrous outcome?

(The answer is no.)

While I recognize that nobody gets to live out their every dream or shed their every obligation or the escape the residue of a misbegotten decision, there’s a lot more room for resurrection in our lives than we give ourselves credit for. But we can’t know if we don’t try, and one of the most sure fire ways of not trying is overthinking all the implications and possible consequences of pursuing what we want.

I have yet, in my entire life, ever heard a single person say they regret taking the chance to pursue what they wanted–even if what they wanted didn’t manifest in exactly the way they hoped. I have heard plenty of people bemoan the fact that they failed to try, refused themselves the chance to see if they could “do it” because what was at risk was simply too great. I understand that the more you have achieved, the more you have invested in your current life, the scarier the prospect of “losing it” can be, but if you are dedicating so much thought and energy on some other path, how much do you really value the one you’re on now?

Is it really better to remain rooted where you are, a smile plastered on your face, having to remind yourself to feel grateful as you watch others cycle past? Are you honestly that much safer, betrayed by your thoughts the way you are?

Do you have so little confidence in yourself about landing on your feet? That those around you will be so utterly destroyed if you’re not there in your current capacity that they couldn’t possibly continue?

The confusion that inevitably results from overthinking things acts as a paralyzing force in our lives. It’s all based on fear. You have a wellspring of confidence available to you; trust that you can manage this. Trust that you can take this step and be ok. Because you will be.

Spider and fly

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