Your best friend says she thinks you should. Your brother tells you to think it through. Your dad says he wouldn’t if he were you. Your husband says STOP ANALYZING. 

Think it through. Stop over-thinking. Analyze. Stop over-analyzing. It’s tiring stuff. Mixed messages coming at me from all directions. Should I increase my work fees, ground my daughter, get a personal trainer, buy that car, eat more than one can of tuna a week? Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do. With so many possibilities out there, how the heck do you avoid over-analyzing?

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Photo credit: Steve Buissinne

Yesterday, I was chatting with a group of fellow bloggers and one of them said, “women are overthinkers.” Guess what I did when I got home? I looked it up, obviously. Anyway, here’s the thing, ladies. She was right. It’s not a stereotype. It’s a fact. It’s scientifically proven. This over-analyzing nature of mine, I come by it honestly. The experts have done the research and the research says women overthink. Bam!

What’s with all the over-analyzing, gals?

In a study led by physician, psychiatrist, professor, and bestselling author Daniel Amen, scientists discovered that the brains of women are significantly more active than the brains of men.

To get a bit more scientific about it (and this is as scientific as I’m going to get), test subjects were given a bunch of cognitive tasks to complete while researchers measured the blood flow in their brains. What they found is that our brain activity is higher, particularly in the cerebral cortex, which we use for impulse control and focus, and the emotional parts of the brain, which determine mood and manage anxiety. As for men, the study found their brains are way more active in the visual and coordination sections.

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So over-analyzing is good news then?

Next time someone accuses me of over-analyzing (because it sure does feel like an accusation, not a compliment), perhaps I’ll hold my head up high and say, “yes, I’m overthinking, because I AM WOMAN.” No shame about it. But no, over-analyzing is not necessarily all good news.

While, according to Amen’s study, overthinking explains why we tend to outdo men when it comes to certain positively-viewed traits like intuition, collaboration, and empathy, it also explains our vulnerability when it comes to depression (check), anxiety (check), eating disorders and more. On a day-to-day basis, what does over-analyzing look like?

Let’s take a look at some of the pros.

As I see it, over-analyzing can help you:

  1. Live with your decisions. Those well-intentioned people giving you all that helpful advice — they don’t have to live with your decisions. You do. And here’s the thing. All the over-analyzing in the world won’t guarantee you’ll get the outcome you want. So I say if analyzing a topic to death makes it easier for you to live with yourself in the event things don’t go according to plan, then over-analyze away.
  2. Manage conflict. There’s a lot to be said for listening to your gut, but as I’ve learned time and time again, knee-jerk reactions aren’t typically the best, especially when it comes to conflict management. Go with your gut and you’ll be quick to see why the other person is to blame. Think, think, think and overthink some more, and you may actually discover you’re accountable. Imagine that.
  3. Be prepared. Sure, your bestie might laugh when she discovers you’re carrying band-aids, granola bars, Advil, stain remover, wet naps, tweezers and indigestion tablets in your purse, but you’ll have the last laugh when she spills red wine on her white blouse, gets a splinter in her toe after galavanting barefoot on the boardwalk, or eats too much at the all-you-can-eat buffet.
  4. Weed out the phonies. If you’re all about quantity versus quantity when it comes to your social network (I’m not talking social media, by the way, I’m talking about actual friends), then no weeding required. The more the merrier. Party on! But if you want to surround yourself with individuals you can trust, people who share your values, people with whom you can enjoy authentic relationships, it pays to look a little deeper. The friend who says, “just kidding,” after every subtle insult she gives you may be good for a laugh, but not necessarily much more.
  5. Know yourself. Believe me, I have over-analyzing down to a fine art. I have for quite some time, and ain’t nobody ever gonna say to me, “I know you better than you know yourself.” Impossible. I am the one and only expert on me!
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Photo credit: Gerd Altmann

Now, what about the cons?

On the flipside, over-analyzing can lead to:

  1. Procrastination. I had some friends I used to see once a year over the summer. Every year, for three years, Steve would tell me he loved where his house was situated but it was way too small. They really should move to a bigger house, he’d say, but perhaps it would make more sense to expand the one they had. I get you need to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each option, but for three years? Really? The fourth summer came around. I saw Steve. And guess what? He’d renovated his house. And you know why he’d finally taken action? Apparently, the summer before I’d gently suggested that he shit or get off the pot! He got off the pot.
  2. Paralysis. Essentially, this is the same as procrastination. It just lasts longer. Sometimes forever! Have you ever heard the term, Paradox of Choice? Coined by psychologist Barry Schwartz, it sums up how our access to unlimited possibilities can actually paralyze us. Think about it. Back in the day when career options were limited to farmer, baker, shoemaker and half a dozen others, do you think people were walking around over-analyzing what they wanted to do next? I think not. Today, however, we all know people who’ve been stuck in a rut for years because they’re so busy ruminating over what to do next, they never get around to doing it.
  3. Self-doubt. Over-analyzing can be scary stuff. I like to play life safe. Lately, though, I feel like I’ve been living on the edge. You see, I’ve been shopping for a car. This is risky stuff. What if I lease when I really should buy? What if I buy when I really should lease? The VW Tiguan has this but not that. The Subaru Crosstrek has that but not this. What? You think I outta check out the Nissan Rogue? No, no no … if I do that, I might end up buying one when I really should opt for the VW. I’m freaking out, people!

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    Yep. I’m living on the edge. Photo credit: Denise Husted

  4. Insecurity. Been here. Felt that. When I’m over-analyzing in the presence of one less analytical individual, there’s a 50% chance that my overthought-through point-of-view is right. I can deal with that. But when I’m the only over-analytical one among a large group of friends, even I can conclude I’m probably not being rational. And frankly, this leaves me feeling pretty vulnerable.
  5. Wasted time. As cons go, this has to be the biggest one. Overthinking takes time — time that could be better spent smelling the roses and living in the moment. That said, I’m not going to suggest you quit the habit altogether. I see the benefits of over-thinking. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have mentioned them above. But I would ask you to consider this:

Is over-analyzing taking over your life?

That’s something worth thinking about. Not sure? Health and wellness writer Carina Wolff shares 10 signs that you may indeed be over-over-thinking.

  1. You have problems making decisions.
  2. You ignore your instincts.
  3. You constantly ruminate.
  4. You avoid making choices.
  5. You miss deadlines.
  6. You repeat the same conversations to your friends.
  7. You need every piece of information to make up your mind.
  8. You’re not emotionally present around others.
  9. You don’t sleep well.
  10. You let your anxiety hold you back.

Five of the above apply to me. What about you? Are you, according to Carina, an overthinker? And if so …

What’s an over-analyzing girl to do?

Here are my two cents. Be selective. Pick and choose where to put your energy. Before you invest too much effort in over-analyzing, ask yourself, what if? If the answer to what if is relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of life, stop thinking, my friend.

Case in point  — I didn’t embrace motherhood with much ease but then, who does? My baby wouldn’t nurse. She wouldn’t sleep. I couldn’t put her down for 30 seconds. My boobs hurt. She cried all day. I cried all day … AND YET … I ruminated for days about whether or not to stick a pacifier in her mouth!

Seriously, there were way better places I could have put that energy, but no, I put it into over-analyzing the pros and cons of calming my baby down. After lengthy interviews with every human being I knew that had ever had a baby, I decided to take the risk. I know. Call me crazy, but I finally mustered up the courage to pop a soother into her mouth. And here’s the best part. She sucked on it once. She sucked on it twice. And then she spat it right across the room.

The moral of this story: You can over-analyze everything, but at the end of the day you really can’t control a thing. So I say invest the time and energy in overthinking only when you believe you’ll get a high return on your investment. As for the rest of the time, let it be.

Viv for today xo

To overthink or not to overthink? As with most things in life, it’s all about balance. Here’s what one of my favourite yoga instructors taught me about living a balanced life.

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