10: THINK 20: GOTO 10
This is the core routine for all overthinkers. We start to analyze the situation, but somehow, the conditionals, the breakpoints that should get us out of the loop just don’t kick in, so we sit and spin ourselves into tail chasing spirals of our own fear and assumptions.
My trick for supporting those with minds that Dr. Asperger would have recognized is simple. I find a way to reach in and break the loop.
There are a wide range of techniques that I select from my experience with the person, from diverting thought to slipping in new ideas to screaming at them to just offering logical paradoxes that break the routine.
I know very well that once you are in this overthinking loop it becomes very hard to break out of it. Having someone else ground you by offering a new procedure, an insight into a new way of thinking, a different way of processing — leading with your heart for example, or remembering the context of past successes — can be a great relief.
This strategy requires, though, that to help break the loop you must understand and value the whole process of overthinking in the first place. Thinking isn’t a mistake, something to be devalued and derided, rather it is a legitimate and comprehensible approach to understanding your world. For people with some brain patterns, it is the basic way of engaging the world.
Asking overthinkers to stop thinking is like asking humans to stop breathing. It can’t be done, nor is it even a useful goal. Thinking is not a bad thing.
Rather, what we can do is help them learn to break the loops in their own thinking, usually by affirming other parts of who they are, of their experience in the world. We help them by entering their thinking and helping them reprogram themselves, giving them new ways to see and think about the world.
I don’t think this is an easy process. I know how much time and repetition it takes to break old habits.
More than that, I know how hard it is to find new and effective solutions to the underlying challenges that drive the overthinking loop in the first place. If a simple and elegant solution were at hand, one that both worked and made sense in mindspace, we would already have that solution.
The conundrums of being a human, though, rarely offer easy and clear solutions, rather they require taking risks, being vulnerable, trial & error, compromise, and making the best of the available options. The more we focus on how to avoid or even minimize loss the more we are likely to be bound up in bouts of overthinking.
Where are the wins? That is a question I struggle with, because I know that the best technique we have for greater success is usually finding tiny wins and then working to expand them into larger, more satisfying and more fulfilling wins. When you have negligible wins to start with, well, that technique really doesn’t work all that well.
Learning to break the loop is hard, which is why having others help is always good. Having others just tell you to stop overthinking, or to try to devalue thinking altogether is not really useful, though; it just sets us spinning faster and faster. We need people to meet us where we are, not just treat us as if where we are is wrong and wrongheaded.
In my experience, it is a combination of empathy and smarts that can help, someone willing to come in and respect my world by also to connect me to their world, sharing subroutines and procedures that work for them and that can be tailored for us.
It takes practice to open up your thinking, discipline to stop getting stuck in loops and empathy, especially empathy for your own humanity, to break free of the notion that more thinking is always the answer. It is not an easy challenge.
Having others who can help you break the loop, who have been there and know better ways to build neural networks that aren’t so BASIC, well, they are invaluable.
At least they are when you can find them.