– “OMG, all this INNER FITNESS talk is annoying.”
-“Your thoughts create. Get to know your Self. Your past impacts who you are.”
-“Could you give it a rest, Tina? You overthink things. People don’t want to work that hard.”
A cousin and I had this conversation over two decades ago. She was not the first nor last to refer to my passion for inner fitness as “too much.” Nonetheless, her irritated tone hurt my feelings. I couldn’t understand why encouraging a more intentional relationship with our thoughts and feelings would be deemed fanatical? Don’t we all have thoughts and feelings? Aren’t thoughts and feelings as much a part of life as breathing? Why are they so often treated as inconsequential or like a plague?
It took years of personal growth for me to make sense of this kind of response. Then one day, while talking to my cousin, I began to see her behavior more clearly instead of feeling hurt or confused by her dismissive comments. My cousin was uncomfortable with feelings! Her way of managing her discomfort was to distance herself from people and conversations that might lead to painful thoughts and emotions.
My cousin’s way of avoiding the discomfort of deeply thinking about her life was to attack me and minimize my thoughts. If she invalidates me, she can feel justified in not considering what I say, and she maintains a “safe” distance from thoughts, topics, and feelings that make her uncomfortable. In essence, her reaction towards me acted as a release valve for her discomfort, overwhelm, and fear.
The problem with avoiding feelings is that running from or avoiding our thoughts or feelings teaches the brain to become hyper-aware and focused on the discomfort we are trying to avoid. Avoidance, as a strategy, works much like telling yourself don’t think about pink elephants. Suddenly, pink elephants loom large in your mind.
Think about it. What do you “naturally” tend to do when you are in a dangerous situation: run, avoid, keep one or both eyes on the problem so that it can’t blindside you?
This focusing-on-the-problem feature of the brain is why humans tend to focus on what’s wrong or “bad” in our lives, no matter how much good there is. In its aim to protect us, the brain errs on the side of quickly, and therefore often wrongly, labeling uncomfortable feelings as dangerous – things that can hurt us. In reality, the discomfort might be good discomfort that can motivate change, growth, or new ideas.
There are strategies for working with discomfort that will leave you proactively designing your life, instead of habitually reacting to life.
When my cousin complained that I overthink things, she didn’t know that becoming curious about your discomfort is an effective way to stave off the automatic labeling that the brain is so good at executing; and that thinking investigative thoughts and acknowledging your feelings, without self-judgment, allows triggered discomfort to relax and ultimately pass through the mind and body.
Intentionally working with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings helps process your thoughts and feelings more accurately.
In short, overthinking is a good thing when coupled with intentionality and sound inner fitness strategies. It is an efficient effective way to get to the other side of discomfort. When you name what is happening in your life and intend to learn and grow from it, discomfort becomes a doorway to healing and accessing more of your Self.