The Art of Overthinking

empty plateIt starts with a benign thought.

I look at Jenny and say, “I wonder what I should make for dinner.  I’ll go look through the freezer.”  As I walk downstairs and head for the freezer, I wonder about painting the basement and look at the pictures on the wall that would need to be moved, in order to paint.  I see a landscape that my grandmother painted and I remember her friend, who taught painting, and where she lived and how her friend lived next to a gal I went to high school with and that gal now lives in Missouri and I start thinking of the flooding in Missouri and how many were forced to move; and I think of our move and wonder what people think of that and I think it doesn’t matter what they might be thinking, because what really matters is where I’m going to put a garden in the spring and that leads to thinking about what the forecast is for today and hmm…  maybe I should make a pot roast for dinner, because it’s quite overcast out there and this weather calls for comfort food; and I wonder if this overly long sentence should have more commas (or is it semi-colons?) and then I think that I never have known when to use a semi-colon, and …

I look down and wonder why I am standing in front of the freezer.

This is the odyssey of overthinking.  From my dreams, I would have to assume that overthinking occurs while I’m sleeping, too.  For me, overthinking is my constant state of being.


I have a fantastical memory of watching my brother mow his backyard.  The mowing wasn’t so fantastical – he paced back and forth, covering the expanse of lawn with methodical steps.  As I watched, I imagined all the stuff he might be thinking as the mower did the cutting.  He could be thinking about work or his kids or what he and his wife might be cooking on the barbecue that night or how the Mariners were doing or when his next fishing trip might be or why that azalea didn’t look so healthy or ….

Maybe because I’m an overthinker, I find that I’m also fascinated with what other folks are thinking about.  So when he came in for a glass of water,  I asked him, “While you were out there all that time, what did you think about?”

Here’s the fantastical part.  He appeared momentarily confused, like maybe I’d changed my hair color or gotten a nose ring, and he said, “Nothing.  I wasn’t thinking about anything.  Why?”

To this day, I am still trying to reconcile that moment.  I don’t know if I’m envious or still in total disbelief.  How can you be doing something for 45 minutes – something monotonous and repetitive – and not have a single thought cross your mind?

It’s a complete mystery to me.


As I write this post, and overthink the process of overthinking, I have determined two avenues that lead to a moment (or if I’m lucky, several moments) of NOT thinking.

One avenue is through great sex.  If you’ve been fortunate enough, I don’t need to explain to you how your brain blissfully shuts down.  If you haven’t been fortunate enough, I’m pretty sure you, too, are an overthinker, but perhaps for different reasons.

The other way to achieve a state of not overthinking is a colonoscopy*.  The prep is much worse than the procedure, and afterwards, you are left with an attitude that is best described as: “I can’t make myself think about anything right now.” Or, the more obvious, “I don’t/can’t give a shit.”    Maybe it’s related to the total cleanse of it all.  More than likely, it’s about the drugs they give you.  At any rate, my kids even noticed how zen I was.  Just the other day, Jenny said, “Mom, remember how relaxed you were after your colonoscopy?”  Which, of course, led me to overthink that she might be suggesting that I’ve been a bit difficult to live with lately, and perhaps it’s time to schedule another procedure.

And that’s the hazard of overthinking.  It’s pretty easy to go from mountain to molehill in a matter of minutes, only to find yourself wondering why you’re standing in front of the freezer.


But where is the art in overthinking?


I once read about the thought processes of both sexes, because I probably needed something else to overthink about.

The writer suggested that a woman’s thoughts are like a plate of spaghetti where each noodle is intertwined with the next.  All her thoughts are connected in one way or another.  It may seem jumbled, and perhaps it is, but it all makes sense (to her) in some sort of warm, starchy, stuck-together sort of way.

The writer goes on to say that the thought process of a man is like a collection of boxes.  He thinks about something and, when he’s done, he puts it in a little box and then moves on to another box.  If he can’t do something about what’s in a particular box, he puts a lid on it and may or may not come back to it at a later date.  (Gasp!  I know!  Right?  For this particular overthinking female, it is virtually incomprehensible to think that I might be done thinking about something just because I can’t do anything about it.)

Therein lies the communication problem between males and females.


This is not to suggest that men do not overthink.  I’ve listened as they sort through the contents of each box.  I’ve also witnessed the shell game they play as they overthink and decide which boxes should have lids.


Anyway, I’ve noticed there is an art to analyzing my plate of spaghetti.  You see, in those quiet moments (in the shower) when I’m not answering questions, or looking in the back of the math book for solutions, or barking at someone for putting the lid on the coffee container, thereby leading me to believe that we aren’t out of coffee, when, in fact, there isn’t a gram of coffee left in the house, I rather enjoy discovering the interconnectedness of those strands of spaghetti.  Sorting out which thought led to which becomes a game.  Sometimes I get Jen to play the game with me.  I’ll say, “What made you think of that?”  And she’ll say, “Well, when you asked me why I painted my nails these colors, I thought of the Ravenclaw colors and then I thought of reading and then ….”  And we’re off and running.

Will is busily putting lids on his compartmentalized boxes during these conversations. He has yet to re-open the Math box.

At any rate, the art is in – after establishing the connection between each strand of spaghetti and being satisfied that everything is, indeed, connected – taking a deep breath and realizing that tomorrow is a new day full of lots more overthinking but that for right now, I can stop overthinking.   I can happily let my brain be free of spaghetti and enjoy the delicious quiet of a clean plate.


*After living with a narcissist, how bad can a colonoscopy be?

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  1. No real comment. Just – I love it! (Also, I often try to trace my thoughts backwards: “Why was I thinking xyz?”)

  2. This is so funny! Thanks a lot for this post! Now I don’t feel so bad anymore when I run down the stairs to the basement and then have no idea what I wanted to do there.

    There is one more important avenue that leads to not thinking: Music. Dancing to great music can be at least as good as great sex, I think.

  3. Pat,

    Jen and I do that all the time, and usually end up giggling. :)

  4. Jul,

    I’m glad this post made you laugh. :)

    Oh yes! Music is great for that. Except for when I have earbuds in while doing the dishes and I look up and see the kids staring at me because I’ve been singing loudly and off-key. Then the overthinking starts again …

  5. I find the best cure for overthinking is a very long walk with a dog. It clears the mind of unnecessary overthinking and if there’s something that needs to be focused on, it is clarified by the end of the walk. There’s actually some neuroscience behind that (this is your brain … this is your brain on exercise), but I prefer to give credit to the dog, whose happiness on a walk is pure and simple and contagious.

    This is a lovely piece and I so relate.

  6. The whole time I was reading this, I thought about how I can’t read anything without thinking about 5 other things. Then I dove into the types of things I think about all while enjoying this post. ;)

  7. That *last comment made me laugh.

  8. J. Doe,

    Thanks for being here.

    I’ve been keeping up to date on your recent posts. Absolutely heart wrenching. I admire your bravery in writing it all out.

  9. Z,

    Ha! I SO know what you mean. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    p.s. Do you ever have a notepad sitting next to you while you are reading, for jotting down all the stuff you’re thinking about, so you won’t forget what it was? Oh, nevermind…. I’m ten years older than you. ;)

  10. Hi Kate,

    You know we’ve come a long way when we can laugh at narcissism!

  11. OMG!! I laughed so much through this post!! Thank you Jesse! I also think you might have a grown-up version of WHEN YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE in your future writing repertoire. This made my day!!

    Have a wonderful Friday and weekend! :)

  12. Lynn,

    I LOVE those books! We have several. :)

    Hoping all is well in your world.

  13. Yes! I am over 40, ya know! Lists are a must and my desk is full of little post-its. I like the little ones so I can throw out that thought after I follow through. Some of them sit there a while… Haha. I have a rollerball for when the thoughts are too scattered or trapped. ;)

  14. Z,

    Tell me what’s in the rollerball. please. :)

  15. I don’t have it in front of me, but let’s see… Sandalwood, geranium, lime, frankincense, and lavender. It was complete intuition and what spoke to me at the moment. I love lemongrass (uplifts) and rosemary (memory, clears sinuses) too.

  16. Z,

    Jen and I have been having a blast with essential oils. Just put on some “Stress Relief” before sitting down to the computer. That’s my current favorite. Will, on the other hand, thinks essential oils are dumb. Because of that, Jen and I always put on extra drops of “Thieves” before the three of us get in our little car to go some where. He’s probably getting the benefits without even having to wear it. ;)

  17. Or at least you ward off boy germs! lol! My kids are sold. The oldest gets styes from time to time and tea tree plus lavender clear them up overnight. The youngest loves some lavender to sleep at night. My current testimony is for helichrysum hydrosol. It is that time when the trees are budding that my allergies are kicking. Evening primrose oil takes care of most of the congestion, but I wake up stuffy. Last night I sprayed my linens and face with the hydrosol before bed. Helichrysum is an excellent healer (I have a pimple, gah!), toner, wrinkle releaser and antihistamine. I wasn’t reaching for the other oils or benadryl this morning and I swear, my pimple is 75% gone! I don’t have wrinkles (ahem) so who knows if that helped…haha. My skin feels awesome today. Maybe you could win Will over with a manly scent like sandalwood or cedarwood. I made a great blend for my brother in law’s beard oil. Very woodsy, but uplifting too.

    I was almost correct before…mine has the first 4 listed and juniper berry, not lavender. Guess I need more rosemary…

  18. Z,

    After reading your comment, I reminded Will that he used to love to spray lavender on his pillow when he was young. I think that brought back fond memories, but he wouldn’t admit it. I looked up helichrysum. That stuff must be liquid gold.
    Thanks for clarifying on the lavender versus juniper berry.

    A couple nights ago I dreamt that I was getting ready to go on a plane. I went through customs and was waiting at the gate when I realized I’d forgotten my essential oil stash. I canceled my flight. I kid you not. (I wonder where I was going?)

  19. Sneak in his room and leave a little scent behind. He will secretly appreciate it. :)

    Helichrysum is also called immortelle…and I would say liquid gold! Still no benadryl and my face is completely clear. The hydrosol doesn’t smell the greatest (don’t really care when it works like this!), but I love the smell of the oil.

    LOL! I think I would cancel my flight for my oils too. ;)

  20. The reason men tend to think in “boxes” and are able to compartmentalize things and not care about them is because the TYPES of things that happen to men and the TYPES of things that happen to women are different.

    The things that happen to men simply aren’t as all encompassing adn confusing as the things that happen to women. Naturally women get tangled in their thoughts more.

    It isn’t because of a difference between male and female brains, but between male and female EXPERIENCES.

    And the reason that so many men are the promoters of the “men adn women think differently because of NATURE” theory is because MEN are so often the cause of those all encompassing and confusing experiences women must deal with. They don’t want to take responsibility for them and for the mental problems they cause women, so they say women’s “different brains” caused the confusion, because the other option is admitting that THEY caused it.

    Also, why are you saying that women “overthink” adn not that men “underthink”- why are men always the standard? Are men “neutral” and “default” and women “other”? Do tell.

  21. Hi Cass,

    Thanks for taking the time to read on the blog and leave a comment.

    I know some male INTJs who would pay good money for the opportunity to enjoy a few blissful moments of “underthinking.”

    The world would be a much better place if we learned to do the necessary hard work on ourselves instead of taking the convenient route of blaming all our issues on others.

    We blame our parents. We blame our kids. We blame the church or the school, or the barista who gets our day started off on the wrong foot because he hasn’t memorized our coffee order. We blame the narcissists, the HSPs, and anyone who doesn’t have the same MBTI that we do. We blame our employers, we blame the president, we blame the government and the mailman for not delivering our mail at the same time every day. We blame our medical community when we don’t feel well.

    We blame the weather for preventing us from enjoying a perfect day. We blame the networks for not providing our favorite programming. We blame social media for distracting us.

    And most of all, we blame the opposite sex.

    It’s high time we all put that wasted energy to good use and did the real work on ourselves.

    Take good care.

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