OVER-THINKING NEEDS SOME DISCIPLINE
Dr Suhaib Ashraf Bhat
Whatever you hold in your mind on a consistent basis is exactly what you will experience in your life. This is something that the world’s most successful people realize – and the only difference between them and everyone else is that they are able to harness the power of thoughts to help them achieve. They’ve learned how to stop overthinking and start taking action.
The good news is that you weren’t born an over-thinker. Overthinking is the result of one fact of human existence: we all have patterns to our behaviour. These patterns, good and bad, develop over time based on life experiences. And just as patterns are learned, they can also be unlearned.
Overthinking is simply what its name suggests – thinking too much. Overthinking is going over the same thought again and again, analysing the simplest of situations or events until all sense of proportion has gone. The overthinking brain cannot translate these thoughts into actions or positive outcomes, so therefore creates feelings of stress and anxiety.
Surely we all overthink to some extent? As parents, sons or daughters, employees or business people, worrying about things is linked to caring about our loved ones, and about doing a good job.
However, people who really struggle with overthinking tend to be “ruminators”, going over events that have already happened. Plain old worrying tends to be about the future: can I meet this deadline? Can I find a nice residential flat for my mum? Often, our worries help us move forwards as we are working out how to mitigate them; however overthinking tends to be passive rather than active, dwelling on past events and building up disproportionately negative future results.
Take this scenario. You accidentally call your new boss by the wrong name. What do you think and feel when you realise this later?
The average worrier will feel mildly embarrassed, plan to apologise with some self-deprecating comment the next day, then forget about it and make dinner. The over-thinker will replay this error over and over, while rewriting different outcomes. By four in the morning, he or she will be mentally creating scenarios of being passed over for future promotions, or even chosen for redundancy. The incident has triggered big questions in the overthinking mind, which blow the whole event way out of proportion.
There was a question from a married couple, we think about every little thing and we worry a great deal. This is affecting our worship too; all the time we think about the worries and problems that we are going through. Is there any solution to this?
YES, FOR EVERY PROBLEM THERE IS ALWAYS A SOLUTION.
1 –Thinking about the matters of our daily lives, and our private and public affairs is something that is essential and important, it is necessary in order for us to deal with these matters and benefit from them in the appropriate manner. The Qur’aan – which is the word of Allah swt – urges us to think, in more than one verse, for example:
“…and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying): Our Lord! You have not created (all) this without purpose…” [Aal ‘Imraan 3:191]
“And on the earth are signs for those who have Faith with certainty.
And also in your ownselves. Will you not then see?” [al-Dhaariyaat 51:20-21]
“Will you not then take thought?” [al-An’aam 6:50]
“Have you then no understanding?”[al-Baqarah 2:76]
And there are other verses which encourage us to think about our affairs and indeed about the life and creation around us.
So thinking in and of itself is not a problem, rather it is required, important and essential, and it is enjoined by our religion and encouraged by our Qur’aan.
2 – This “thinking” may become a psychological or social problem if it prevents a person from playing his natural role that is expected of him in life.
Such as thinking that things are more serious than they really are, or thinking too much about matters where thinking about them will not change anything at all, rather that only causes distress and becomes an obstacle prevents one from taking any initiative, and make him hesitant and confused, and unable to take any decision.
Thinking may become a problem in if it makes a person go beyond his intellectual limits in thinking about matters of the unseen and things that he can never comprehend, which may open many doors for the accursed Shaytaan to influence him.
3 – With regard to thinking a great deal about everything and worrying about every problem, this is to some extent a natural thing, so long as it does not prevent you from living your lives in a natural manner. What I mean here is, is this thinking helping you to come up with solutions to these problems that you are facing? Do these situations deserve all the time that you are spending on thinking about them? If the answer is yes, then there is no problem! But if the answer is no, then you yourself are admitting that they do not warrant that, and then you are halfway to solving the problem, which is to identify the problem and take a decision concerning it. Because when we know what the problem is, it is easy for us to find the right way of dealing with it.
4 – Overcoming these problems needs some discipline and some time. You can make the decision to start and you are able, with the help and support of Allah swt, to do that. You have to trust yourselves in this regard!
5 – Concerns and problems fall into three categories or levels:
1. Concerns and problems that have a direct impact upon your married and social lives in a serious manner that may lead to breakdown in relationships. These must be given their due measure of objective thought and you should try to reach an agreement and settle the matter. They should not be ignored for so long that it becomes too difficult to deal with them.
2. The second level is concerns or problems in which the positive and negative aspects are equal and in which you are involved. In these cases you should pray istikhaarah to Allah swt, and it is o.k. to consult others concerning them and to weigh up alternatives, then decide what you think is the solution, without going to extremes in worrying about it.
3. The third level is concerns and worries that do not concern you at all, because they have to do with other people. It is better not to get involved in them and waste your time with them, because they simply do not concern you and your opinion does not matter.
6 – The concerns and matters of our daily lives inevitably fall into one of three categories:
1. Matters which are in the past and are over and done with. We should not worry about these too much, except to the extent from which we can learn from our mistakes and experiences when dealing with things in the future. The past cannot come back and there is no need to worry about things that are over and done with.
2. Matters which lay ahead in the future. It is more appropriate not to think about these a great deal before they happen, because the future is part of the unseen, and all that we have to do in this case is to examine the choices we have in this matter if it comes to pass. When the time comes, we have to put our trust in Allah swt and take a decision.
3. Matters of day-to-day life. This is where we attempt to weigh up all the available alternatives, and it is o.k. to consult others with regard to these things and to exchange ideas without going to extremes or worrying too much. In the end, things will turn out as we hope, by Allah swt’s leave, so long as we pursue the means of praying istikhaarah and consulting others, and good lies in that which is chosen by Allah swt.
Like many traits of anxiety and depression, overthinking actually comes from one of our primitive preservation instincts. The primitive mind will always see things from the worst possible perspective. This is because the brain is being hyper-vigilant, trying to keep us alive – there’s no sense in being optimistic about those sabre-toothed tigers I’ve mentioned above!
On its own, overthinking isn’t recognized as a mental disorder. However, overthinking symptoms often indicate that another mental disorder is present, such as depression or anxiety. Even then it can become a “which came first?” scenario: Is overthinking a symptom of anxiety, or does anxiety cause overthinking? The important thing to know is that even if overthinking isn’t a mental disorder, it can have negative effects on your life and needs to be addressed.
Conclusion: LIVE IN THE MOMENT.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org