Compulsive Thinking

If you are an analytical person like me, you think a lot. You are compulsively problem-solving, analyzing, plotting, ideating, imagining, what-if-ing, and worrying. You even pride yourself on being a thinker. 

This is undeniably useful, sometimes. You may come up with good ideas that can make your life better. You may proactively anticipate problems and avoid them.  

But compulsive thinking comes at a significant cost. 

The cost of not being at peace or enjoying the present. The cost of moving through time and space without paying attention to the mystery and beauty around us. The cost of being a slave to the finicky, obsessive, and paranoid mind. 

The cost of not living. 

The thinking that's trying to help us survive is taking over and not letting us be alive

Alan Watts said, "A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. So, he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions. I'm not saying that thinking is bad. Like everything else, it's useful in moderation. A good servant but a bad monster. "

Echart Tolle said more succinctly, "Enlightenment is the space between thoughts."

Techniques to go from Compulsive thinking to Deliberate thinking

1. Awareness

Pause every once in a while to become aware of what you are thinking and observe the chaos. 

Naval Ravikant said, "...your mind is like a monkey that's flinging feces, running around the room making trouble, shouting, breaking things. It's completely uncontrollable. It's an out-of-control mad person and you have to see this mad creature in operation before you feel a certain distaste towards it and you start separating yourself from it."

Osho wisely suggests, "Don't fight – because who will fight? Who are you? Just a thought, so don't make yourself a battleground of one thought fighting another. Rather be a witness, you just watch thoughts floating. They stop, but not by your stopping. They stop by your becoming more aware, not by any effort on your part to stop them."

2. Choosing

Once you increase your awareness, you will develop the ability to pause and choose. Catch and ask yourself - is thought really required now, or would I rather be present in the moment? 

A lot of the time, the answer is no. Sometimes, the answer is yes, and I take some time to think about it. Sometimes, the answer is not right now but later, and I note it to revisit during a delbirate slot and that puts my mind at ease. 

3. Deliberate thinking slots 

When you meet with others, you have specific time slots to meet. You don't let everyone blabber anything to you anytime. 

Do the same with your mind. Reserve some recurring thinking slots in your calendar and additional time slots as needed. Wrap your workdays and work weeks with these slots tied in a bow and actions planned for the next day or week. 

4. Grounding

Ground yourself more in the physical world. Walk and be in nature; play games and sports that require you to be present, like climbing, biking, Jiu Jitsu, and art; listen to music and dance, immerse yourself in conversations; spend time with children; avoid too much screen time. 

5. Satisficing instead of a maximizing

If you aim for perfection or the best answer, you are stuck forever, as there's no end. For most things in life, pick the answer that fits the criteria and move forward. Trust in nature - you are here in a mysterious world, and your life and experience are a product of all the forces of the universe. 

6. What-next instead of what-ifs and Oh-nos. 

We spend a lot of time dwelling on the past and what's not in our control - feeling sad, guilty, resentful, etc. If we choose to focus just on what's in our circle of influence, instead of dwelling on the past, we eliminate a lot of that thinking, which is usually unproductive.

7. Eliminating outside noise

We live in a noisy world of 24X7 news, social media, and opinions. Most of it is useless, but they are designed to catch your attention, get you addicted, occupy your mind, and influence your life. Be very deliberate about which media you choose to consume. Eliminate most. I have opted for weekly printed news magazines (like the Economist) and email digests of social media (through mailbrew), rather than 24X7 bombardment as I don't need it.