Is it really possible to think too much?

Posted: 6 January, 2014 in Random thoughts
Tags: , , ,

thinking wordle

Why is it said that someone thinks too much? Or that someone “over-thinks” things? How is that possible? I love thinking. I am inspired when a new thought comes about after meditating on a book, article or conversation. When a new way of doing some task comes about because I’ve thought about it for a couple of days, I’m excited.

I have been told on occasion that I “think too much” and I’m instantly 10 years old again, being reprimanded for something I shouldn’t be doing. I know it’s meant as an insult or a put-down, but why?

The most common source of this statement is during theological debates with friends or family. As the saying goes, the only two subjects to avoid at a dinner party are politics and religion. But as this is a major theme of my book I like to ask questions – lots of questions – and I don’t mind if the person I’m speaking with doesn’t have the answers. What does worry me is that many people feel if they don’t have the answer it’s my fault for asking the question in the first place. This brings out the “you think too much” slur every time. Not finding the answer just gives me something else to think about, and I love it!

Regardless of the topic being discussed you know the conversation is over when someone says, “You think too much!” It’s their cue to walk away and it’s your cue to start thinking about why they said that.

I’m more annoyed with people who don’t think at all. I’m forever being asked at work how to do something on the computer or where to find an address or some other trivial piece of information. Many young people I’ve worked with don’t know how to think for themselves these days. They’re so used to being able to type a question into a search engine and being given an instant response, that putting in any kind of effort to think the problem through themselves doesn’t even occur to them.

The wonderful writer Martin Gardner said Einstein, sitting alone and thinking, changed the world more than any politician (Undiluted Hocus-Pocus). Where would we be today without the great thinkers of the world – philosophers, scientists, engineers – who all started with a thought, followed by another thought, then another?

It reminds me of a story that was shared on A Word a Day this week (AWADmail Issue 601):

… in Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, … he describes an adult working with a group of kids on tree identification. They were trying to figure out if the trees they were looking at met the criterion for diameter, so the adult gave them a tape and told them to go measure. They quickly realized they couldn’t get a diameter without cutting down the trees. This led to the fundamental question: “How many diameters in a circumference?” — and then a series of experiments, first estimating by eye, then laying out circles on the ground and measuring, then trying to determine exactly how many diameters fit into a circle. “At that point, these five kids, ranging in age from nine to twelve, were within two one hundredths of discovering pi, and I was having a hard time containing myself.”

It’s amazing what we can achieve when we think about it.

We need to put some thought into everything we do to do it successfully. Some of us need to think a lot, others can get the answer relatively quickly. It doesn’t matter as long how long it takes – thinking is not a bad thing.

The only time I can think of when thinking too much can be a problem, is if the act of thinking replaces the act of doing. Procrastinators are great thinkers. And I should know, I’m one of the best procrastinators alive today. But, having thought about it some more, I don’t think there is anything wrong with thinking, and I really don’t see thinking “too much” as possible, let alone something to be criticised for.


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