In Defence Of Thinking Too Much

Have you ever been told that you think too much? I know I have. It might be in the same ballpark of people’s judgments as that of being too sensitive, because they can often be found co-existing within us. Sensitivity provokes thinking, as well as feeling, and thinking can in turn lead to sensitivity of feeling.  And since many creative people by necessity use their thinking and feeling processes, I think this thinking too ‘much’ comes with the territory for creatives. But what is thinking too much? Too much for what, exactly?

Well what seems implied in the too, is that thinking excessively is bad for us (and the guy in the gif looks like he’s having a bad time for sure). We all know the dangers of overthinking something, only to find the actual doing far simpler than anticipated, and yes, we should be vigilant of that. But what I’m getting at here is that when someone accuses you of thinking too much, they are suggesting that you’re thinking too much for your own good. That you are harming yourself and your mental health with too much thinking. Where does it get you? is their subtext. What do you achieve by it? And that you are creating problems that don’t exist. Why would you do that? they think. You yourself may know that it’s what you think and how you think that matters. That it’s not a case of ‘I think, therefore I am’, but rather ‘I think, therefore I’m me’ and I’m not going to stop, thank you very much.

Let’s turn it around for a moment and imagine yourself saying ‘you think too much’ to someone else – someone who’s going into great depth, analysing a certain idea or situation or how they are feeling about something. How do you feel when you say these words? Well I would feel dismissive of what they were talking about or trying to describe. I would feel judgmental too. There could also be a defence mechanism or two going on, not wanting to be bothered by someone else’s questioning because you don’t want to question yourself. You may have reflected hard in the past and it only caused you pain and confusion, so you stopped because it became too difficult, and right now you’re fighting back with a bit of denial, repression, or projection. Or you may believe that life just has to be a simple case of being happy, not pestering yourself with problematical thoughts that get in the way of that, and if that means absorbing as truth everything you are meant to do in mainstream society to achieve a happy life, then you must do it. Chill out, for heaven’s sake, stop making too much of everything!

But what if you are a creative person who relies on thinking? If I hadn’t been a thinker, I’d never have written a novel or anything else I value and I certainly wouldn’t be doing this blog. Writers need to think, it’s in their job description. Music makers, art makers, all creative people use their heads and hearts, synchronising them in what can be a wonderful harmony. We have channels for all that thinking in a creative life, all that thinking can be put to good use. Not only that, all that thinking can be good for our development, to become a better person, a more self-empowered person. And that is a worthwhile aim that can lead to a deeper form of happiness, a kind of reconciled inner peace through acceptance of ourselves. But we have to tackle our thinking if we are to stand a chance of getting there. A case of no pain, no gain, which could almost be a natural law.

‘Life is difficult’ psychologist, Scott Peck, says in his opening line of The Road Less Travelled. And later on he points out that it’s absurd to tell people they think too much, when it is thinking that makes us human and that ‘the process of constant self-examination and contemplation is essential for ultimate survival.’ He goes on to say  ‘Examination of the world without is never as personally painful as examination of the world within…’ and that is why ‘the majority steer away from it.’ And yet the pain becomes less important as one progresses on the path of self examination and self development.  And as we go along this road less travelled we make constant adjustments to our values, our moral compasses and our life maps. We constantly evaluate, look at both sides of an argument, we go into the grey of things instead of simply seeing black and white, and we thereby develop empathy and increased understanding, we understand ourselves more and in doing so come to understand others. We carry on learning and carry on questioning. All this is the way it should be, otherwise we stagnate, we don’t grow, and we remain inflexible to the vicissitudes of life. If we don’t do this learning through thinking, we are, ironically perhaps, less likely to be able to go with the flow of life because we’re hanging on to fixed beliefs and set-in- concrete ways of judging life.

According to Jung:’ Thinking is difficult, that is why most people judge’, which in the above context makes a lot of sense.

‘The unexamined life is not worth living’, vowed Socrates. And here are some thoughts on what he may have meant by this from Wikipedia and Sparknotes . His claim would seem to suggest that ‘only in striving to come to know ourselves and to understand ourselves do our lives have any meaning or value. Socrates believed that philosophy – the love of wisdom – was the most important pursuit above all else. For some, he exemplifies, more than anyone else in history, the pursuit of wisdom through questioning and logical argument, by examining and by thinking. His ‘examination’ of life in this way spilled out into the lives of others, such that they began their own ‘examination’ of life, but he knew they would all die one day, as saying that a life without philosophy – an ‘unexamined’ life – was not worth living’.

And on the connections between thinking and creativity, here is an interesting article, by Mary Taylor who runs the Centre For Creative Intelligence, on The Highly Creative Person

Within it she comments, that the aptitudes of:

a rapid flow of ideas

divergent thinking

sharp sensory skills

strong intuition

high emotional intelligence

analytically–heightened consciousness (meaning clarity, accuracy and precision in thought and language)

Empathically–heightened consciousness (with an acute awareness and understanding of one’s own feelings as they occur and the ability to be highly attuned to the emotions of others, accompanied by an innate capacity to experience one’s emotional life to great depth along with a values-centered awareness)

Aptitudes which all contribute to creative intelligence – ‘a talent for making meaningful connections, even among seemingly unrelated elements and in so doing, bring forth new and valuable ideas, discoveries, inventions and works of art into one or more pre-existing or even new domains’.

 Now I’m not putting creative people on a pedestal here, I’m simply looking at what I feel are facts. So in that vein, I’m asking – how could we operate in any of the above ways if we didn’t do a lot of thinking?

 And for those of us who love to read, a nice quote from John Locke ( philospher and Enlightenment period thinker) : ‘Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.’ (As well as marking passages in the margins of course ;>))

And to finish, taking on board the issue of thinking too much, here is a great animation on The Dangers of Thinking Too Much; And Thinking Too Little, from The School Of Life, to balance things out:

‘There are dangers associated both with thinking too much – and thinking too little. The trick is to use our minds to access our most sincere, authentic and original thoughts.’ And the the transcript for the video can be found here

I’ll be taking a break from posting next week for my birthday, but I’ll be back with the topics of dealing with reviews for your literary endeavours, the good, the bad and the ugly. And after that I’ll be tackling marketing a novel – I’m far from being an expert, but I’ll share what I’ve gleaned so far.

Cheers for now!

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