On overthinking things

Recently I heard someone who was struggling to ferret out a solution to some problem being softly rebuked by a listener with a well intended, 
“Stop overthinking it!”
I have had this polite suggestion leveled at me from time to time.

Here’s the thing, Thomas Edison did a lot of thinking during the 14 months he took to develop the electric lightbulb. Similarly, a lot of thinking was done by Orville Wright, Leonardo DaVinci, Albert Einstein and innumerable other problem-solvers throughout history. 

Overthinking is different from problem-solving. Problem-solving involves thinking about a solution. 

According to official definitions, overthinking is synonymous with over-anxious worrying. Overthinkers dwell on the problem or how bad they feel. They think about all the things they have no control over. Overthinking doesn't help a person develop new insight. 

Overthinking is also different from self-reflection. Healthy introspection is about learning something about yourself or gaining a new perspective about a situation. It's purposeful.

With problem-solving, self-reflection, and overthinking it isn't about the amount of time spent in purposeful contemplation. Time spent developing creative solutions or learning from past behavior is productive. But time spent overthinking, whether it's 10 minutes or 10 hours, won't enhance anyone's life.

Making snap decisions is also not the best way to address problems. A quick choice made with little or no consideration may be necessary in an emergency or under an urgent time constraint, but lasting solutions take more thought.

Effective problem-solving is neither overthinking nor making snap decisions. It is also not abdicating the decision making process to others. Problem-solving is simply the byproduct of plain old thinking. 

Perhaps the next time I'm told "Your're overthinking it," I’ll respond with a “No, I’m just thinking it over.”

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