“We are dying from overthinking. We are slowly killing ourselves by thinking about everything. Think. Think. Think. You can never trust the human mind anyway. It’s a death trap.” –Anthony Hopkins
Over-thinking seems to be the way of life for many of us. Imagine my introduction at a 12-step meeting for Over Thinkers Anonymous. “I’m Kathleen, I’m an over thinker.” Those in the room welcome me, knowing that we are at the mercy of our thoughts. You can almost hear the estimated 1 to 10 million neurons firing in the brain—in one brain—as thoughts begin to form words. Imagine what’s firing in the brains around you. Suddenly, the well-intentioned meeting turns into a noisy riot of thoughts, but the room is eerily silent.
National Science Foundation, 2005, “The average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before and about 80% are negative.”
When I was in ministry studies I created an exercise to help me hear and address the negative voices in my head. I had recently been diagnosed with an undetermined type of arthritis. The painful inflammation would roam from joint to joint. With each flare up would come a new voice of fear. For the exercise, I wrote down on several notecards a variety of real thoughts I was having at the time. Here are a few of the negative/limiting thoughts.
Arthritis will make you disabled.
Your hands and feet will become gnarly.
You won’t be able to work.
You’ll go bankrupt.
Constant pain is your destiny.
Arthritis isn’t sexy, so you’re not sexy.
No one will help you.
You’ll fade away and die alone.
Reviewing this list, made some 30 years ago, still brings a wee punch to my gut and a tear to my eye. I was thinking and re-thinking and over-thinking those thoughts, over and over and over again. My life wouldn’t change until I changed that stinkin’ thinkin’.
After writing the limiting thoughts on note cards, I passed them out to my fellow ministry students. They gathered in a circle around me, prepared to speak the words aloud so I could hear them. Standing in the center, my task was to listen. To hear, coming from outside of me, what had been churning in my thinking brain. The individuals, one at a time, read aloud my thoughts.
For the first round I asked them to speak neutrally, as if stating a fact.
My thoughts: Oh, so that’s what it sounds like. I can feel it dragging me down.
For the second round I invited them to color their words with tones of judgment and shaming.
My thoughts: Ouch! These people are being mean to me. Why would they do that? I’m a good person.
For the third round I asked the readers to get louder and louder. I asked the speakers to read over each other, creating a symphonic cacophony of gloom and doom. Even anger.
My thoughts: Okay already, I hear you. Stop it. This hurts.
As the readers’ voices became over-powering, I forced myself to turn around in the center and look at every person. They got louder until they heard me shout, “STOP!!!” The immediate silence we deafening, but I could hear my own heart beating.
Slowly, I went from person to person, looking them directly in the eye. I told them the Truth about me. The readers were to listen and not give me back the note card until they really believed me.
I am whole, healthy & complete.
My hands and feet work perfectly.
I can ask for help.
I am prosperous beyond measure.
Pain, you can visit, but not stay.
My sexiness is more than my aching joints.
I have a wonderful support system.
I am alive. I am awake. I am the holy one, forever and ever.
I have since done this exercise with a few of my mentoring clients. In essence we are addressing the voice of the archetypal Saboteur. It rules our thinking, if we allow it. My advice is to invite in those voices. To hear them and then put them in their proper places. When they re-emerge, I now have the tools to address it in the moment. I even have a song I sing when I first become aware of a limiting thought. “Hey, old thought, I got along without you before I met you, gonna get along without you know.”