I’m planning a trip to Spain. I’ve been wanting to go for years and years. But I don’t just buy a ticket and go. I start thinking. That’s when the research starts. And the endless things to consider.
When would be the best time to go?
What will the weather be like in each region I plan to visit?
What will I wear?
What do people in Spain wear?
Will my shoes be comfortable enough for lots of walking?
How will I deal with an overnight flight and jet lag?
And on, and on, and on.
My overthinking isn’t limited to planning trips. A few years ago, when I was dating, I remember talking to an extroverted friend about a guy I had gone on a few dates with. I had so many concerns. I analyzed every little thing he did. Looked for hidden clues in his words like a detective. Imagined what our life together would be like in 20 years. What our children would be like. Our home. My happiness. Would I have any regrets?
My extroverted friend just laughed. “You don’t have to figure everything out right now!” she said. If I was having fun, I should keep seeing him and not think too much about it, she advised.
But my introverted mind doesn’t work like that. Like a massive connect the dots puzzle, my brain links everything to everything else. I want to make sure that I’m not missing any facts. That I’ve considered all the possibilities. That I’m making the absolute best decision possible with the information I have. And I can always find more information — another data point to consider, another article to read, another personal reaction to analyze.
Because of reactions like the one from my extroverted friend, I often don’t let on just how much I’m overthinking things. People don’t want to know. They run out of patience listening to your concerns, and they make you feel like a weirdo for caring so much. It’s not cool to overthink; you’re supposed to live for the moment and just do. So in the end, I usually just shut up.
Oh, how I’ve wanted to be that person who just throws things in a suitcase and goes.
Why Introverts Might Overthink Things
The reason we introverts “overthink” may come down to the level of activity in our brains. According to Dr. Laurie Helgoe, researchers mapped electrical activity in the brains of both introverts and extroverts. The introverts had higher levels of electrical activity than the extroverts, indicating that the introverts had greater cortical arousal. “Cortical” refers to the outer layer of the cerebrum, which is the part of the brain that integrates complex sensory and neural functions, as well as coordinates voluntary activity in the body. Many now consider these differences in the brain to be essential to the definition of an introvert.
According to the research, it didn’t matter whether the introverts were in a resting state or engaged in a task — they all showed more brain activity than the extroverts. This means introverts may process more information than extroverts per second, which helps explain why introverts may be prone to overthinking.
Similarly, explains Helgoe, neuroimaging studies found that in introverts’ brains, activation is centered in the frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for remembering, planning, decision making, and problem solving. These are, of course, activities that require turning one’s focus and attention inward, as introverts are known to do — and they are activities related to overthinking. Introverts’ brains also showed increased blood flow in Broca’s area. This region of the brain is associated with speech production, which is likely responsible for self-talk — again, something that happens during overthinking.
Is Overthinking Always Bad?
We always talk about overthinking like it’s a bad thing. And in many cases, it is. Overthinking can lead to worry and anxiety. It can keep us rooted in fear, indecision, and doubt. It may even prevent us from moving forward with our lives. Imagine if I refused to buy a ticket to Spain until I waited for the absolute perfect moment to take time off work. I would probably still be waiting, never finding a time that is “perfect” enough.
But I also believe that overthinking can be an introvert’s super power. If I didn’t “overthink” things — like my writing, for example — I would throw anything on the page, without taking the time to research, edit, and proofread. A lack of overthinking probably wouldn’t have resulted in the creation of this website, or have led to my first book.
If I didn’t “overthink” things, I may have ended up in a romantic relationship with someone who wasn’t right for me. Overthinking also usually makes me become an expert on the topic I’m overthinking about (because I do so much research on it), whether it’s introversion, jet lag, or women’s comfort shoe brands.
I believe it’s all about balance — about knowing when to lean into your introverted overthinking tendencies and when to pull back. If overthinking is causing you fear, anxiety, sadness, or stagnation, it’s time to pull back.
When I find myself battling unproductive overthinking, I do something that will “change the channel” in my mind, like going for a walk, listening to music, talking to someone, or just forcing myself to do any different activity than the one I’m currently doing. When you’re obsessing, it’s all about getting the powerful engine of your mind to start chugging down a different track.
Introverts, you have powerful minds. “Overthinking,” when used the right way, can be one of your greatest assets.
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Learn more: The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, by Jenn Granneman
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