Is “Overthinking” a Blessing or a Curse?
How I turned my excitable stream of consciousness into a daily devotional practice.
I used to think I had an overactive mind, like it was some kind of disorder. It just never seemed to turn off. One day after a particularly obnoxious amount of thinking, I googled overactive mind disorder. When no legitimate medical results popped up within the first page of search results, I breathed a sigh of relief.
With a clear prognosis, I perused the rest of the results and found I was in good company. Though I don’t share all their worries and concerns, the Google search returned hundreds of stories from people whose overactive minds made my excitable stream of consciousness seem mild.
Anyway, all of this is to say I over-think things. A lot. But when all I hear is my own voice repeating my own problems over and over, I have little space to hear God’s voice and the encouragement and direction he has for each day.
To help create margin in my cluttered mind and so I can better experience the presence of God throughout my day, I’ve developed some strategies:
1. Start each morning by “receiving the day.” This means turning my heart toward God, giving each day to him (Psalm 74:16), and receiving his agenda, with all its joys and frustrations, instead of obsessing over mine. What this looks like for me is sitting for one minute with my hands palms up and asking God to help me think the way he wants me to think today. I also take time whenever I’m doing something routine and frequent, such as washing my hands, to reopen my hands and my heart to God. Doing this helps me recenter my day around him who is before all things and in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).
2. Take a break from music and other media. Instead of distracting myself from life as I go from one thing to another, I now use my driving time to transition and process in silence. I turn off the radio and pray about what I’m driving to—whether it’s about being sensitive to the friend I’m meeting or something else. Sure, I’m not up to date on the top 40 hits, but is that such a bad thing? The silence has helped me create space to notice beautiful things as I drive around town and it helps me hear God better.
3. Look at the sky at least once a day. This handy tip comes from Mma Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. She’s a fictional detective living in Botswana who has surprisingly deep insights into life. She often takes time to look at the endless skies in Botswana as she thinks about life and the cases she must solve. I started noticing the sky a lot more as I read these books last summer, and I realized there is something humbling and quieting about looking outside your world and worries to the beauty of the sky.
4. Set a physical boundary to stop thinking about work. A friend told me a rule her dad made for himself: he would stop thinking about work when he passed the bridge on his commute home. Brilliant! I do the same thing. Now on my way home, once I turn onto a specific street, I can’t think about work any longer. Work worries try to sneak back in within 10 seconds, but I say aloud to myself, “You can’t think about work anymore because you’re not on Geneva road.” Some days I have to remind myself four or five times on my 10 minute commute—sad, I know—but I’m thankful for the peace that eventually comes from this discipline.
5. Turn off the TV, computer, iPad, and smartphone at least an hour before bed. Although this may seem like a no-brainer, it is surprisingly easy to entertain or inform myself right up to the time I need to go to bed. And then I’m surprised that my mind is racing as I try to fall asleep! Well, there’s research that shows screen time before bed interferes with sleep. If research proves it, then I’ll put my information addiction on hold. This time has now turned into my daily quiet time. I thank God for his strength during that day, and I ask for his continued strength not to dissect and overanalyze it. I often remember this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” And then I move on to spending time with the God I love.
These five things have helped me create space in my mind and heart for God—he is with me! I want to be aware of his presence and delight in it, instead of getting lost in the maze of my mind.
What has helped you with worry, over-thinking, and practicing the presence of God?