Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I’m So Over Overthinking It

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Lao Tzu said that the journey of a thousand miles starts beneath your feet. And that’s a line that’s been resonating with me for the duration of this week, because basically what Lao Tzu is saying is that in order to get something done, you need to get off your butt thinking about it, and start working to get it done.

Overthinking, by 4Degrees over on Deviant Art

That’s right boys and girls. My personal theme for this week is overthinking. Which, to me, is a paradox; in a world that prizes the ability of homo sapiens to actively think, here we have their prized skill actually working as a detrimental force—see what I did there—in the day-to-day activities of your average Juan.

I just finished re-reading this book by Patrick Suskind, acclaimed author of Perfume – The Story of a Murderer. The book I just re-read, The Pigeon, is a very short novella on how overthinking can utterly destroy a man. In it, the protagonist, Jonathan Noel, a fifty-something man who has lived a largely uneventful life as a security guard of a small bank, is perturbed out of his wits by the appearance of a vile, demonic looking pigeon outside the door of his rented room.

By all accounts, this pigeon probably looked like your average bird; dirty white, albino eyes, and jerky neck. But for Jonathan Noel, this pigeon was the very embodiment of a glitch in the matrix of his life. Because of his encounter with the pigeon, he could not leave his room immediately, out of fear for the blasted bird. When he does so, he decides to bring along an overnight bag with clothes inside, intending to spend the night elsewhere—all for the fear of a pigeon! Jonathan is a nervous wreck throughout the entire day, standing ill at ease throughout his shift at the bank—a post he had, for the past decades, held without perturberance or even a slight second thought. During his lunch hour, he accidentally tears his pants while in a hurry to get away from a hobo who, from all accounts, was asleep on a bench in the park, and wasn’t disturbing him at all. And, at the climax of the story, he stands on his post, delivering mental anguish and destruction to the restaurant across the street,to the waiters, customers, and even to the people in his bank.

In effect, for the duration of the afternoon, Jonathan Noel mentally destroys the world. All over the fear of a pigeon.

I won’t tell you how the story resolves—it’s best to go look for it online or in your favorite book store. It’s a beautiful book, easily one of my favorites. But the point is, overthinking is what started to destroy Jonathan Noel’s life. Overthinking about the incidental appearance of a pigeon on his doorstep. Such a simple thing upended years and years of routine in a man who had the rest of his life figured out. And if you think that that’s absurd, then let me tell you, it isn’t. How many times have you lost sleep because of a bill you left unpaid? How many work hours have you lost because your co-worker’s habits are irritating you? And how many opportunities have you missed because you overthought about the possibilities—of which, as with everything, there are endless?

So make a mental decision right now. Where you are. Right on that chair. Make a decision to change your life. Take that step to freeing yourself from the shackles of your mind, and kick overthinking to the curb. It isn’t worth it, apex of evolution be damned.

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