Long ago, someone I worked with talked me into learning to play golf. I had never played before, but seeing golfers teeing off in the early morning sunlight when I drove by the park made me think it would be a lovely, calming sport to try. Little did I know that golf has practically nothing to do with enjoying the dew on the grass or walking leisurely amid a stand of eucalyptus trees to the next hole. It turns out that golf is actually a complex sport that requires one to think about at least 10 things simultaneously. For a person like me, a master over-thinker, there is nothing about this that could be considered relaxing.
My penchant for rumination is an honest byproduct of a family frequently on the verge of chaos, but that was more than half a century ago. You’d think I might have loosened up a little since I was 8 or 10, maybe even learned to just let the chips fall where they may. And believe me, I try. One of my favorite forays into meditation was when I read that it was perfectly all right to let myself think whatever I wanted to think. “Amazing,” I mused. “That’s exactly what I’ve been looking for." And then I read the next part: “Let your thoughts come, but then just notice them and let them go.” Wow. Letting thoughts go is not in my wheelhouse.
No amount of overthinking actually does anything but wear me out.
I often call Jodi at work to suggest an activity for a day so far in the future (for her) that she has to control both her laughter and her irritation before she says in the nicest voice possible, “Oh gosh, Honey, I haven’t had a chance to think that far ahead.” I appreciate her ability to have created this response because the first few times I approached her with an idea about the future, she was so dumbfounded that she wasn’t quite as gracious. It was also the first time I fully realized that not everyone feels the need to continually review everything they’ve ever said or done or might ever say or do.
Despite knowing how annoying my cogitations can be to others, I drive myself much crazier with this overthinking than I do anyone else. In fact, I think most people are the fortunate beneficiaries of my ability and willingness to consider all possible outcomes of an upcoming activity. Not only do they not have to do this much thinking about what could happen, but I also provide a free list of reactions, plans, and defenses no matter what occurs.
One of my favorite quotes goes like this: “If you’re thinking about the future, you’re making things up.” This resonates with me because, over the years, I have created a multi-volume encyclopedia of potential scenarios in my head. I have replayed so many possible (but not probable) situations that I am sometimes not sure if these events have actually happened or not. If you’re not like this, you may not be aware that this is also an exhausting way to live. You can’t enjoy this moment because you’re processing that one that hasn’t yet happened, but could—any minute.
I learned to plan for the future because I didn’t want to be caught off-guard. I wanted to feel that I was going to be relatively safe no matter what was going on around me. Naturally, this method only works in my own head, of course, because no amount of overthinking actually does anything but wear me out.
Many years after that set of golf lessons I took, I went to a golf course with a friend and we just played. As anyone can imagine, playing is the opposite of overthinking, but we did it anyway. Of course I golfed better than I ever had during my lessons, when I was trying to keep my eye on the ball and my hips facing the right direction and my hands in just the right spot as I gripped the club. It was so much fun to just play the game that I try to remember that sometimes when I’m reviewing my next week of activities and asking myself if there’s anything I should be doing to prepare. I wish my immediate response was always a resounding, “Just show up and be present and trust the universe.” On some level I know it’s the answer to everything.