Imagine that you have to make an important decision in your life: what career to study, where to buy a house, to end a relationship, to have children or not. What is your attitude towards this decision making? Are you one of those who think about it for a few days and then venture out hoping for the best? Or are you one of those who spend months analyzing, gathering information, asking questions, reflecting and spending sleepless nights before announcing your final choice?

Although we have been taught that we have to have moderation before making decisions, falling into the extreme is not always good and the disadvantages of thinking too much can fall on us , leaving us to be stuck in inaction.

Disadvantages of overthinking

Being analytical and reflective is helpful in decision making. People with these characteristics usually have the quality to visualize different possible scenarios; but when these qualities become excessive the disadvantages of thinking too much become present. These are the main ones.

1. Distress

Thinking too much causes a build-up of worries. After a new thought, a new anguish appears . However, these thoughts and anxieties are only in the imagination, they are possible circumstances that will occur if X or Y happens but they do not yet exist in reality and even so they have already generated fear for what could happen.

Prospecting all possible scenarios around a situation can be useful and helps to get a glimpse of the big picture and take action accordingly. The problem is that each situation can generate a concern that becomes overwhelming.

2. Excessive concern for the future

Should I choose to study medicine or law? If I choose medicine, I should consider that I will spend many years in school and may end up not finding a job and being alone because I will not have had time to live with friends and meet someone to marry; or I may become a successful doctor and make a lot of money, but then I will have to think about moving to another city and that may take me away from my loved ones. If on the other hand I am inclined to study law, it could happen that I get involved in dangerous matters while practicing my career or that I can do social work and help people in need, but then I will not have money to survive and have a family.

In the end it is very likely that you will have to decide for one career or the other, but having imagined everything that can happen already permeated the mood filling us with doubts and worries . Even if one chooses a different career, there will still be over-dimensioned doubts and fears because of having spent too much time thinking about what might happen.

For this reason, all the concerns that are generated during the thorough analysis of a situation shape one of the disadvantages of thinking too much that people with these characteristics can face: the difficulty to put a limit to the forecasts.

3. Falling into inaction or “analysis paralysis”

As we have seen, there are decisions that have “shelf life”. There comes a time when you have to choose. When a person who thinks too much faces that moment, he may be inclined to make one of the many choices he has thought about, and even with doubt or fear or torment about whether it will be the best choice, he will have to make a determination in the end.

But there are situations that do not require a specific date or time to act. There is no external social pressure, and even if there is, it can somehow be postponed . Even situations in which it is precisely analysed whether or not to take action. In these cases, decision making can be extended as infinite scenarios and concerns and anguish over what may happen appear.

It is in this inaction that creative, family and professional projects are truncated . That business that excites us but we are not sure it works, we leave it suspended in the form of hypothesis, and we get lost in vague ideas that we think and think without reaching anything. The journey that we have dreamed of for years but do not know if we will be able to carry out. Moving to that city or country that always gives us hope and where we have been offered work but where we are not sure that we will be able to adapt…

While action must be accompanied by reflection, we must be very careful not to fall into the disadvantages of thinking too much that leave us paralyzed and inactive.

For these reasons we must understand that setting up plans is only one phase of the process, and stopping there too long can bring more frustration and anguish than the satisfaction of giving action to our thoughts to make way for the learning and experience that carrying out our plans gives us.

4. Perfectionism and exacerbated self-demand

It is also good to recognize that thinking too much is also good. It is useful for the planning phase of any project, it is enriching in the debate of ideas, in the structuring of critical thinking, the analysis of proposals… obviously in the elaboration of hypotheses and research and in everyday life itself to have a wide panorama of possible scenarios, it is helpful in decision making.

The problem of thinking too much is when this is combined with fear, perfectionism and self-demanding , leaving us unable to make a choice and postponing it for no other reason than “I’m still thinking about it” because there is no date that will allow us to have a result. In addition, excessive perfectionism can significantly damage self-esteem.

Bibliographic references:

  • Hewitt, J.P. (2009). Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press.