What is the difference between thinking and overthinking? What are their markers, and when does thinking turn into overthinking?

Jay Shetty debated this topic with his friend, Humble the Poet. It was a fruitful conversation, which led to this episode’s topic.

It happens way too often that we find ourselves overthinking and overanalyzing. As a consequence, we can experience brain fog or feel cloudy.

Information Consumption

One study showed that in today’s world, one person processes as much as 74 GB of information.1 This amount easily equals about sixteen movies.

In the internet era, we get bombarded nonstop by information, data, images, and notifications. As content creation and consumption skyrocket, our brain needs to make sense of all the data coming its way.

Jay Shetty warns that we need to be as careful about what we let inside our brains as when we allow someone to enter our home. 

Making Sense of the Chaos

More doesn’t mean better. We are currently exposed to so much information that our brain tends to make sense of everything, including poor-quality data.

In Jay Shetty’s words, “We’re now having to make sense of stuff that may not even make sense in the first place, or may not be valid enough to make sense of, and that creates a lot of stress, a lot of pressure, a lot of tension.”

If you feel like it’s hard to catch up with all the content out there, you need to cut yourself some slack, he continued. It is natural to feel overwhelmed because of the rate of overconsumption.

Moreover, Jay Shetty recalled feeling depleted of energy while he lived in New York. The city has a multitude of distractions, primarily visual and auditory. As a result, his brain was constantly trying to make sense of a partially senseless amalgam of data. Because this thinking process took a lot of energy, he frequently felt tired.

Overthinking and Time

Humble the Poet shared with Jay Shetty an interesting conversation he had with his therapist. The gist was that the main difference between thinking and overthinking was time.

Depending on the complexity of a task, we need more or less time to think about it and develop a strategy leading to execution. However, it often happens that the amount of preparation necessary and the time we think about the task are widely disproportionate.

Jay Shetty gave his recent book, The 8 Rules of Love, as an example. Because it was a complex task that needed thorough research, he spent a couple of years thinking about it before launching it. According to him, thinking about the job or content makes a difference.

He suggested looking at the scale of the task when making a plan. Then, work out the scope of the time based on the task’s size. And finally, the more challenging the job, the more time you should allow for its completion.

As he said, “When it comes to time, scheduled time makes it thinking; unscheduled time can make it overthinking.”

Action vs. Inaction

A second differentiation between thinking and overthinking is action. In Humble the Poet’s view, thinking leads to action while overthinking leads to inaction.

Strategy is behind our thoughts, and we are effective when we think. It leads to action, change, and transformation.

On the other hand, overthinking makes us compare ourselves to others making it more likely that we succumb to gossip and negativity. At the end of the day, this combination of thoughts stops us from acting.

The next time you think about starting something, ask yourself how quickly you can actively begin to do something toward completing the goal. What is the right action to follow this thought? Again, it is helpful to think from action to action.

Overthinking would mean, in this case, thinking about the same step repeatedly without moving forward.

Structure Your Thoughts

Ask yourself, “how do I change,” “how do I shift from this position”? Structuring your process and having clear steps to follow can allow you to avoid the pitfall of overthinking.

Jay Shetty said, “When I’m thinking about something I’ll ever structure or break it down, I’ll have steps. I’ll have points that I’m following. I’ll have principles or values that I use as a guide. But when you’re overthinking, you just keep repeating the same thought. You keep going around and around in circles, there’s no structure, there’s no process, there’s no system.”

One trick that he recommends is implementing an “if this, then that” system. The more you practice it, the easier it will become. You can carve a new thinking pattern.

It is essential to understand that every thought that runs through our minds is a mere tool. It is a pathway in our minds that has been previously carved because we thought of it many times before. 

Changing your ways may feel uncomfortable, but consistency is essential.

Are You Ready?

Overthinking makes us inactive. It makes us feel like we are not ready to take the next step. We would think that having more time would bring better results.

Yet, Jay Shetty disagrees, saying, “I realized that the growth I’d make in six to twelve months of not doing something would never outweigh the growth that I would make if I did launch it.”

He emphasizes the importance of starting and learning along the way. If you wait too long to begin, you might lose inspiration or motivation, or you could lose focus and become distracted.

His advice is to start because you will never feel ready. The feeling of readiness and completion is a western concept. However, in his mind, it is an unachievable goal.

Life is cyclical. Trees never stop growing and changing, and neither do humans. There is no finite end goal to our growth, and there will always be more to learn in this life. So, take action now!

Don’t Fear Failure

One of the reasons that we overthink is our fear of failure. We are so busy trying to counter every possible mistake and misstep that we end up getting stuck in the same place again.

There is no success without failure. Regardless of what you choose to do in life, there will always be hurdles, errors, and lessons. It is, therefore, crucial to allow mistakes to happen as long as you learn from every one of them.

You need to expect failure, Jay Shetty stressed. Most successful people you look up to had their fair share of losses along the way. Nevertheless, they understood that failure is not a showstopper; it’s the only way forward.

Break Down Your Goal

More often than not, we set high goals that seem unachievable. We dream big, but all we do in the end is only dream.

Jay Shetty encouraged the listeners to break down their goals into small, attainable steps. He gave an example of his friend who wanted to become a Hollywood movie director.

The first step was to set the goal. Then, the friend asked himself: “what do I need to do this?” several times. Finally, he stopped when the step seemed tangible enough and worked his way up.

It is a practice that would help you focus on the action and bring you back to the present moment. Overthinking a goal will not get it closer.

In Jay Shetty’s opinion, understanding the difference between goal and step is more critical.

Find Your Tribe

As motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, we are the average of the people that we surround ourselves with. Therefore, it is important to be around goal-getters, people who make a difference.

Jay Shetty warns, “Your circle will define your impact. Your circle will define how fast and effectively you move forward.”

If you surround yourself with people who are happy where they are now and don’t take action, there are high chances you won’t either. You will not be moving forward if you are around people moving backward.

Therefore, finding your tribe and like-minded people who motivate you to become better and achieve new goals is vital.

Stay Inspired

Knowing the three markers that differentiate thinking from overthinking will help you rewire your brain and set you on the right path. Be sure to measure the time you spend thinking about a task, taking action, and creating a system to keep you on track.

More From Jay Shetty

Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “3 Techniques to Switch from Overthinking to Thinking Effectively & 4 Ways to Turn That Into Action” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.

1Bohn, R., and Short, J. 2012. Measuring consumer information. Int. J. Comm. 6:980–1000.

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