Overthinking Things Will Render You A Useless Human Being

Overthinking everything is my Achilles heel. If I get into my Crazy Thinking Place, as I refer to it, I can loop around on one idea for hours, like a dog chasing its tail. It can be about anything — from what I want to eat for lunch to what I’m going to say when I have that heavy conversation — and where does it get me in life? Absolutely nowhere. All I’ve done is waste one hour of my life deciding which route to take so I can get done with my errands faster. Oh, the irony.

Scientist Taraz Lee of UC Santa Barbara was interested in the overthinking phenomenon that plagues so many of us, so he conducted a study about the effect of thinking on long-term memory and performance. “There are always examples of professional golfers who have the lead on the 18th hole, but when it comes down to one easy shot, they fall apart,” Lee explained. “That should be the time when it all comes out the best, but you just can’t think about that sort of thing. It just doesn’t help you.” Tell me about it. Story of my life.

Paying attention to the pre-frontal cortex — the part of the brain responsible for planning, executive function, and working memory — Lee’s team of researchers showed participants a series of kaleidoscopic images and then gave them a memory test about what they saw.

“After they gave us that answer, we asked whether they remembered a lot of rich details, whether they had a vague impression, or whether they were blindly guessing,” explains Lee. “And the participants only did better when they said they were guessing.” The results showed that thinking can actually hinder rather help both our memory and our performance. “It didn’t actually make them better at the task,” Lee pointed out.

OK. That’s it. I’m winging it from now on and saving myself a lot of strife. [Science Daily]

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