I always assume that thinking is going to solve my problems.
I assume that the more mental effort I put into something, the greater the outcome will be. And sometimes, that works. But other times, it places me squarely in my own way.
Overthinking traps me in a rumination loop, and trying to solve my problem becomes my problem.
If you do this too, I’ve found a strategy that can help. Instead of thinking yourself to death, you can drop everything and let your subconscious mind handle it.
The Subconscious Is a Tool
In the book Rest, researcher Alex Soojung Kim Pang argues that your subconscious mind processes your problems even when you’re doing other things. He encourages people to plan rest into their schedules to activate their subconscious processing power. He wrote:
When you do things like go for a long walk, your subconscious mind keeps working on problems. The experience of having the mind slightly relaxed allows it to explore different combinations of ideas, to test out different solutions.
The effort you put into thinking about something serves as the raw ingredients for the cauldron that is your subconscious mind. When you allow yourself to focus on things that aren’t your problem, the ingredients have time to cook. And when you return to the problem rested and refreshed, new ideas emerge.
Philosopher Bertrand Russell figured this out too. He wrote:
…the best plan is to think about it with very great intensity — the greatest intensity of which I am capable — for a few hours or days, and at the end of that time give orders, so to speak (to my subconscious mind) that the work is to proceed underground. After some months I return consciously to the topic and find that the work has been done.
There’s more to your mind than you think; you just need to know how to use it.
It Beats Ruminating
If you feel yourself spiraling into rumination, remind yourself to put the problem down and focus on something else, as hard as that is.
Your brain will say to you: “THE PROBLEM NEEDS TO BE SOLVED NOW.”
Yeah, the problem might be important. But thinking yourself into a corner will only bring you unnecessary suffering.
So instead, go for a walk, or read a book, or talk to a friend. Refocus on something different. You’ve already set the intention, so trust your subconscious mind to fill in the gaps.
Like Alan Watts said: “Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.” Trying to argue with your thoughts and solve every problem gets you nowhere.
Problems don’t feel as daunting the second time you face them. And after you walk away, you’ll return with more insight than you had before.