Google the word “overthinking” and you will find advice from how to stop obsessing about your latest crush to ways to make a decision when you are worrying too much about getting things “wrong”. Overthinking can not only be agonizing, but it can stop us in our tracks as we perseverate over a decision, a seemingly insignificant incidence or a project that we must complete. But does overthinking always deserve the bad rap that it gets? If we look at the work of psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski regarding the role and importance of contemplation in self-education we get a different perspective on this topic as well as some unique insight into how to support the overthinker in your life.
In his book, Personality Shaping Through Positive Disintegration, Dabrowski wrote about the conditions and aides for the facilitating the development of personality. While I hesitate to simplify his very broad work into the many aspects of personality development, I think he did caution us not to underestimate the importance of contemplation in the development of who it is we would like to become in the face of the world we encounter.
What are a couple of examples of contemplation that he shares? A young child insisting on “doing it by themselves” and digging in their heels over what appears to be a simple task might be an early signal of this desire to shape oneself. Who knows the thought process that might be going on as they stand up in defiance? The teen agonizing over what might seem insignificant, retreating into their room for an inordinate amount of time might signal another essential part of this journey. Understanding one’s inner thoughts and guiding values requires contemplation; time and space where one can consider the demands of the world and work out one’s principles of action. Try as we might as educators or parents to “solve” or “simplify” the situation, it is important to remember that self-education through contemplation and solitude are key aspects in the development of personality even when we see what appears to be anxiety and obsession. Yet that doesn’t mean that we leave them completely on their own.
Dabrowski referred to a number of “aids’ that facilitate the development of personality that support the contemplation process: access to libraries, museums, theaters and scientific institutions. Dabrowski was drawn to and moved by the works of great artists like Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Camus, Faulkner and Ghandi and believed that exposure to new ideas, thoughtful discussion and creative works can often stimulate not only personality development, but one’s own creativity. Learning about the lives and thoughts of these “greats” gives perspective and can demonstrate how many of these individuals struggled to find their unique voice or contribution.
Dabrowski also highlighted the importance of an adviser. Someone with an understanding of philosophical and psychological development as well as a clear ideal and hierarchy of aims for his or her own personal development. An adviser should know their own shortcomings and acknowledge that they are also on a journey of becoming. A relationship built upon mutual respect and understanding of what it means to live to your highest values can make a big difference in how we navigate our difficult inner world. (pp. 149-153) *It is important to note here that Dabrowski dedicated considerable time in the book to who would be a good adviser with the understanding that there are several levels to personality development and degrees of anxiety. Some can be supported by teacher or parent mentors while others may need the support of professional psychotherapists.
So is overthinking always counterproductive? I know that many things that have kept me awake at night have eventually found their way into my resolve to do things differently next time. Overthinking often signals something that is out of alignment and it takes time to figure out what that is…sometimes days or even longer. As I begin to overthink this particular post and whether it has met its aims I realize that this is but one perspective…it’s a good idea to check out more thoughts on this topic from my fellow bloggees at April Blog Hop by clicking on this link or the image below.