Dear 100 Hour Board,
How much thinking is too much? How do you make good choices without thinking too much?
Dear six-legged starfish,
Too much thinking happens when it takes you away from your other duties and responsibilities. For example, I'm not going to think about answering this question too much because it would take me away from studying for finals. You make good choices by going off of the available data (or, if you have time, researching more into what data's available in addition to your initial thoughts) and having faith that God will correct you if you're wrong. For example, I'm just answering your question with a Mormon message I love and the first Calvin and Hobbes comic that popped into my head when I read your question:
Hopefully that was a good choice.
-guppy of doom
I would say that the key is recognizing that there comes a point where the cost of spending more time making a decision out weighs the possible benefits. Otherwise you end up with this problem:
I know that it is hard to know where the line is, but it's definitely worth learning how to decide things in a short amount of time. Here are some principles that help me make good decisions quickly:
(Disclaimer: some decisions are complex and require lots of thinking. I certainly hope our readers know that important life decisions shouldn't be made in 5 minutes, but for the other 99.99% of the decisions you'll make I've found these tips to be super helpful)
- Obvious decisions are easy to make: After 3-4 minutes of critical thinking you can make most decisions. Choices that are obviously bad are easy to throw out, and choices that are obviously the best jump out quickly. Just try making quick decisions and then stop thinking about it; it will usually work.
- If your options are close, it doesn't matter what you pick: I think the hardest decisions are the ones where you have two options that are similar in quality. Here's the thing though, if it's too close to decide, then either option should be equally as good. Quite often you will be just as happy with option A or B, so instead of stressing about it, just pick one and be happy about it. You'll be equally happy either way. Seriously.
- Once you make a decision, stop worrying about it: Something that I'm often guilty of is stressing out about decisions after I've taken them. Logically, it doesn't make a lot of sense to worry about what would have happened had we taken another decision. You can't go back and change it, so just let it go. It's hard enough to make upcoming decisions without wasting energy on decisions you've already taken.
- Most decisions don't matter too much: Something that used to stress me out was worrying that I would make a decision that would ruin my life. Now, there are decisions that you could make that are terrible and ruin your life, but most of your everyday decisions have a small impact. Even many large important things like your personal character, your relationships with others, your career, your grades, your testimony, and your health are the sum of thousands of small decisions. I have recovered from so many stupid mistakes it's not even funny. If you make good decisions most of the time you don't need to worry about the occasional mistakes.
- Many decisions can be made in small pieces: One reason we overthink decisions is because they are big decisions, and we're worried that we have to make life altering decisions all at once. The truth is that you can make many decisions one piece at a time. For example, you don't need to decide what you'll be doing for the rest of your life, or even decide your college major right off the bat. You can start out by taking some classes you're interested in, and as you go trying out different majors you can narrow down your options.
- Some decisions can be changed: If you realize you made a wrong decision, you can sometimes change it with only minimal circumstances. You can return that outfit, drop that class, change your major, change your weekend plans etc. It's a lot easier for me to stop stressing out about decisions if I know that I can change them if turning out poorly.
- If you can't decide but you still have time, sleep on it: If you aren't in a rush and you don't know what to do, just take a break for a bit. Sometimes you're just not in the right mood to make a decision, and setting aside for later can help bring clarity. When i need to make important decisions, I usually think about it for 3-4 minutes, and then a few hours later I think about it again. It's a great strategy that combines the benefits taking a long time without wasting too much time.
To close things off I'd like to share my #1 tip for making good decisions quickly. This is my go to whenever I need to make a good decision quickly.
- Talk it out with a friend: Talking decisions out with a friend is a way to help you think straight. Saying it out loud helps you organize your thoughts, your friend can help you with any details you've overlooked, they can add a good outsider perspective, and they can help validate your decisions so you can be confident. Whenever I have important decisions to make I usually shoot one of my friends or family members a text to see what they think.
I hope this helps! As I was writing this answer I realized that my list was quite long. I know it's a little ironic that you asked how to make decisions quickly, and I practically wrote you an essay, but it was really hard to decide what to say! So, I hope you like my tips. They really help me make decisions quickly, so maybe they'll be of help to you.
How much thinking is too much? Well, this is a question that can be interpreted in a few different ways.
Personally, I've experienced a constant stream of negative thoughts at the back of my mind that resulted in ever-present anxiety and depression. I've also had times where I seem to be paralyzingly indecisive because I keep on weighing the pros and cons of each option (normally this only happens to me when I'm clothes shopping, though). And then, this past year, I've had many, many headaches caused by thinking so long and hard about difficult math concepts that afterwards it physically hurts my brain to do ridiculously simple things such as trying to recall my uncle's name (sad but true story). My thoughts have literally caused me physical pain in my stomach, and last semester, contributed to so much blood streaming from my nose that I had to go to a hospital.
Having listed all those experiences which seem to deal with thinking too much in different ways, I would argue that you can't think too much. Yes, "can't", not "can". That wasn't a typo.
Rather than the problem being that we think too much, I believe the problem is that we exercise too little control over our thoughts. Control can make the difference from being stuck in negative thought patterns causing depression and anxiety to enjoying the peaceful benefits of consciously deciding to have positive thought patterns. Control can allow you to recognize when you're spending too much time agonizing over a decision. Control can grant you the clarity of mind make more balanced choices quicker. Control can make it possible to understand incredibly abstract concepts and reason to truth with relative ease. Control can make you check yourself and recognize when your stress levels are rising to dangerous heights.
This changes the question from how to stop "thinking too much" to developing control over those thoughts. In my experience, the only way to cultivate such control is to practice, and consistently check up on yourself. Recognize when you're spending too much time trying to make the absolute best decision, and be able to evaluate what short term and long term consequences will arise from it. Additionally, talking to a therapist can be immensely helpful in learning how to control your mind.
My parting piece of advice to you is to be patient with yourself. It's okay if you're indecisive. It's okay to not have perfect control over your thoughts, and for the development of control to take time.