When I was growing up, being smart was a trait to aspire to.
My parents told me to be smart.
My teachers told me to be smart.
Everyone who was smart was admired and respected.
Now I’m an adult, one of the biggest problems I face is that I’m too smart.
I’ve been knocked back from jobs because I was too smart for it.
People have been intimidated to talk to me because I’m too smart for them.
Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re probably a smart person – or a person who hasn’t valued their own smartness.
So… our “problem” is that we are too “smart” (yes it is appropriate to imagine me making quotation marks in the air with my fingers when you read this).
But my take on it is that anyone who says that, has no idea what being smart is.
Being smart is a demonstration of your perception, awareness and your ability to be present.
In fact, being smart is a strength – having a high level of perception can never really be a weakness. The more perceptive one is, the better.
Those who think being smart is a problem, ironically are the very people who lack the perception (read: smartness) to see what the real problem is!
So is the problem being knowledgeable?
Being knowledgable is about having “book smarts” and I can see why it can be a weakness for many people. The true value of knowledge is seldom recognised even by the individual themselves, and less so by others.
But that is a whole different problem – having that type of knowledge needs to be embraced firstly by the individual, and secondly by the people around them. Knowledgeable people are sponges for information, that is definitely not a problem!
These are the people who best make academics, educators, theorists, researchers, scientists and experts in any field. And that can’t be a problem, right…?
Is the problem then, being intelligent?
Intelligence is the ability to apply knowledge in the most appropriate way.
Intelligent people are not a rarity, although many would say they are a minority! There are way too many people out there who don’t know how to apply their knowledge, and even more people out there who don’t take the effort to apply their knowledge.
Intelligent people are the one’s that you want around you to advise you, to guide you, to innovate and to lead. Successful business people, powerful lawyers, good accountants, effective doctors, articulate writers, creative marketers – the intelligent ones are the very people you want on your side when times get tough. Surely that’s not a problem…?
So what’s the REAL problem?
The problem as I see it, is when people tend to think – more particularly when they overthink.
I personally believe that the greatest of the fatal flaws is overthinking and unnecessary thinking.
Thinking is overrated and overthinking is painful, unnecessary thinking is an absolute waste of time.
Yes we have a mind, and we are thinking, sentient beings. However none of us got that way by overthinking.
So how do you know if you’re an overthinker?
You, or even “someone you know” may have one, or more of these traits:
1. A Bias for Naval Gazing
Overthinkers rely upon their knowledge and thinking to help them succeed, and while this doesn’t sound like a bad thing, it’s often the only thing the rely upon.
Where this lets them down is when it comes to making a decision – they get caught up in thinking about the processes, weighing up the alternatives – but never actually committing and definitely not taking action.
In their point of view, they never want to make a mistake and so this their defence mechanism in many ways, but in the face of inaction, this is the worst thing they can do.
2. Impractical Learning in the Face of Failure
As human beings it’s natural that in the face of adversity and failure, they we will immediately look to become better to prevent the pains of failure repeating themselves in the future.
However, the overthinker is quite intelligent and analytical… and so in their mind, the reason for their failure is because they aren’t “smart enough” – and they equate this to the need to accumulate more knowledge and information, which they can draw upon in the future.
And so our overthinker goes to bridge the gap, and goes to get a qualification, or a certification, or to take a training or attend a seminar… but it seems that they are perpetually learning…
We all need to learn, however overthinkers don’t implement what they learn, and when they fail or make a mistake, the problem perpetuates…
3. Social Aversion
Often, the thinker stands out from society in both positive and negative ways. While they are doing well academically, socially they tend to struggle.
They unconsciously do weird things in an effort to gain social acceptance by actually expressing their ideas unusually or unconventionally, and what ends up happening is that they draw more ridicule from those around them.
As a result, they end up becoming shrinking violets that are averse to social interraction, or they become disgustingly obnoxious and repel society!
And when they realise something isn’t right… they unconsciously try to fit in again… and the cycle begins again!
So does that mean it’s all over for overthinkers?
The mission here is to go from being an overthinker to ACTUALLY being smart!
Here are 5 things that will help you be smart:
Go for a run.
When you’re stuck in your head, go do something physical and get back into your body. Going for a run is actually the easiest thing to do, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a run. Other things that work include having a cold shower, eat something spicy, or go hit a punching bag.
Decide and commit.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with some very successful people, and one thing I’ve noticed is that they all make decisions quickly. If you don’t want to do something, don’t think about it – say no. If you want something, stop thinking about it – say yes. An interesting thing I’ve learnt, is that If you’re not sure don’t think about it, just say yes. Give it a go, and change your mind later if you realise it is not a practical idea.
Do It Now.
Procrastination breeds overwhelm, failure, panic and anxiety. Stop thinking about doing stuff, do it now. Stop avoiding doing things and just do it now. Don’t read the same e-mail 2 times – read it once and act on it. Don’t put that piece of paper away later – it’s in your hands, deal with it now. It doesn’t even have to be done right or perfectly – but done is better than perfect, so just do it now.
Get it out of your system.
Chronic overthinkers can solve every problem in their head, or so they believe. Instead, they need to get things out of their head, and there are a few ways to do it. Write it out. Type it out. Talk it out. If you have to, interpretive dance it out. The key here is to just get it out of your system, and get it out quickly. Don’t spend the whole day doing it, but just get your thoughts and feelings out – the good, the bad – everything. Just get it out of your head, and free your mind.
Empty the Cup.
When your mind is full of thoughts, it’s time to go zen and empty the cup – it’s time to meditate. Note that meditation is not sitting quietly and thinking about it, rather it’s the polar opposite of thinking! Sit quietly and just observe your thoughts for a few minutes minutes. Don’t think the thoughts – let them come, acknowledge it’s presence, and then let those thoughts go. Imaging you’re watching your thoughts on a big screen. You’re watching the thoughts on the screen, observing them, acknowledging them, and then releasing them. Every thought that comes, just observe them and then let them go.
If you’re an overthinker, it’s time to be smart, so let’s get you present, perceptive and in action.
If you’re not a thinker and are a doer, it doesn’t mean you’re dumb or stupid, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re smart either. The good news is you’ll be a lot more willing to follow instruction because you don’t think you know any better.
Regardless of your thinkability factor, you need to be smart to survive and succeed.
Smart people get results. Not the academic kind, but the results that truly matter in life. Not the egotistical kind, but the satisfactory kind.
You can never be too smart, and anyone who says otherwise, is simply not smart enough.