General Question

wundayatta's avatar

What does it mean to "over-analyze" or "think too much?"?

Asked by wundayatta (58604points) May 15th, 2009

Please provide examples.

People say this a lot, and my reaction is always, ‘how can you think too much?’ I mean, maybe people mean you don’t take action soon enough. But to say you think too much, it seems to me, is like saying you can understand too much. Why would you want to deliberately dumb yourself down, by thinking less than you do?

You can be wrong in your analysis. You can read into an analysis of a situation something that may not be there. I just don’t understand how you can think too much? Can anyone help me? Can you show me an example of thinking too much?

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27 Answers

jbfletcherfan's avatar

I think some people make too much out of something that need not be. It’s like the saying of making a mountain out of a mole hill. You don’t have to “dumb down”...just ease up a little & keep things as they are, not what you think they should be.

DragonFace's avatar

In college my professor always said to use the KISS rule. KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID

elijah's avatar

It’s not “dumb down” because to be socially successful you have to learn how to chill. I know a man who is a genius, yet his social skills are retarded. Maybe his IQ is higher than mine (ok it’s not a maybe) but I am much “smarter” when it comes to social interaction. It’s like he needs a textbook to understand social situations, he questions everything. It’s like he needs a flow chart and three weeks planning to go out for an ice cream cone. It’s tiresome to say the least.
He knows what he will be doing five years from now, and I don’t know what I will be doing next week. We are extreme opposites. He has a plan and I don’t, so Somewhere between us is a happy medium.

jfos's avatar

Imagine you were talking to a friend, and you asked him if he wanted to go to the mall that night. He says “no thank you.”

Over-thinking/Over-analyzing would be to think “why doesn’t he want to go… maybe he doesn’t like me, and therefore doesn’t want to go to the mall with me… or maybe he’s embarrassed by me, and doesn’t want to be seen in public with me” rather than just accepting the fact that he doesn’t want to go.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

I think entirely too much. instead of listening to my instincts I try to go through every single outcome in my head as far into the future as it seems reasonable in order to figure out the best path. and often times my event logic makes me seem either disinterested or emotionally cold.

Kiev749's avatar

Thinking when a girl you like flirts with you and you have that internal battle with what it means.
“Oh dude, she’s into you.”
“You think so? She does that all the time…”
“Dude. Come on. Yeah, she’s into you. classic signs bro. She was playing with her hair…”
“She was putting it in a pony tail!”
“something to pull…”

oratio's avatar

I think you think too much if you go into a “loop” and never come out. Then I think you might have a problem.

But I suspect people say that when they are not interested in philosophical or scientific discussions, on grounds that they either are simply not interested, uneasy or feel stupid. or some other reason that makes you not like minded

I have been in discussions where I’ve been talking about how everything you see on earth was created in the core of one or several gigantic stars, or what happens when we die, and I say that nothing will happen at all. That’s when I’ve heard stuff like that. A way of ending a conversation, or changing the subject I guess.

jamms's avatar

i interpret that saying as you think about something (read obsess) until it become a problem. like the professor said, KISS, once you finalize your solution, that should be the end of the situation. people who think too much stay up late pondering the “what ifs” and rethinking what they have already resolved. it’s not an entirely bad thing, when controlled. it may even help one find the answer quicker and with more resolve. when it becomes an obsession, you think to much. knock it off.

mattbrowne's avatar

In critical situations such as emergencies there’s a trade off between time and finding the best solution. Pragmatism is key.

3or4monsters's avatar

Someone I love often likes to take a simple idea, and circle it endlessly. Sometimes, this is a great exercise. Other times, he’s assigning WAAAAY too much meaning/consideration behind something that he admits (in retrospect) even to himself, has little value. This strikes me as wasted energy.

Complex ideas thrive within intelligent, complex consideration, but sometimes a banana is just a banana and your energy and focus are best served elsewhere.

Vincentt's avatar

I don’t think I have much to add to what others have said, but @oratio, there are much better ways to dismiss discussions you’re not interested in ;-)

seekingwolf's avatar

In terms of schoolwork and answering questions, “over-analyzing” could be that you’re misinterpreting the question and thinking it’s much harder/complicated than what it really is. You find yourself thinking that there’s “more to it” and digging for hidden meaning that’s not really there.

I do this sometimes on calc exams…sometimes I just get burned out and see a problem that’s really a simple derivative problem (1 step) and I just overanalyze it, blow it out of proportion, and it turns into a horrendously wrong multistep problem that would make any math teacher cry.

In terms of school, you need taken problems at FACE VALUE (considering your teacher is average and doesn’t enjoy tripping you up). Read carefully and follow your gut. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.

Les's avatar

Oh, I do this all the time when it comes to math. First, let me start by saying that the math I do most of the time has no numbers in it, so when I am presented with a simple algebra or calculus problem, I’ll often sit there stumped not because it is hard, but because it is way too easy. I’ll convince myself that because the problem only took me 15 minutes to finish, that there must be something wrong with my work. It drives me crazy.

I’ll also over analyze in the lab, too. When something I am trying doesn’t work, I’ll spend all this time trying to come up with some elaborate, Rube Goldberg set-up, only to discover that the solution was simple.

seekingwolf's avatar


LOL you’re so right about that math! I do that too!
Drives me crazy!

reverie's avatar

When I have heard people saying that they “think too much”, it’s usually in reference to circular, unhelpful dwelling on negative thoughts and problems which causes them distress; in essence, I think they are referring to something which is, or which is approaching, pathological rumination. Of course, personal reflection and thinking a lot can be extremely helpful. But there’s certainly a line to be drawn between helpful analysis of situations through introspection and thoughtful analysis, and unhelpful rumination that can lead to mental health problems.

I’m starting a PhD in October on the topic of rumination. I can’t wait to begin. I find it all completely fascinating.

wundayatta's avatar


“You find yourself thinking that there’s “more to it” and digging for hidden meaning that’s not really there.”

I think this helps me understand what’s going on. Some people believe there’s an objective idea about “what’s really there.” If you read more into it that they think is in it, you are overanalyzing.

I don’t believe that anyone has the monopoly on what’s really there. It might be simple and surfacy to one person, and to another, there appears to be much beneath the surface. I’ve always been a “look under the surface” kind of guy. I see stuff there that other people don’t see. The problem for me is that, because they don’t see it, they think it can’t be there.

When I’m told I’m overanalyzing, I feel like I’m being shut down; like my thinking is no longer worth anything. It’s different from being disagreed with. It’s like saying I’m a fool for going there. Hah! How much you wanna bet someone thinks I’m overanalyzing here?

However, despite the fact that it bothers me, it doesn’t stop me. It may appear, in public, that I’m going too far, but perhaps people would think differently if they saw all the pms I’ve gotten in private thanking me for truly getting at the heart of a matter. Of course, I don’t always get such messages, but, from time to time, they come. So, while more people invalidate me with the “over-thinking” thing, the few who do validate my thinking makes it worthwhile.

There’s another reason why I keep on doing it. It entertains me. Conversation and questions, for me, are about being given the chance to think. I “over-think” a problem the way a dog gnaws a bone. Maybe it’s good for my teeth or something. Maybe it’s mental practice.

I still don’t know why it bothers other people so much they have to comment on it.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

The idea behind this, is that people over analyze simple things which leads them to inaccurate conclusions. If your girlfriend gives you a gift and you start thinking “ok what’s her angle?” that’s over-thinking.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Chasing, biting and chewing on your own tail with no revelation.

cwilbur's avatar

It’s only over-thinking if it leads to analysis paralysis, or once the number of unknown variables becomes overwhelming.

For instance, suppose you’re buying a piece of tech gear. You do your research, you read reviews, you narrow it down to 2 or 3 models, you test each one of them. At that point, you have a good feel for what they’re like, and that’s when you should make the decision. If, instead, you go back and reread another round of reviews, and think about the usability issues of each of them, and keep on ruminating until you’re so far past the point where you had a good gut feeling for one of them, then whichever one you choose, you’re unlikely to really like it because you’ll have the nagging suspicion that another one would have been better—that’s overthinking things. The additional information you got didn’t improve the quality of your decision, and you put a lot of effort into thinking about it—you put a lot in, and got nothing out.

For instance, suppose you go on a date. You had a good time. By the time you got home, you’re analyzing every word in the conversations you had, trying to figure out if she likes you or likes you, if there’s a future for the relationship, if you want her to be the mother of your kids, and such. You’re doing a lot of speculating based on really limited information—you don’t know how she feels, and so you’re constructing a lot of hypothetical situations. You’re overthinking things.

(And the real danger of this last bit is that you start building a mental model of her that may or may not match the real thing, and then once you’ve done that, you start communicating tactically, in order to get the response you want based on the mental model, rather than communicating honestly.)

mammal's avatar

Western Philosophy the grand old institute of thought, has accorded thinking such a hallowed position, that although it is permissible to criticise, challenge and counter challenge just about everything conceivable, it is tacitly assumed that one cannot challenge the very act of thinking itself. The great failure of our tradition.

Harp's avatar

Thought has a masking effect on experience. There are times when experiencing fully is more valuable than whatever benefits may come from thinking about the situation. Obvious examples would be experiencing art or music; these can be approached on an experiential level or on an analytical level. Both approaches have value, but I find them mutually exclusive. To fully experience these things, I have to put thought aside and become lost in that experience. This being “lost” is more than a metaphor; the deepest levels of experience are accessed by giving in to not knowing.

On a more mundane level, my wife and I approach driving very differently. She takes a very tactical approach with the ultimate goal of arriving at the destination in the minimum amount of time (whether or not she’s actually under time pressure). That goal is far more important to her than the experience of the drive, so she is constantly engaged in an analysis of how to shave a minute or two; she’ll figure out which routes will involve fewer left turns, have fewer lights, deviate the least from a straight line, etc. She has an extensive repertoire of little tortured back routes that she can jump to if her main routes get a little heavy. Not surprisingly, she hates the experience of driving and finds it extremely stressful.

It drives her nuts when I’m at the wheel. To me, the drive isn’t just something I have to get through as quickly as possible so I can be somewhere else, it’s an experience in its own rite and I want to live it. So I’ll pick some serviceable route that takes me in the general direction of my destination, then just relax into the experience. I recognize that my wife can usually get somewhere faster than I can, but I wouldn’t trade my experience of the drive for hers.

Knotmyday's avatar

Sweet analogy, Harp.

I use the phrase “over-thinking it” generally in terms of a process of paralysing over-analytical second-guessing. If you’ve stymied forward progress, you’re over-thinking. Not to say you shouldn’t consider all the contingencies, but if action is required, you have to take the wheel and step on the gas.

I catch myself doing this all the time.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I actually learned this during my semester in grad school for Mental Health Counseling.
(i have an undergrad degree and experience in psychology but only one term grad school so far, lol).

The difference is between living in your head and living in your body. When you live in your head you think a bit and overanalyze. This is great for intellectuals and is actual a good coping device for certain life situations (and detrimental to others). The alternative is living in your body and thus enjoying the moment. This allows you to just be happy in the here and now. This is a great coping strategy for those with many mental health issues. Humans tend to be one or the other. Hubby lives in his body and is very much about the here and now. I live in my head and have a really hard time being conscious of the here and now.

Overanalyzing is not always healthy. It can lead to some fantastic intellectual conclusions. And some great coping strategies. It can also lead you to forget about enjoying the finer moments in life.

filmfann's avatar

An example of overthinking is here

Als_Thoughts's avatar

I don’t think it’s good to call it over-analysing. I would rather call it ‘Thinking for too long and hard about a problem’ where too long means that if you thought about the problem for, say, 5 minutes and then either stopped thinking about it or took some action about it, then that would be ok, whereas if you thought about it for longer than that without letting it go or taking some kind of action about it, then that would be unhealthy for you and those around you (if there are others around you listening to you), as it can cause you and others more stress, worry and anxiety than it is worth.

One has to bear in mind that how much thinking or for how long is to much or too long is very subjective. For example, one person in a group who is listening to someone else analyse a problem or difficulty might be interested in it and have the patience and concentration-span to listen, whereas someone else in the same group isn’t interested in the problem in the first place, needs to do something else very important really soon, has had a crap morning, and isn’t a patient type of person in any case. That person would very easily think that the speaker is over-analysing, and if he/she said this out loud, the other more patient listener might say ‘How can you say that? This is a very interesting subject he/she is talking about, and I want to help him/her to solve the problem’, to which the impatient listener might reply ‘Well I have to get back to doing an essay really soon that’s due first thing tomorrow morning, and I had a really crap morning today, so there!’

One final point: Some people haven’t been brought up in a family that thinks much about things or questions them, and sometimes if they’re asked a simple question about, say, a movie they’ve watched before e.g. what do they think the movie means, what’s the moral of the story, why do they think the actors and actresses were good or not so good, etc, then their response is ‘I don’t know; not sure.’ My girlfriend is like that. I do love her to bits, but sometimes it’s frustrating for me when, for example, I ask here why she doesn’t like a certain actor or actress, to which she responds, ‘I don’t know. I just don’t like him’ – end of! And if I persist in trying to get something more – which I don’t anymore – she will start feeling like her head is spinning because maybe the thoughts are overwhelming her and she doesn’t want to think or talk about it anymore. She does have a lot of good points, mind. She is very kind, gentle, caring and helpful with things around the house. She also does have a good brain on her with some things.

I end here. Thanks to anyone who has read this.

Als_Thoughts's avatar

P.S. Some people don’t have much of an opinion about hardly anything, and at least some of them are quite gullible in some situations as a result of this.

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