I was a terrible test taker during my undergraduate days. It’s not that I didn’t study and prepare enough, because I definitely did that. By the time I was ready to take my test, I knew the material inside and out. Yet the same pattern repeated over and over; if the test was multiple-choice, I ended up spending way too much time on each question. After much analysis, I would be able to make a case for choice a, b, c and d all being the valid answers to the question.
I guess you could say that I was a deep thinker. To put it another way, I was guilty of overthinking on a pretty consistent basis. This enabled me to receive B’s and C’s on my tests when I really should have aced the exams. I grasped all the concepts, but I just had a way of making the tests much more complicated than they had to be.
Many years later, I went back to receive my Masters in Social Work. I was a bit worried about my Social Work Exam looming over my head since I had Post Traumatic Stress from test taking many years before. The test had a reputation for being extremely difficult and I didn’t know anyone that was able to get above a 75%. For two months I studied and studied, determined to pass the test. I knew the material inside and out. This time, it was going to be different. I had a strategy— I was not going to overthink the test. I was going to go with the first answer that popped in my head and then quickly move on. I repeated this to myself like a mantra as they read the instructions to us the day of the test. You see, my habits were quite ingrained and I knew that my only shot at passing was to intensely focus on this objective.
I whizzed through two hundred questions and didn’t go back to check my answers. I knew if I analyzed, it would be the kiss of death. I was the first one to finish the test and leave. When I stood up, everyone in the room shot me a look of terror. They couldn’t believe I was done! I heard later that the next person left an hour after me. Of course, true to my overthinking, I spent the whole way home in the car thinking I most certainly didn’t pass the test.
If you’re wondering how it all turned out, I ended up getting the same passing grade as my friends that were there an hour after me. My strategy worked and taught me a valuable lesson.
Women excel in the area of overthinking. At some point, you’ve probably made a problem or situation in your life much more complicated than it truly had to be. Your mind may work overtime, weighing options and searching for the absolute perfect answer. You can even reach a point where you have “analysis paralysis”— overanalyzing a situation or decision to the point that no action is even taken. It’s professional consensus that it’s healthy to take time to have a better understanding of self. However, there’s a fine line between attaining more self-knowledge and moving into rumination or thinking in circles.
Who doesn’t remember having deep conversations with your girlfriend about why the guy you were crazy about wasn’t calling you back? I remember going on forever, analyzing the situation. Yet, looking back, the answer really didn’t need to be so complicated. If he were really that interested, he would have called you back…end of story.
Overthinking takes a lot of energy. It can be exhausting, frustrating, and a pretty poor use of your valuable time. So maybe it’s time to find a different hobby— one that yields better outcomes. Keep things simple and give the overthinking a rest.