Overthinking; the Ego's Friend
As I picked up Ego is the Enemy and began the journey through its pages my first instinct was one of annoyance. Annoyed that I had picked up another generic self-help book before I'd even given Ryan a chance. The introduction came across as shallow in my mind; a glorified blog post in book form. Then the book unfolded. Some sections didn't grab my attention and yet others provided deeper thought-provoking messages that I was forced to take away and think about. This idea of ego being our enemy. Perhaps the greatest sign of its insidiousness is believing that everything is fine and then you begin to realize the ego is laughing as it plays the marionette of your mind.
Consider this point, from a chapter called Talk, Talk, Talk.
"Blank spaces, begging to be filled in with thoughts, with photos, with stories. With what we're going to do, with what things should or could be like, what we hope will happen. Technology, asking you, prodding you, soliciting talk.
Almost universally, the kind of performance we give on social media is positive. It's more "Let me tell you how well things are going. Look how great I am." It's rarely the truth: "I'm scared. I'm struggling. I don't know."
This statement began a domino effect of thoughts in my mind.
I'm scared. I'm struggling. I don't know. The title of this chapter extends into the day to day for some of us. This level of constant thought that never seems to go away. While we carry on with a positive outward appearance, we are scared, we struggle and we simply don't know. Reading this sentence felt like a deep breath taken while standing at the top of the mountain. Ah yes. There is the reality of my current situation.
Too much time spent thinking and yet the ego provides this escape. Show everyone things are good. Spend some time distracting yourself and time flows by. Oliver Burkeman covers this very topic in his book The Antidote. In his book, he spends time sitting down with Eckhart Tolle who spent years in this very morass before one day stepping out of it and never looking back.
"It is when we identify with this inner chatter, Tolle suggests - when we come to think of it as us - that thinking becomes compulsive. We do it all the time, ceaselessly, and the idea that we might ever enjoy a respite from thinking never occurs to us. We come to see our thinking and our continuing to exist as people, as one and the same thing. "Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction," Tolle writes. "But we don't realise this because everybody is suffering from it. So it's considered normal." The sense of self that we construct from identifying with our thoughts is what Tolle calls the 'ego'.
About the time as I was wrapping up both of these books, having spent time thinking on this very topic, a fog lifted. The constant focus on trying to come up with a worthy goal was killing everything else. Overthinking at it's most gruesome. The reminder to stop thinking, in fact, helped me to do just that. The overthinking, for now, ceased and I began to just do the things I enjoyed again for the sake of doing. If you are like me, and someone who can easily get caught up in overthinking, remember that constant overthinking can be the cause of much of our dissatisfaction. Even though we like to blame other things, it is the constant dwelling on these other things that cause our day to day anxiety and stress.
Consider Burkeman's book The Antidote for some anti-happiness ideas to truly find ways to move towards satisfaction and Eckhart Tolle's book The Power of Now to help lift the veil of overthinking and remind ourselves to focus on now. We are not our thoughts; we are simply here in the present moment doing as we choose. Lastly, consider Ryan Holiday's book The Ego is the Enemy if you want some more general ideas on the ego and different strategies it uses to work against us and ideas to overcome.