Do Not Overthink It. (It says “Overthink”, Not “Think”)

Having read quite a few books and articles about the brain at work, I have come across a number of interesting conclusions, if not hypothesis. (Remember, in science, “truth” is only valid until next evidence proves otherwise).

One of the interesting lesson is about how overthinking actually impairs judgment.

This obviously flies against common wisdom. We were probably raised being taught that thinking (rationally) is always superior to making more instinctive decision.

But several studies show that in reality, it may not be true. One study involved two groups of students having to choose posters from a set of choice for their room. The difference: the first group was told to just pick whatever they like. The second was asked to analyze the choices, explain why a poster is better than the others, and then he/she can bring the poster home. The outcome? When later both groups were asked how happy they were with their decision, the first group, who did not think much, reported higher happiness than the second group. The conclusion (or hypothesis?) is that we often decide better when we do not overthink it. When we start to analyze our decision too much, we start considering irrelevant variables, which then leads us astray from what we really want to what we think we want.

I don’t know whether this is related to the subject of love and romance. But I once read that love may be more true when you can not explain why you love the person. And conversely, when you can explain rationally why you love someone (e.g. she is smart, she is kind, she is from good family, he has good career future, he loves children, etc, etc), the person may not be your true heart’s desire. The hypothesis to explain that love has to be irrational however is different from the above. Using game theory, the author proposes that a rational love is prone to distrust and fear that a future competitor may “score” better on a trait, and so risk losing the current partner to that new guy/girl, hence nobody wants to hook up.

A simple illustration. If my girlfriend can explain that she loves me only because I am smart, I will worry that another smarter guy will come along. And based on this calculation, I would rather not hook up. On the contrary, if a woman loves me irrationally, I would not know how I can be ‘beaten’ by another guy. Hence her love seems more credible.

Of course the above is a very speculative hypothesis (using game theory to explain human romance!) but interesting still, and to me has a link to the first study about not overthinking your choice of something (or someone).

Now, the classic biggest mistake of “thinking” about subjects like these is to swing from one extreme to the other. I personally do not think it is wise to say that all rational consideration is flawed, or that all intuitive, emotionally-led decision is superior (those working in financial sector will agree to this). I think the phrase captures it best. Do not OVER-think it. It does not say “Do not think AT ALL”.

I believe that in many life situations (not ALL), it is important to make a choice based on what feels right, but subject it to few rational checks (not too many).  Of course, there are always situations where you may need to go all cold logical. The key is not to treat all situations the same.

Perhaps, in love, people must let their heart decide first – and than later do some quick rational check (not deliberate like a scientist). But what is probably almost wrong is to find a life partner like choosing a bank, or Navy SEALs operator. We do not set out with a set of checklist, try to find the person who fulfills the checklist or passes the tests the most, and then decide “Okay, you fit the criteria, I will fall in love with you.”

It is naive, perhaps childish, to view the mind and the heart as a constant battle (although they can be), and that one must lose to the other. I really think the wise manages to make the two dance together.

Just do not overthink this post.




  1. Really like this post Om Piring! very enlightening 😀
    sometimes the brain’s pushed to overthink a decision made just to make sure that we were not blinded by some irrational things when taking the decision. so what then? are irrational things bad thing to do? why should be afraid of being irrational when it gives you the most happiness?

  2. hahahaha… OMG, this is hillarious..
    as the one who always been overthink about many things in life, i guess i’m not having difficulties in creating happiness, #bahagiaitusederhana
    but still, i also being criticized because of my “galau”-ness in social media; i’m surely have a passion in “gegalauan” :)))

    ur writing remains me about pak @nukman’s twit of “satisficer” and “maximizer”
    i think (not overthink about it) that i’m a “satisficer”..

  3. Totally agreed. Moreover I think knowing or not knowing the rational reasons for love from the signifcant other may also depends on the mental state and attachment style of both people in the relationship. Anxious/Avoidant/Ambivalent people react differently in their relationship. Some would enjoy reasoning as a comforting cape, some others would regard it as a job requirement, while some others would go back and forth between seeking and not seeking for it.

    But I do strongly believe that one should gain more UNDERSTANDING the game/mechanics of romance (not specifically about the reasons for loving as introduced in the blog entry) in order to navigate relationships better in this (rather post-)modern world. Hence all sort of ‘provoking’ and eye-opening relationship ideas I regularly spread through Hitman System.

    The nature of relationships are pretty much the same since the beginning of time, yet the people and their surroundings have evolved a lot. We need to be more AWARE of what’s going on in our relationships, because we nowadays have too much behaviour-conditioning distractions that could easily jeopardize a match made in heaven.

    This is me being aware as always.. not thinking, not overthinking.


  4. *celingak celinguk mikir commentnya mesti bahasa inggris juga??* *mulai garuk kepala* yaaa elaaah ooom..yang milih poster tanpa mikir, emang happy, tapi bisa jadi nyesel belakangan…sama juga kasusnya ama urusan milih orang buat dipacarin..

    Cuma memutuskan tanpa berpikir itu akan selalu menjadi hal yang menyenangkan…

    *keluar dengan mengendap-ngendap*

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