I couldn’t feel my thumbs.
CrossFit was new to me. Actually, training in general was new to me. It had only been about six months since I started going to any kind of gym. But from the moment that I started working out, CrossFit was calling my name. I was attracted to the challenge, the competition, and the sport. Only one problem: in Canada, CrossFit was too expensive.
So, when I arrived in Colombia for a six-week stay, I signed up at a local box. It was an affordable way for me to try it out and a fresh way to get to know a city I had visited many times before.
Time was up. Soaked with sweat and breathing hard, I sat down. With the Workout of the Day done, I started the cooldown and stretch. As my heart rate approached normalcy, I noticed that I couldn’t feel my thumbs. I remembered feeling my hand going numb during the workout… and how I had ignored it. I pressed the nail of my pointer finger into my thumb’s skin. Nothing. Moving over to lean against the wall, I drank some agua and assumed that the feeling would come back soon. It probably just fell asleep.
The feeling did return to my thumbs…
seven days later.
What happened? Was it my pride? My never-give-up-attitude? Or just 100 too many overhead squats? One thing’s for sure: I overdid it. I overtrained.
And it wasn’t the first time. It turns out I have a habit of overdoing lots of things. Did you know that you can pop blood vessels in your eyelids by doing an exercise called a ‘cat puke’? Reflecting on my overtraining habit woke me up to a bigger problem: my appetite for overthinking.
The thumb thing taught me that thinking is not the cure for overthinking.
Hours went by. Still no feeling. I gave up and phoned my sister-in-law, the physiotherapist. The summary: I’m stupid. I definitely need a series of treatments. I definitely can’t do CrossFit until I’m healed.
Being my primary hobby at the time, not being able to train for a while was a letdown. But it was obvious, no? Continuing to do the same thing I was doing would only complicate my recovery and produce more damage.
It occurred to me that, in the same way, my reflex to overthink never leads to solutions, to clarity, or to healing. Just like the cure for overtraining is to get outside of the box and get some rest, the cure to overthinking is to get outside of your head and ask for help.
It taught me that overthinking is counterproductive.
Overtraining for a few minutes meant that now I couldn’t train at all. And overtraining didn’t make me faster nor stronger. It made me sit at home hooked up to a machine sending small amounts of electrical current into my neck.
At times, too much of something becomes counterproductive. Overtraining leads to a damaged body, and damaged bodies don’t train well. Overthinking leads to an anxious mind, and anxious minds don’t think well. It turns out not training is more productive than overtraining, and not thinking is more productive than overthinking.
Overthinking leads to an anxious mind, and anxious minds don’t think well.
It taught me that thinking about the wrong things can be dangerous.
The CrossFit box was a cruel teacher when it came to correcting my pride. Training to get stronger? Good. Training to get fitter? Yep. Training to have fun? Also yep. Training to prove something? Possibly a recipe for disaster.
Training for things that training can’t change will always lead to overtraining. And thinking about things that thinking can’t change will always lead to overthinking.
Thinking about things that thinking can’t change will always lead to overthinking.
Like overtraining, when we take thinking too far, when we use it for something it’s not meant for, we suffer. Julia Ries writes about how overthinking can make us less active, less creative, more tired, and screw up our sleep cycle and our appetite. And late Yale University professor Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema spent much of her career researching the connection between overthinking (what she referred to as ‘rumination’) and depression.
Lastly, the thumb thing taught me that I need to notice I’m overthinking before it’s too late.
We’re all going to overthink sometimes — I still struggle with this. We’re going to get hung up on something and run it through our heads until we’re anxious, tired, and done. But the answer is not to fight our thoughts nor to figure them out. Remember, that’s how the problem started in the first place.
Instead, there are two simple things we can do:
1. Notice your thoughts.
The first step is to notice when you’re ruminating on the same problem, conversation, or negative emotion. Overthinking often continues because we’re not aware when we’re doing it and we’re not aware it’s a problem.
2. Stop and get out of your head.
How? Tell someone else about the thing. Being healthy means being aware of your thoughts and knowing when to acknowledge that your thought processes are fruitless and you need to ask for help.
So start with these two steps and call overthinking quits. If you don’t stop in time, you might suffer through the next seven days… or more. Trust me, your proverbial thumbs will thank you!
That’s day 17 of my 30-day writing project. I hope you’re safe and well.