An Imperfect And Effective Solution For Overthinking
It's messy (and a little scary) but it works.
My beloved dog, Rosie, almost died last winter.
My sister and I were hiking with her on some trails near my home. I have hiked or snowshoed with her off-leash hundreds of times. As long as we aren’t near any roads, I know she’ll always stick close to me. She’s good that way.
She and I had never hiked these particular trails before. It was a winter’s day, but the Colorado sun was strong. We were comfortable in our winter gear. Rosie, a 90 pound Bernese-poodle mix, was thrilled to be running around in the cold air.
We took a turn on the trail and saw some taller bushes up ahead. Rosie charged forward with enthusiasm. After a moment, I saw a bunch of birds fly away. And then I heard a splash and a yelp.
We parted the bushes and saw that there was pond, half covered in ice. Rosie had run across the ice, not realizing that it was not land. She walked to the edge, either to take a drink or chase the birds, and fell in.
She was hanging by two paws on the edge of the ice, at least 10 feet from shore. Soaked and whimpering, loudly.
My sister and I froze.
The water was too cold to be submerged in for any length of time. But the air temperature was above freezing. So that ice was probably thawing; precarious at best. It could crack if a human were to walk across it.
We were a few miles from the trailhead. We didn’t know how long it would take for someone to respond to a 911 call. Or how they would even find their way in to our exact location.
In that moment, I knew I could do a three things:
Make sure that I had considered all the scenarios. Would there be a nearby hiker that could help? Could I call 911 and ask them what to do? Any chance someone owned a boat at the other end of that pond? Could I put a stick in and figure out how deep that pond was? These all involved doing more research.
Focus on the problem. Rosie might die! I don’t want that to happen! And then beat myself up for walking her off leash. While I trust her and have done it before, it wasn’t the smartest decision on a trail we’d never hiked. So, I could spend the time panicking about the situation, and telling myself that I screwed up and got her there.
In the first two options, I could watch my dog lose strength and possibly drown in a half frozen lake. While I thought about scenarios, or events that I couldn’t change. Or I could take action and try to save her.
I started walking out on the ice. It made a few creaking noises that made my heart thump. As I got closer to the edge, Rosie kept trying to pull herself out with her front paws. But the ice was thin on the edge and she didn’t have enough leverage to pull herself out. she was submerged from the “armpits” down.
I sat down, thinking I could distribute my weight better and decrease the odds of cracking the ice. I inched closer to her. It was freezing and my pants were soaked.
I worked my way to the edge. She was flailing, but I managed to grab the harness that she wears around her torso whenever we are out walking or hiking. I gave her a yank, and it was enough to help her get out. She ran, without pause, to land. I inched my way back.
No, it was not a fully-thought through plan. I had an end goal in mind, but no clue if my actions would work or would lead us both to drown, or develop hypothermia. It’s not even the action that most sensible people would suggest. You’re really supposed to wait for professional help.
But in the moment, I had two options; I could think, or I could act. Both had pros and cons. Both could have turned out great, or horrible. In that moment, I chose to act. Rosie and I were both soaked through, hearts racing, frozen. But we were fine. It worked out ok. We made it back to the car, cranked the heat, and made our way home.
This might not be the best advice if you tend toward impulsive decision making. But if you’re an Overthinker like me, I bet there’s something today that you’re thinking about. You know two basic options to take. One involves thinking some more, doing more research. Another involves flinging yourself across a half frozen lake and hoping it works out ok.
I’m here today to tell you to throw yourself in the lake. It could turn out badly. You could get hurt. But taking action means at least you tried. You picked a direction and hoped for the best. If it didn’t work, you would be forced to try something else. Take another action.
The cure for Overthinking is this: messy, imperfect, terrifying action. Action when you’re not sure how it turns out, or even if it’s a good idea. A decision and going with your gut.
Your idea might survive as you sit here and think. It all could still work out ok. But it is also possible that your beloved idea will drown in an icy pond. How much does it mean to you? Are you willing to find out? Or are you ready to find the best choice available to you, based on all the imperfect options, and take action?