Thinking Too Deeply Can Make You Insane

photo of a woman thinking

“One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.” – Nikola Tesla

Have you ever caught yourself overthinking? Who hasn’t? It’s exhausting and often unproductive. Overthinking can make you feel like you’re running a mental marathon in quicksand. Yet, whenever we find ourselves facing a conundrum, we often accidentally think too deeply in order to remain sane.

After all, as the famous scientist Nikola Tesla once mused, “One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.” Tesla said this in regards to how he viewed his scientific contemporaries; they were great at deep thinking, but not so hot with clarity of purpose. Fast forward to today, and we’ve got experts for everything, from quantum physics to the best way to fold a fitted sheet — still a mystery. 

These subject matter experts become so holed up in their niches that all they tend to do is deep think and lose sight of reality while they mosey on down more rabbit holes. It’s easy when studying something too closely to lose perspective. Tesla is right and this advice is still very good.

Look at how many storybook villains work so hard, but forever fruitlessly, towards an impossible goal. You can’t blame them for not thinking deeply and being persistent. But, clarity of thought certainly isn’t in their repertoire. It’s tragic, really, which is why subconsciously we often relate with the bad guy who fails so fantastically.

On this note, I could also bring up Albert Einstein’s cheeky definition of insanity; that is, doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. But as obvious as this sounds, it’s super easy to get lost in the weeds of deep thought and lose sight of the big picture. Ever noticed how many storybook villains are so focused on their grand schemes that they miss the forest for the trees? We feel for them because, let’s face it, who hasn’t been there?

This is why I have a soft spot for villains who think clearly; they’re like the Professors Moriarty of the world. They’re the chess players, not the chess pieces. Those tend to be the most dangerous and fascinating antagonists for me. Exercises in futility get tiresome for me after a while. It’s much more entertaining and interesting to me when there’s someone behind the scenes pulling the strings and putting on a great show. 

But, alas, in real life, we often find ourselves acting more like the villain who keeps trying to build a moon laser and never asks why this is a good idea. Sadly enough, most people exercise futility far too often. As for me, I’m guilty as charged, too. I’ve gone down my fair share of rabbit holes myself, only to find myself lost in a deep forest of overgrowth and sadness. 

Often, I’m so engrossed in something that I forget to eat. Or worse, when I finally remember to have a quick meal and try to remedy the situation, my Hot Pocket in the microwave goes cold because I forgot it was there. That’s deep thinking gone rogue. When you start thinking too deeply about something, even things right in front of you fall out of focus. I can’t tell you how many obvious things go by the boards for me because I was too entrenched in thinking about too many things at once.

Here’s the deal: If your brain starts spinning like a hamster wheel, it’s time for a breather. Even if it’s just a five-minute break. Trust me, your brain — and your neighbors — will thank you. A clear mind is like a superpower in the land of over-thinkers. Learn to step away from things when they become too overwhelming are aren’t vital to your survival; some lines of thought are well-worth abandoning.

Remember, if you find yourself lost in thought, maybe you’ve overstayed your welcome in the land of deep contemplation. Switch it up, take a walk, watch a cat video or two, and then come back with a fresh pair of eyes.You’ll be amazed at how a little clarity can turn a villainous plan into a heroic strategy. So, you can think deeply, but don’t dive so deep that you need a submarine to withstand the water pressure. Stay sane, my friends.

~ Amelia Desertsong

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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