Has your Analytical Mind Taken Over Your Life?

Analytical Mind

Thinking ability is an amazing gift and it allows us to accomplish wonderful things. The human mind is the greatest problem solver on the planet, and it is eager to provide you with the answer to any question, and the solution to any challenge.

The mind and the thinking side of life

As soon as you present your mind with a question it goes to work analyzing and calculating. It combs your mental file cabinets in search of relevant information. It quickly picks out similarities and patterns as it builds an almost instant resource of connected data. What a marvel the human mind is.

We can use this amazing ability of our mind for just about anything you can think of. Whenever we make plans for the day, the week, or the year, our mind goes into analytical mode. As we review past performance, our mind becomes an efficiency expert seeking ways to make improvements. Our mind is a tireless servant, chomping at the bit and ready to take on any and all challenges that we may give it.

The experiencing side of life

There is another wonderful ability we need to consider that also makes a giant contribution to an amazing life . It’s the ability to actually experience life through our five senses. Like the mind, our senses also gather information and feed it to our nervous system, but this happens on a completely different level then pure mental analysis. This is a different kind of intelligence altogether.

In fact, when our senses are fully engaged, the thinking side of our mind often comes to a screeching halt. This is what allows us to fully savor an experience in the moment. When you stop to smell that perfect rose, or you come out from a cold shadow into the warm embrace of the sunshine, what happens? Do you stop to analyze it with your mind, or do you just experience it?

When the mind and sensory organs fully merge

There are rare occasions when the full power of our analytical mind and our sensory experience come together in the moment. This usually happens in conjunction with a huge dose of adrenaline. Have you ever been in an emergency situation where everything turned into slow motion, and all of your senses were on hyper alert, while your mind was calculating every detail?

One such occasion that stands out for me happened in a cross country hang gliding race over a rugged range of mountains. I had to make an emergency landing in a completely unacceptable speck of clear ground deep in the forest. The whole event probably lasted about 30 seconds, but for me it seemed like I had all the time in the world. My heightened state of alertness turned those seconds into slow motion, and I was fully aware of every moment. Like I said, these occasions are rare and adrenaline usually plays a major role.

The analytical mind versus the physical senses

More often than not, our mind tends to pull us away from, or minimize sensory input. This is because our senses give us information in the moment while our mind likes to operate outside of the moment in some abstract time warp. We can get so busy problem solving that thinking takes over our awareness, and we lose our sense of the here and now. Sometimes this kind of concentration serves us, but sometimes it robs us of the experience of life.

The mind is a bully and it likes to be in charge. Making room in our life to enjoy the experience of living in the moment, means learning to control the runaway thought process and allowing sensory feedback to have shared custody of our life. We need to learn to stop and smell the roses whether our busy mind likes it or not.

Paths that lead to balance

There are two main approaches to subduing the mental monster and temporarily giving our consciousness over to our other senses. These two approaches are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. In between these two extremes, there exists a wide variety of useful activities that allow for an increased sense of balance.

As we look at the spectrum of possibilities, keep in mind that what we are looking for here is greater balance. We create this balance by allowing some time, on a regular basis, for the mind to take a back seat while we allow sensory input to help us feel more fully engaged in the moment. Let’s consider the two primary but opposite approaches.

1) Ramp up sensory stimulation

With this approach we engage in any activity that creates massive sensory stimuli. Doing so will literally force the analytical mind out of the picture by overriding it with stronger neurological signals. Some examples would include any form of physical activity or intense exercise that you cannot do on autopilot.

Some that come to mind are body surfing, weight lifting, circuit training, aerobics, getting a massage, and sex. These kinds of activities demand that we be “in the moment” and they are linked primarily to a state of physical readiness. They are defined by sensory involvement and as a result, we are literally forced to participate in real time.

2) Quiet the mind

This approach is the exact opposite of the last one. Instead of using sensory stimulation to beat back the brain bully, we coax it into a state of peaceful hibernation. Of course, this one requires that we learn to consciously gain control of the thinking process, and then purposely dial it way down. This can be more difficult then it sounds because the analytical mind will try to take advantage of the lack of sensory input to do what it loves to do – THINK!

People use a variety of techniques to accomplish the goal of a quiet mind. All of the popular forms of meditation and controlled breathing share this objective. Anything that can mesmerize us, such as soothing music or nature sounds, a campfire or fireplace, also helps to quiet the mind. Additionally, there are some specially designed skills like the Sedona Method or the Release Technique with mental quieting as their main objective.

We should also recognize that millions of people also use drugs and/or alcohol in an attempt to dial down the thinking process without any real effort on their part. There are also new technologies that do most of the work for you by using highly specialized rhythmic patterns to control brain wave frequency such as binaural beats.

Develop your five senses + 1

The middle ground between intense sensory stimulation and a quiet mind is where we spend the majority of our time. The area is filled with a wide array of practical steps that we can use on a daily basis to maintain our mental balance. A great place to start is by purposely exercising your five senses throughout the day. For example:

Taste. When you eat a meal or a treat, take smaller bites and fully experience the flavors. If you love chocolate, savor a small piece as it melts in your mouth instead of chomping it down in unhealthy amounts. Turn eating into an exercise of culinary pleasure by slowing down and experiencing it via your taste buds.

Smell. This is often a major contributor to the joy of food but it also stands alone as a sensory pleasure. As the saying goes, take time to smell the roses. Don’t just take a quick sniff, but drink down all of the incredible aromas that can add such a wonderful dimension to your life.

Touch. If you close your eyes and see with your hands and fingers, what will you discover? Probably that you have not been fully aware of this amazing gift. How wonderful the world of touch is. Much of our emotional balance is linked to the human touch. Next time you touch someone or something, let yourself feel the experience without thinking about it.

Sound. Many people like to close their eyes and really listen to beautiful music or the sound of waves crashing on the beach. If we really listen, sound has the ability to quiet our whole being. When appropriate, take the opportunity to surround yourself with calming sounds, and then let it engulf you and carry you far away from the analytical noise.

Sight. Our eyes are the most direct sensory path to our mind. Therefore, we should make it a point to fill them with beautiful sights whenever possible. Do you stop to experience a beautiful sunset in all it’s glory? Do you marvel at the splendor of the natural world? If you put before your eyes that which is visually soothing your mind will make the connection. As a result, your life will feel much more balanced and peaceful.

Laughter. This is a wonderful, happy, sensory experience that has scores of benefits. Laughter involves our whole being and it takes place in the moment. There is no reason to analyze this one (ha ha!), just do it as often as you can.

Balance is the goal

A life rich in experience and wisdom is one that has found a balance between thinking and experiencing. Both are valuable and both make a solid contribution to the quality and joy of living. In this age of information overload and mental bombardment, it’s important that we remember to take time away from our analytical mind to experience life first hand and in the moment.

How do you relax your mind?
Which of your five senses are you most aware of?
The lines are open.

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  1. Mark Lewis April 16, 2009 Reply

    Time slows down for me too when I’m in a sailing race and the competition is close. Like you say it’s adrenaline and I’m at my peak of performance.

    Interesting analogy that I thought of while reading this great article is that of a traveler. This is my $64,000 traveling question: do you enjoy the moment or do you capture it in a photo or video for your mind to savor later?

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hey Mark, hopefully we can do both. When I go to Hawaii, I always come back with dozens of sunset photos of beautiful moments that were fully savored in the moment and then captured for viewing on those cold winter days.

      • David March 12, 2014 Reply

        I was about to comment you sound like you’ve reached that balance (because why not both, y’know?) and then I realized you are the author of this article haha. Lately, I’ve been feeling burnt out and overwhelmed in my own thoughts and supposed logical thinking and over analysis of virtually everything…and recently recognized this is preventing me from feeling the joys of life. I’m glad I’ve come across your article, because its like a rescue float saving me from drowning in my ocean of thoughts. (I cannot swim in real life either!) So, I thank you.

  2. Stephen April 16, 2009 Reply

    Excellent article Jonathan. This is really timely for me too. I enjoy my morning walks, but even then I find my mind thinking too much. I have to really pay attention to stay in the moment. The rest of the day all the way until I go to bed, my mind races too much. There is so much I want to do, it is hard to stop.

    I’m really trying to do better and these tips will really help. I need to step up my exercise to a more intense level so I have to stop thinking.

    I wish touching people was more socially acceptable because I think that is something we desperately need to do more often. In the meantime I guess I will have to be satisfied with the trees!

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi Stephen, as I was writing this I was thinking, “physician, heal thy self.” I think all productive people struggle with this one. Obviously we enjoy the mental side, but we also recognize the value of, and enjoy “being in the moment.” Balance is always the hardest thing.

  3. Kikolani April 17, 2009 Reply

    Over analytical thinking is a definitely problem for me, and there is no place where it becomes more obvious than dancing. I take ballroom dance lessons, and my brain wants to understand everything before it allows my body to do it.

    I had the same problem in tennis, where I was over thinking my shots, and I notice now that when I just myself react naturally, my shots are better than when my brain is going “Ok, setup for a forehand going cross-court..”

    But going back to my original point, if there was ever an activity that absolutely requires quieting the mind and letting the body learn instead, it’s ballroom dancing. If the mind is taking over, for me, then I’m just stuck.

    ~ Kristi

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi Kristi, I can relate to that. I have had that same challenge with ballroom dancing. I think when we are early in the learning curve we think before we move. Later, we feel more comfortable with the flow and we can relax into it. I love to Rumba.

      • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

        Rumba is one of my toughest to do dances. So far, I just look stiff as a board. There is a definite disconnect in the way I should be able to move, and the way I actually do. :)

        ~ Kristi

        • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

          Kristi, you will soon be gliding around the floor, I can feel it. And congratulations on your upcoming wedding.

  4. Angela April 17, 2009 Reply

    Great reminder. I’ve fought my analytical tendencies for years, to good success thanks to much effort, but always still more work to do. Playing music is a great escape for us, also tai chi, beach days, and playing with our animals.

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi Angela, thanks for including playing music. I mentioned listening, but if you are a musician then all the better. I agree about the animals also, they seem to be wired for life in the moment and we can learn from that.

  5. Shamelle April 17, 2009 Reply

    Emotions Vs logical thinking…. that’s something I always seem to struggle with. It takes me a long time to make decision where this occurs..

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi Shamelle, making decisions holds a lot of people back. I wrote about this extensively in 7 Simple Steps. Everything starts with a decision but we don’t need to over analyze the process. Deep down, you always know what the right decision is so just make it and move on

  6. Rocket Bunny April 17, 2009 Reply

    This is an excellent article and I have just read so much about sharpening the senses.
    For us who do have all of our senses it is very interesting to read of the ones who have to learn to adapt without them.
    I find meditation to be helpful and yoga or other workouts to help me relax and open my mind to a freer way of thinking,
    I am more of a salsa dancer not thinking before I move -Thumper has many years of dancing schools. we dance divinely together.

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi Bunny, I read your post about Helen Keller, it was an inspiration. So, you and Kristi both like to dance. Guys, have you figured it out?

  7. Allison April 18, 2009 Reply

    I really appreciated this post today!

    My mind is constantly analyzing & reviewing…a never ending spiderweb spanning from one project or idea to another.

    Started a physical “inbox” (Getting Things Done by David Allen)…every thought and analysis goes into “in” until the proper time to process it. Incredibly helpful in keeping me involved & invested in every minute rather than cluttered with thought.

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi Allison, I haven’t GTD but I have heard good things. Glad it’s working for you. The important thing is that we find ways to stay involved and engaged like you are doing.

  8. Dragos Roua April 18, 2009 Reply

    Excellent, Jonathan!

    I’ve been many times in both of the extremes: sensory overload and thinking overload and I must say you described those states with great clarity and accuracy.

    In the end, we all have just this one tiny little second we live in and it would be such a waste to spend that second thinking instead of living.

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hey Dragos, your “just one tiny little second we live in” analogy makes the point crystal clear, there really is only this moment.

  9. Alik Levin April 18, 2009 Reply

    I admit, sometimes I am the victim of my own analytical mind ;) . Good for me I become aware of it and too few steps to protect myself from me. In a nutshell i adopted simple mantra of “Think, less, do more, revise and improve”. I also started to practice Emotional Intelligence, it helped me to spend less energy on regrets and focus on future improvements.

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hey Alik, good affirmation! The simple act of doing gets our senses involved and helps balance the two forces. You mentioned regret in your last comment also, sounds like a challenge you have faced and overcome. That’s a good thing to move past because as you said, “it never helps, only wastes your precious energy.” I totally agree.

  10. Daniel Brenton April 19, 2009 Reply

    I like that line: “…allowing sensory feedback to have shared custody of our life.” Yeah, sometimes it feels like I need a divorce from my analytical side, but I decided to opt for inner marriage counseling.

    (You know I had to say that.)

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hey Daniel, sounds like a viable solution. Make sure your counselor doesn’t get overly analytical.

  11. Robin Easton April 19, 2009 Reply

    Hi Jonathan, this is a topic SO dear to me that I get overwhelmed in leaving a comment. Only because so much wants to come out at once. LOL!! :)

    Just THANK YOU!!!!

    I was twenty-five, living in the Rainforest my first year there and I consciously decided that I wanted to chuck all books, religion, shed as much schooling, familiar and social conditioning as I could be aware of, and start from scratch. Unless I knew something to be true in my gut then I chucked it out. Until I “knew” without a doubt from my own life experience that something was true it did not exist.

    Starting from this totally barren and unknown place, using only all my senses and my heart to guide me I began to explore the world.

    I “re-learned”, for me, what it means to be alive, what Life is about for ME, what is fully possible, what is true (for me), what was real and so forth.

    The journey and my time in the wild went on for many years and it was one hell of a journey, raw, exposed, unknowing, unassuming, vast beyond my comprehension. It shattered every preconceived notion I had. I explored and became deeply intimate with a world, a reality that goes far beyond social conditioning and edict, far beyond organized religion, school, materialism, stores, things, concepts, books, TV, “civilization”, etc.

    I fell down many many times, dragged myself through the muck and mire, picked myself up again and again, as I “reinvented the wheel”, so to speak, I groped many times in total darkness. I learned great patience, I learned to simply “BE”, that there is nowhere to be. I learned to trust my other brain, my enteric nervous system that lives in the esophagus, stomach, small intestines and colon, that brain that gives us the “gut feelings” we get. I learned to take risks and face fear head on. I fell deeply in love with Life.

    Oh, Jonathan, this is SUCH a powerful topic and area to explore. I am writing about my experience with it in my second book, which I am currently working on.

    I applaud you for reminding us of the importance of this part of who we ARE. I applaud you for validating it’s existence. So few fully understand it’s deep and profound significance. When I saw this post I was thrilled beyond words. But as you can see I quickly recovered and found…just a few words. LOL!!! :) :)

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hello Robin, that relearning process is something we can all benefit from. The structure of the current educational model, and the rewards of the secular world are geared toward one sided development. Much of the sensory input we experience has been crafted by advertisers and others with some kind of agenda. To achieve balance requires that we first become aware of the imbalance, and then make a decision to address it. Thanks for sharing your fascinating story.

  12. Dennis Dalton April 20, 2009 Reply

    Great post. I struggle with my monstrous mind every day. I am a writer and everything I expereience I think of writing about it; I am also a painter and a photographer, and everything I see is analyzed for a painting or a photograph. Sometimes it feels like a horrible curse not being able to quiet the mind! I am presently in the process of learning to meditate and hope it helps!

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi Dennis, busy minds can be difficult to quiet. It will take practice and I suggest using your five senses to break the thinking habit. Take time to see, smell, taste, listen, and feel. Put your whole focus on the sensory input and don’t analyze, just experience.

  13. Sandra Hendricks August 19, 2010 Reply

    Thank you Jonathan, I used to contemplate way too much, and sometimes I have to regroup. Using my common senses is definitely a way back to balance. Some people depend more on their senses and can become out of balance as well, I think. Sometimes we need to stop and reflect and seriously consider life.

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi Sandra, we need it all for sure, but we need the skill to regulate also. It is only when we get out of balance that we experience problems. These days many people’ minds are stuck in the ON position and they can’t get them to disengage.

  14. Mark December 23, 2010 Reply

    Being overly-analytical can be both a blessing and a curse. I find myself questioning things that most people accept without mental conflict. I believe it has much to do with your brain chemistry. Some people are more capable of shutting off that part of their mind.

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi Mark, I think it is a skill that we can all learn although, it may be more difficult for some to master.

  15. Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

    I really, really, really, really, really, really….
    relate to both the dancing and tennis. Ugh. I used to be such a natural at both when I was younger, and momentarily and spontaneously now! :D This is something I definitely struggle with, especially in terms of creativity when it comes to the arts and just natural bodily reflexes when it comes to sport.

    I’m at a point where I care WAY too much about letting go, and what it means to let go, and to just BE let go… ack!

    It feels like there’s so much to do in order to do this, to ‘perfect’ letting go… Man I’m so caught up in thinking, it stinks. Sometimes I want to understand why I’m doing this, sometimes I just want to drop it all, but I can never do either…! Great article though, definitely a favorite.

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi M, trying to understand why we do everything is definitely an analytical state. Try letting go of wanting to know why and don’t over think the letting go process. Practice exhaling your thoughts and breathing in quiet. Sounds silly I know, but give it a try for 10 minutes and see what happens.

      • M February 1, 2011 Reply

        It seems so impossible! I’m definitely a prisoner of my own mind at this point – the thoughts are running fast. I’m not sure why I want to understand everything I do – doubts about nature and it’s course is the big theme, but there are so many other little things I can think of. I feel like I’m stifling who I am, and there’s no way out. I’m so completely out of the moment, always. But thanks for the post Jonathan, I was glad to see that some can relate! I will practice what you’ve suggested.

        • Jonathan February 14, 2011 Reply

          This is hard to grasp M, but many times letting go of wanting to know the answer will get your mind out of the way and allow the answer to show up. Over thinking never leads to answers, just more questions.

  16. Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

    i never really respond to much…but that analogy…hit me right on the spot. If you think about it more…it’s actually pretty scary in how it pertains to your life and how one day you will reflect back on it…only then you will know the answer…

    • Jonathan February 14, 2011 Reply

      Hey James, it’s a modern day plague. Our minds can drive us nuts if we don’t learn to quiet them.

  17. Galen Pearl September 5, 2011 Reply

    For much of my life, I lived in my head. No accident that I became a lawyer! I discounted my intuition when it conflicted with my rational mind. In more recent times, however, I have shifted to the middle, or even a bit more on the intuitive side. I think of my analytic skills as a tool rather than as a Bible. If analysis conflicts with intuition, these days intuition wins.

    • Jonathan September 7, 2011 Reply

      Hi Galen, isn’t it nice that we have both? The power seems to be in the ability to harmonize them and then make a conscious choice. Sounds like you’ve been able to do that quite well.

  18. Marc September 6, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan – great post! This topic is a major struggle for me every day. You articulated it really well. About a year ago I discovered yoga and have found this to be really helpful on many levels, including dealing with this issue. It takes about 20-25 minutes into the 90 minute class for the thinking side of my mind to turn off, but once it does I’m a happy camper. For the first 20 minutes my thinking side is usually saying, “It’s not going to work this time. I knew it. I’ve gotta get back to my desk to do x, y, and z…” and suddenly I’m lost in the moment and next thing I know the class is ending. I only find time for this twice a month but am trying to make it happen at least weekly. Great post!

    • Jonathan September 7, 2011 Reply

      Hi Marc, the analytical mind can be a real bully sometimes. Learning to be fully present in the moment can certainly be challenging. Try visualizing an on off switch that controls the processor, then play with it and see what happens.

  19. asif hussain October 9, 2012 Reply

    Hey Jonathan,

    Your above article is amazing and very insightful. I would like to share one of my problem which is very connected to your article. I have been trying to focus and concentrate on one subject or issue. But its been quite a long time i realized that i have not come to conclusion or made a final decision. Later on I tried to monitor my thoughts thinking where do i make mistake while thinking on a particular subject and trying to get a solution of the problem and execute the needful things. I realized that when i start thinking about an issue it leads me to a different scenario where i get to see another issue and this process keeps on going until i start doing something else. So, in this process i lost my initial thought process and land myself totally somewhere else. Thereafter, i thought i should control my thoughts and try to experience the moments rather than living in past or future moments. I did figured out that now i need to either relax my mind or deviate my mind by doing some extracurricular activities. Things are better now and I am thankful to you for posting this article.

    Regards, Asif

  20. Sean November 21, 2013 Reply

    I am a software developer. When I am at my best I am in the moment completely focused on what I am doing. When I am at my worst I am stressing about something that could happen or thinking about my past. I have had times when work was incredibly stressful. Clients are demanding things being done and I am working late to get it done.

    One of my best tools is to take a break and practice a period of complete mindfulness. I will go outside and look at the trees and really notice how they move with the wind. I will smell the air. I will feel the ground under my feet. It really helps me get back to now.

    Now is a really important time to your well being. It brings you back. It instantly removes the stress. You are not thinking about what might happen or what other people are thinking. You are just being you.

    I love it.

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