In his book The Art of Thinking Clearly
, author and entrepreneur Rolf Dobelli tells the story of an “intelligent centipede” to illustrate the hazards overthinking:
Sitting on the edge of a table, the clever centipede saw a tasty grain of sugar across the room. He then started to come up with options for his approach: Should he crawl down the left or right table leg? Which foot should take the first step, and which ones should follow? Because he was good at math, he could analyze all the variants and select the optimal path.
Finally, he took the first step. But with his head still clouded by calculations, he got tangled up and stopped to review his plan.
In the end, he went no further and starved.
Overthinking may not be as consequential for you, but it’s probably still worth avoiding: “if you think too much, you cut off your mind from the wisdom of your feelings.”
When should you go with your gut feeling, and when should you listen to your rational thought?
Dobelli recommends the below rules of thumb:
When to use your intuition
You can safely rely on your intuition in the following scenarios: when you’re facing situations that involve “practiced activities” such as motor skills (like the centipede); questions you’ve answered a thousand times; or decisions that our Stone Age ancestors dealt with, such as what is edible and who is trustworthy and would make a good friend.
In these cases, dwelling on every detail blunts your intuitive ability to solve problems.
When to use your rational thought
With complex matters, such as investment decisions, “sober reflection is indispensable” because evolution hasn’t equipped us for such considerations. Here, logic trumps intuition.