I have always known that I spend a significant amount of time thinking about everything. In the Meet the Authors section of this blog, I shared, “It is safe to say that I am always thinking about something.” My brain is constantly thinking through a dozen thoughts simultaneously at a dizzying pace. However, despite awareness of my over-thinking, I never really considered the impact from the pace of this constant mental stream. Then, during a recent conversation with my husband, the idea of the “speed of thoughts” was brought to my attention.
I was listening to an audiobook at 1.5 speed while doing the dishes. It is not unusual for me to listen to audiobooks and podcasts just a little faster than their recorded speed, I usually hover somewhere between 1.25-1.75 (on a scale of 0.5-3) depending on the tone, cadence, and dialect of the narrator.
In the middle of a particularly engrossing part of the book, my husband walked into the kitchen and exclaimed, “How can you do that!?”
I looked up and paused my book, quickly thinking through all of the things I was doing that he could be referring to. Coming up with nothing, I said, “Do what?”
“Listen to your book like that, I can’t even understand what they are saying!” he said, genuinely surprised.
“Oh!” I laughed, “I don’t know, it doesn’t seem that fast.”
After more conversation about listening to audiobooks, I explained that listening at a faster speed helps the narrator keep up with the thoughts in my head.
My husband looked more shocked than before. “Your thoughts sound like that?!”
I paused for a second, “Well, yeah, you know me, always thinking about something.”
“No wonder you are always exhausted,” he said, shaking his head.
“No kidding, right!” I laughed and we moved on.
However, here I am weeks later still thinking about my husband’s reaction, NO WONDER I AM SO EXHAUSTED! Honestly, it never occurred to me that maybe the thoughts in other people’s heads aren’t constantly talking. Or that the occurrence of everyones’ thoughts aren’t consistently at a 1.5 speed. Even as I write I am thinking through several things at the same time. For example, while writing this sentence, the following thoughts flew simultaneously through my brain: I wonder when my daughter will wake up from her nap? Is it too chilly outside to ride our bikes to get ice cream? Did I receive that email I’ve been waiting for? I wonder how many more thoughts I will have before I finish typing this section about my thoughts. So, there you go, always thinking about everything.
Since having this realization that the frequency and speed of my thoughts might be contributing to my exhaustion, I have (not surprisingly) put some thought into trying to figure out what, if anything, I should do about it. Here’s what I’ve come up with after deeper reflection:
I recognize that slowing down is important. I want to be able to be in the moment with my kids. I do not want to miss out on anything when I am with them. I also want to be fair to the people in my life. I don’t want to spin so fast that I miss out on being present when I’m with people. I want to enjoy my life experiences.
The social worker side of me instinctively turns to mindfulness and breathing. Every school year, I teach my students about using mindfulness and breathing to help control their thoughts. As I apply this practice to my own experience, I started to wonder if I was more mindful, maybe my thoughts wouldn’t fly through my head so fast. However, this led me to consider some of my fears surrounding the possibility of slowing down my thoughts. First, I have a desire to know as much as I possibly can. I genuinely love learning, reading, and listening to things and then pondering their meaning and plausibility. If I spent too much time focusing on slowing down, when would I find time in my already packed days to obtain information and think through all of the interesting aspects? Second, what if I am unintentionally thinking so frequently and so fast in order to prevent myself from recognizing how stressed and overcommitted I feel. And, if I spend time figuring out how to slow my thoughts from a 1.5 to a 1 speed, in an attempt to feel less exhausted, but I replace that exhaustion with these stressed out feelings, is that really any better?
In the end, I am working towards a version of acceptance, this is just the way my brain works; this is the natural speed at which I process and learn. But, in the acceptance I am also working to be intentional about being present when I’m with my family and friends, and I’m learning to slow my thoughts during those moments. As I learned from the movie Inside Out, I am paying attention to who is driving my emotional wheel. If fear is behind the wheel and I recognize that in my speeding thoughts, then it is time for mindfulness, it is time to slow down and address the real reason I am spinning. However, if joy is driving the wheel and my quick thoughts are full of positivity, then why not, learn, ponder, enjoy, and think. So, that is where you will find me, trying to balance living in the moment, not running away from my fears, and allowing my brain to be exactly the speed that is me.
Author: Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.