Home » Things I have learned so far » On Not Thinking

On Not Thinking

thinker 3

I am the Queen of Overthinking.

If there’s a way to dissect an issue, I’m there. Maybe it’s the lawyer training, or maybe it’s the writer instinct. Either way, I can meet practically any statement with “but what if . . . ?” (Not everyone loves this about me.)

Some of my best friends have been overthinkers. Perhaps the most notable example is the woman who wanted to have a Talk with her boyfriend as they were driving from Connecticut to Pennsylvania for a holiday with her family. Not only did she decide the point in the journey when this Talk would begin (the New Jersey Turnpike, because by then they’d be far enough along that he wouldn’t turn back), but she actually worked out a flow chart of how the Talk should go. If she said A and he said B, she would respond with C, but if he said D, she would respond with E. Truly masterful overthinking.

flow chart

Overthinkers don’t get enough credit. Overthinking is useful. Anticipating counterarguments and making strategic recommendations keeps a roof over my head and cat food in the dishes. It allows me to figure out what’s coming if I (or the client) take a particular action or elect not to. It’s really very Girl Scout: you can be prepared for nearly every eventuality if you think long and hard enough about something.

girl scout - smaller

Which is why I’m intrigued by an experiment I’ve sort of fallen into recently: allowing myself to be largely wine-free for Lent.

I don’t come from the tradition of giving up something for Lent. A chocolate-loving friend used to make a practice of giving up chocolate every year; on Easter morning, her breakfast would be a large chocolate rabbit. I never understood the purpose of this ritual, but it pleased her.

chocolate bunnies

Obviously, giving something up for Lent, whether chocolate or cigarettes or Twitter, is intended to have a spiritual dimension: by making this small sacrifice, you’re preparing for Good Friday with the unparalleled sacrifice Jesus made. Lent is a time of preparation for the depth of Good Friday and the joy and triumph of Easter.

Over the years, I’ve occasionally tried to give something up for Lent, but my resolve usually fades out within a few days. This is peculiar since I’ve generally thought about it quite thoroughly in advance. One year, I decided to try a weekly fast. I studied various texts on the practice, which was something quite common in Biblical times. During the first fast day,  I had no time or interest in spiritual matters, because all I could think about was how hungry I was. I decided that tea wouldn’t be a fast-breaker, and it might help with the caffeine headache. By evening, I tossed the notion out, reasoning that after all, I’d skipped one meal, which was an accomplishment. Clearly, I should have started more slowly. The next week, I forgot completely about my designated fast day, and after that, it was all over.

This year, I sort of backed into my current practice. It is an unfortunate reality that for me, there’s a well-documented correlation between wine and weight gain. This isn’t rocket science: wine has calories, and the more calories I ingest, the more I weigh. (Duh.) During the post-fire experience of the past few months, I determined that I was entitled to whatever food and beverage I desired without regard to such mundane matters as calories. As a result, despite a great deal of activity, I gained seven pounds in less than four months. It did not require enormous overthinking to connect the dots.


So I did what any reasonable person who didn’t want to buy new fat clothes would do: I returned to Weight Watchers. But my heart wasn’t in it. I listened to people talking about their weight-loss journeys, and my main reaction was, “Good for you, but I’m in this rut and I can’t seem to climb out.” Bad habits are difficult to leave behind, but they’re a snap to fall back into.

Rationally, I knew the arguments in favor of cutting out (or at least back on) wine. First, it was simple to eliminate. A perfectly delightful meal could be had without it. Second, not only would it result in fewer calories, but it would save money. With the credit card bill for some of the nonessential post-fire redecorating coming in, this was a consideration. Also, I wondered whether not drinking at dinner might help motivate me to get off the sofa after dinner so I could accomplish at least a few things on my never-ending to-do list.


Then came Ash Wednesday. I’d planned to go to church, but I was working on a project that was already overdue. So, as I sat at my desk that evening before dinner, I finished off the last bottle of chardonnay from a case I’d purchased in a “buy in bulk to save money” effort. There wasn’t much left in the bottle, so when it was gone, I opened some champagne because it was the only chilled bottle in the house. I drank it with dinner, having every intention of returning to my desk afterward, but somehow I ended up on the sofa, watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and playing computer games.

The next morning, I considered the prior evening’s activities. Was it possible there was a correlation between consuming wine and decreased energy and initiative? What would happen, I thought, if I didn’t buy more wine? Granted, there was most of the bottle of champagne left, but what if I didn’t drink it—at least, not that night? Since I was already planning to attend a book talk that evening, I wouldn’t be home anyway, so it would be a pretty painless way to experiment. Also, I figured that since I hadn’t started this experiment on Ash Wednesday, it wouldn’t be a Lenten fast as such, so I wasn’t bound to it for forty days if I didn’t want to be. With the reins this slack, I went to the book talk, came home, and finished the client’s project without really noticing the absence of wine from my evening.

On Friday night, I decided to try again. No huge determined “I won’t”. Rather, just “let’s see what happens if.” What happened was that I felt . . . fine. After dinner, it occurred to me to unpack some jewelry and makeup that had been sitting in my bedroom in bags ever since I’d gotten back from the hotel. So instead of sitting on the sofa watching MTM, I brought order to that corner of the bedroom so that I could finally check “unpack bedroom” off my list.


Saturday came along, and I decided I’d try again. It would be more challenging, because I was going to a friend’s surprise party that night. The party was at a restaurant, and the invitation said there would be a cash bar. When I arrived, I thought of getting a seltzer or something similar since I generally find sparkling water to be an excellent wine-substitute. I heard several people mentioning getting a glass of wine or a beer, though, and hearing people talking about their drinks influenced me. I snapped back to reality when the woman handed me a fairly small glass and told me it would be seven dollars. That lone little glass at the start of the party was my only wine of the night; after that, I drank water constantly. (I’d like to say I ate in a virtuous Weight Watchers manner, but we can safely assume that whatever calories I saved on the wine were offset by the sausage pizza and birthday cake.)


And then there was Sunday. Again, no wine. Again, lots of dinner, but at least it was healthy this time—salmon, sugar snap peas, wild rice/brown rice medley. Admittedly, it would have been healthier if I hadn’t had a major dessert craving that included both the virtuous (a container of flavored yogurt and a Fiber One brownie) and the not-so-virtuous (a hollow chocolate Santa stashed in the cabinet since Christmas). On the other hand, I got myself off the sofa, finished the last bits of unpacking in the living room, and worked on cleaning up the kitchen, including hauling a number of things to the basement that had accumulated during the unpacking process.


Now, here I sit on Monday night. The half-bottle of champagne is still in the refrigerator; I didn’t drink it with dinner. The frugal part of me thinks I should finish it so it doesn’t go to waste. The curious part of me wants to see what will happen if I continue not drinking it. Will I eat more? Will I accomplish more?

From a strictly scientific approach, I’m intrigued by how this is playing out. My overthinking led me to believe I’d struggle with breaking this habit. After all, it’s a habit I enjoy. I like the taste of some wines, especially my beloved chardonnay. (I’d happily take a lifelong break from sweet wines and hard liquor.) I don’t know if it’s my “let’s see what happens if” attitude that’s keeping me going, but in a weird way, not thinking is working. I’m not setting any rules. I’m aware of not drinking the champagne, but I don’t feel deprived, maybe because nobody—not me, not Weight Watchers, not the principles of Lent—are saying I can’t have it if I decide I’d like to. Maybe it’s easier when it’s a light, graceful choice—not right now, thanks.

I’ll have to think about that.

thinker 2


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