Aug 5 • 5M

147. Figuring It Out: Not All It's Cracked Up To Be

It’s OK to NOT analyze everything to the point of exhaustion.

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“If I could just figure this out, I would be so much better.”

This is a thing I hear all the time. If you are reading this, there is a chance that you have been stuck in the “figuring out” loop at least once in the recent past. Maybe you’re stuck in it now. It’s very common.

Another variant comes in the form of statements like, “I’m the kind of person that just needs to know, then I’m better once I do.”

Some things in life can be known or figured out. This is true, and when you can know or can figure out, go for it. Humans made it to the top of the food chain at least in part based on our ability to figure stuff out when required. The magic here is in being able to recognize when we are confronted with things that either can’t be figured out, or don’t need to be figured out.

That’s usually where things go off the rails for folks like us.

It is entirely possible, and sadly quite common, for human beings to accidentally turn brain power into a weapon pointed directly at ourselves. This happens most often in our community when the need to figure things out becomes a major component in the drive to avoid fear and feel safe and certain about the world. In a state of disordered anxiety where uncomfortable and disturbing morph into disastrous and dangerous, this can really get out of control.

There is no logic behind insisting that your totally healthy heart is about to kill you. There is no clear reason for thinking that you should not be allowed around sharp objects because you might harm yourself or others against your will. I’ve written quite often about the fact that thoughts have no boundaries and no limits. They can make up whatever they want to make up. An anxious brain takes a twitch in your forearm and turns it into a frantic trip the hospital just because it thinks it should. There’s no factual basis for any of what happens in our brains, which is bad news when we stray into the realm of an anxiety disorder.

So when we insist that we “Feel better when we know”, but there’s nothing to actually know, we wind up stuck in a never ending cycle where we bring the power of our brains to bear on a problem that can’t be solved by thinking or asking. Frustrated and even more agitated and afraid, we ask more and think harder and harder, desperate to achieve some sense of security and relief through thinking and analysis. This can become a nasty self-perpetuating habit designed to make things better when in fact making them far worse.

So what can we do about this? We can come to grips with the fact that sometimes in life, figuring things out can be both impossible, and un-necessary. You may HATE this idea because you have pinned so much of your identity and sense of security to thinking and knowing. But at some point when figuring out isn’t working no matter how hard we try, we have to step back and at least consider that we are wrong about all that.

Only then can we start to take steps toward NOT figuring out. Leaving questions unanswered, or even un-asked to begin with. Not knowing. Not needing to know. This takes time and effort in the form of behavioral change. It’s not easy. But it remains almost impossible if we dig our heels in and try desperately to justify why all the thinking and figuring out is warranted.

You may not want to abandon your need to know. You may feel like it is irresponsible. You may see it as denying or invalidating who you are. But people change the way they see themselves every day. It’s a natural part of how we move through life, change, and grow. I’m not telling you to abandon who you are. I’m just suggesting that maybe being the person that figures things out isn’t who you need to be all the time.


The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst done in turmoil. - Thomas Edison

Every Friday I’ll share one of my favorite quotes. They’ll often have direct application in recovery, but sometimes they’re just generally funny, inspiring, or thought-provoking.  I hope you enjoy