Arts Creativity Life & Philosophy Psychology Writing

How to unthink

How to unthink

Knowledge can be a hindrance. The more we know, the more likely we’re to hesitate in times of execution.

So the overthinking basketball player misses a wide-open layup, the tennis player misses an easy return, or the painter or writer can’t seem to get their inspiration to convert on a blank canvas.

Stalling is a symptom of facing the resistance. When we try too hard to be perfect, we may do nothing at all.

So how can we stem the tide of excess contemplation?

One of the ways to think less author Flann O’Brien once said was to act “calculatedly stupid” and to enjoy what we’re doing. As Vincent Van Gogh put it: “Just slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face like some imbecile.”

We are at our best when we’re relaxed and instinctive, free from the chaos of the monkey mind.

Unthinking is the ability to apply years of learning at the crucial moment by removing your thinking self from the equation. Its power is not confined to sport: actors and musicians know about it too, and are apt to say that their best work happens in a kind of trance.

So do the work and let go, let God. Let inspiration be free-floating perspiration.

Read Non cogito, ergo sum

art via giphy

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By Wells Baum

Wells Baum is a daily blogger who writes about Life & Arts. He's also the author of four books.

65 replies on “How to unthink”

Great tip! I’m so guilty of wanting to be perfect that I overthink EVERYTHING. It’s so frustrating too because it stops me from the things I really want to.

Even with my blogging, I found my best content was when I just spent 30 minutes or so writing what ever came to my mind about a specific topic, not overthinking it…but then sometimes I sabotage myself when I get ready to publish, thinking it’s not good enough. Sigh.

Well, I’m seriously going to try your advice to just “let go” and enjoy what I’m doing.

Thanks for sharing this!

You’re very welcome. It’s so much better when we loosen up and can be confident in pursuing imperfection.

This is so true! When I overthink anything– especially my writing– I get frustrated with myself, and I’m unhappy with what I produce. But when I just let the words flow and stop thinking so hard about it, I find the passion and love that I have for writing.

Yes, drown out the noise by doing! Try some music as well. Focusatwill is helpful.

nice post. I was thinking earlier about how I set myself a goal of writing a blog a day and I think that constrained me. I overthought it and didn’t just let inspiration take me as it saw fit.

Thanks Kaitlin! The old adage rings true: the only way to do it is to do it, no matter how poorly.

I’m really bad about overthinking things but your post is inspired me to try harder to not let that happen…

We are all prone to perfection. As Margaret Atwood writes: “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

Ha, well said. I think that’s the paradox: we get caught in the try. When I can tell myself to avoid perfection I usually act — whether in sports or writing — with more freedom.

Great post. I tend to do alot of life contemplating in the middle of the month. Writing things down in a journal – such as goals and priorities helps my mind calm down.

Everything is practice. Once you do the work, you can better trust the executional aspect.

I’d love to be able to shut my mind off sometimes. I have anxiety so my brain is usually going at about 100 miles an hour – especially at night. It’s not fun. Also, I love your Support the blog button – the design is great!

This makes so much sense to me, even if it might be a little challenging to undertake. I will definitely give this a go the next time I’m stuck!

This is SO me!!! Constantly fighting with my monkey mind, overthinking and over analyzing every possible decision. While knowledge is power, it all depends on what type of knowledge and how use it.

Right on Ashley. Sometimes it helps to step away, literally, to go for a walk or take a shower. By turning off, we let the mind go to work.

Right?! Ironically it’s all the thinking and preparation done prior that gets you there.

Have you ever read about the state of flow? The description of flow reminds me of the “trance” that artists and musicians talk about. I agree that over thinking can cause a hindrance to productivity. I have definitely experienced this before.

I have heard of the flow state, when the mind moves faster than the pen or the eye faster than the camera. Wish there was a way to prompt it automatically 😉

This is absolutely true – when I face a writing deadline and can’t seem to start -it’s not because I don’t have enough info or ideas, but because I have too many! When that happens I just turn off the “logical/factual” part of my brain that “knows” and just write freely and enjoy the process of creating without overthinking it.. Later I come back and let the “logical thinking” part of my brain do the editing and fact checking

Well said. I like that way of thinking about it. ““The first draft of anything is sh*t.” — Ernest Hemingway


I agree, silencing the monkey mind takes practice. A major thing that has helped to silence mine is age. When I was younger, the damn thing wouldn’t shut up. But as I’ve gotten older and tend to care less what others think about me & my efforts, I have come to care much less, indeed even not to hear as well, the things that monkey has to say. Another practice I’ve recently found to be helpful is to write in a relatively chaotic environment. Interruptions often come at fortuitous moments just when I’m starting to obsess over a detail to the point it bogs me down, and sometimes the interruption brings with it the inspiration I needed to resolve the mounting tension.

Take care, be well, and happy blogging,


Appreciate the comment. And so true; as much as I enjoy silence, it too can dry up the creative swell. The ambient hum of the coffee usually provides the right balance. That sound is worth seeking.

I really needed to read this today. Sometimes I overthink every little aspect of things and get stuck not knowing how to go forward anymore. Thank you for this lovely blog post, I will try to act calculatedly stupid and just go on and enjoy things. Thank youu

The irony is that it takes some initial effort in order to strike that balance. Everything is practice.

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