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Overthinking, Worry and Creative Problem-solving

Imaginational and cognitive intensities, qualities of the kind of “teeming” brain that many high ability and creative people have, may be key elements for solving problems and doing creative thinking.

But over-active thinking and imagination can sometimes get in our way.

This number problem comes from the post Overthinking and Your Child-Like Mind and, as the caption notes (click to view larger size), children are able to solve it much more quickly than programmers.

I gave up on it after 20 seconds or so. Impatience may be a good topic for another post.

I don’t know the validity of the caption, or the source other than the above blog and a number of others which have published it. The answer is below.

Too much thinking and worry

In her article Why We Worry (published in Scientific American Mind), Victoria Stern writes, “Chronic worriers operate under the misperception that their overthinking and attempts at controlling every situation allow them to problem-solve and plan for the future.

“Instead their thought pattern hinders cognitive processing and also causes overstimulation of emotion- and fear-processing areas in the brain.”

But she also reports that a 2005 study by psychologist Maya Tamir, “then at Stanford University, showed that neurotic students were more likely to believe that increasing their level of worry when working on a cognitively demanding task, such as a test, would allow them to excel.

“Worrying before the test indeed helped the more neurotic individuals do better, whereas the pretest level of worry did not particularly influence the overall experience or outcomes for the less neurotic participants.”

Stern also comments, “Although it is difficult to determine the precise line between healthy, beneficial worry and unhealthy, detrimental worry, Michel Dugas, a psychologist at Concordia University in Montreal, likes to think of worry as a bell curve whereby moderate levels are associated with improved functioning, but excess levels are associated with a decline in performance.”

Stern notes that “Christine Calmes, a postdoctoral fellow at the VA Capitol Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center in Baltimore, believes that successful people operate a little higher on the worry scale.”


Writer Stephen King has said: “I’ve taken off two months, three months at a time, and, by the end, I get really squirrelly. My night life, my dream life, gets extremely populated and crazed.

“It’s as though something in there is running all the time.”

That quote is one I really like, and used in my post Developing Creativity: Excitabilities – Our Teeming Brains, in which giftedness consultant Lesley Sword describes Overexcitabilities as “an abundance of physical, sensual, creative, intellectual and emotional energy that can result in creative endeavours as well as advanced emotional and ethical development in adulthood.

“Overexcitabilities feed, enrich, empower and amplify talent.”

The authors of a resource book on this topic, Living With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults, Susan Daniels, PhD and Michael M. Piechowski, PhD,  explain that “Overexcitability is a translation of the Polish word which means ‘superstimulatability.’

“(It should have been called superexcitability.) … Another way of looking at is of being spirited – ‘more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, energetic’…It would be hard to find a person of talent who shows little evidence of any of the five overexcitabilities.”

But if you find yourself over-analyzing and overthinking – and getting anxious – to a disruptive extent, it might be helpful for your creative work and your health to slow down or back off.

Answer to the numbers question:

“The ques­tion has noth­ing to do with math­e­mat­ics. Look for the closed loops or shapes in each num­ber and count them. In 0, 6, 8 and 9. 8 has two of them. 2581 has two. The answer is 2.”


Overthinking, Worry and Creative Problem-solving

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Overthinking, Worry and Creative Problem-solving. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 21, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/creative-mind/2012/04/overthinking-worry-and-creative-problem-solving/


Last updated: 26 Apr 2012
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Apr 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.