Thinking = Good. Overthinking = Bad.

There’s been some sporadic press of late about how the U.S. Snowboarding Team listened to their iPod’s while competing at this year’s Winter Olympics. One of hte athletes summed it up best: “You’re not over-thinking, and that’s the best way to perform the harder tricks and maneuvers.”
Ever watch one of those surgery documentaries? Notice how the surgeon is casually rambling on while he’s toying around with someone’s heart? How can they be so casual? Shouldn’t he be…concentrating?
There are some widely accepted theories within the realm of cognitive psychology that say “no, he in fact shouldn’t be.” Once we learn stuff and become “experts” we store that knowledge away in long-term memory. Unlike our immediate consciousness, which finds us fumbling around and “thinking too much,” long-term memory is highly efficient. Our actions flow out of that knowledge in an almost rhythmic pace, unencumbered by the unnecessary ramblings of our immediate awareness.
As designers, it’s worthwhile to think about how we can present information and controls that quickly stick to long-term memory. The more “work” someone has to do to learn something, the longer they’re going to fester in the noisy world of short-term thinking. There are a lot of variables at play. The intelligence of the user. The pre-requisite “expertise” a user possesses. But the one thing we can control is the interface itself, and it’s our job to do what we can to reduce cognitive load.
So don’t blame those hotshot snowboarders. They’re just trying to bypass the clutter and tap into a rhythmic flow. They’re trying to think less. Any time a design can do that, it’s a home run.
[A nice summary article on cognitive load theory is available here.]

11 Comments Thinking = Good. Overthinking = Bad.

  1. Gus

    The golfer Gary Player had a great expression he would use about people thinking too much about their golf swing instead of just swinging the club.
    He called it “The Paralysis of Analysis”

    Reply
  2. Geof Harries

    I got an iPod for Christmas and I’ve been snowboarding for nearly 19 years. Never have these two worlds met – until January when I went for my first ride with tunes intact. What an incredible experience. You lose yourself in the rhythm, ebbing and flowing with the terrain and your music. You have to do it to understand why.
    Despite the music playing, you still say keenly aware of your natural surroundings, but you’re inspired to get your shred on in a whole different way. Too cool and so much fun!

    Reply
  3. Rich Ziade

    Wow. Well put. There’s another blog entry in here somewhere – about how music can help you tap into that other place where things flow better.
    I’ve done it countless times. I’ve got a tough design session ahead of me. Boards of Canada is thrown on and away we go.

    Reply
  4. Sharon

    Well thinking and over thinking hmmm i dnt think that over thinking is bad, but it depends on wot exactly you think, thinking means using your brain and working it out, and the breaon is a muscel, and the more you use it the more brainer you will get, But like i said it depends on wot you really wanna think abt.

    Reply
  5. Nik

    “Well thinking and over thinking hmmm i dnt think that over thinking is bad, but it depends on wot exactly you think, thinking means using your brain and working it out, and the breaon is a muscel, and the more you use it the more brainer you will get, But like i said it depends on wot you really wanna think abt.”
    Apparently someone isn’t thinking to spell correctly. Ha ha.

    Reply
  6. Rocky S

    I agree with this. At first, people may think “distraction”! However, I believe it taps into a state of mind that is more focused than before. When we focus extremely hard, being the imperfect humans we are, there are other things that may pop up, such as life problems etc. Would you rather have the possibility of worries and random thoughts or steady music that you know and love? I googled “Overthinking good or bad” and found this page because I myself tend to believe, or so I think. Thats a prime example of overthinking haha!

    Reply
  7. Rocky S

    I agree with this. At first, people may think “distraction”! However, I believe it taps into a state of mind that is more focused than before. When we focus extremely hard, being the imperfect humans we are, there are other things that may pop up, such as life problems etc. Would you rather have the possibility of worries and random thoughts or steady music that you know and love? I googled “Overthinking good or bad” and found this page because I myself tend to believe, or so I think. Thats a prime example of overthinking haha!

    Reply
  8. Sarah

    Man was made to think and problem solve, perhaps over thinking is just the reverse affect, many mad scienctist probably do the same thing…sometimes it pays to keep it simple and other times to really analyse a situation. But as for a thinking overload….distract yourself and if it continues to pop back up well maybe you simply haven’t dealt with the matter as you know you should have, why else would you be thinking so much about it??

    Reply

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