The pros and cons of being an underthinker, explained.
In today’s world of information overload, social media and so many options that analysis paralysis gets in the way of basic decision-making, it’s easy to see why so much has been written about overthinking and how to break this common symptom of anxiety.
But many of us are the opposite: underthinkers. People who tend not to give important decisions, situations or even their own emotions enough mental attention.
“I don’t put too much thought into what others are thinking and I don’t like to assume what they’re thinking either,” says underthinker Toria Levy, 27. “I don’t allow unanswered questions to stress me out. I just ask them.”
What is underthinking?
“Underthinking is the opposite of overthinking,” explains psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member Beverley Blackman. “While overthinking can have some people rooted to the spot with fear and neuroticism, unable to make decisions and move forward, underthinking is usually about moving forward impulsively, without giving much consideration to actions or consequences.” Underthinking is less about gut instinct and more about thinking too quickly and without analysing the situation, she adds.
Someone may overthink in one area of their life and underthink in other areas. Underthinking can manifest as impulsive decision-making, overlooking important details, for example, when making a plan or gathering information, unreliable behaviour or through statements and opinions that sound shallow or superficial to outsiders.
The perils of underthinking
While underthinking isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Toria says it can be a hindrance. Sometimes, her tendency to underthink means she gives people the benefit of the doubt when they don’t deserve it, or is “blindsided when something happens that I don’t expect to happen”.
Others may think that an underthinker is being slow or obtuse for not giving something, in their view, “enough thought”. “People who are categorised as habitual underthinkers can be evaluated as impractical and even unsophisticated,” says Yuko Nippoda, psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). “This kind of evaluation might cause them to feel unworthy about themselves and experience a lack of confidence.”
Underthinkers may also frequently find themselves in difficult situations in their relationships, be it at work, with friends, family or significant others, says Blackman. “There’s the risk of hurting people without meaning to, or letting others down. Underthinkers may also let themselves down, for example at work, which can then lead to awkward relationships with colleagues.”
People who underthink may also be viewed as selfish or uncaring if they don’t consider the impact of their behaviour on others, says Blackman. Underthinkers are “likely to be viewed as fun but unreliable” rather than as close friends.
Toria says people close to her have often interpreted her underthinking as thoughtless or even rude. “I can come off as insensitive because my thought process is simply: ‘Why do you even care?’ But I realise everyone is different, with different trauma and experiences, and it’s never my intention to come across as harsh. It’s just that I can’t relate to stressing over a hypothetical situation.”
For some, underthinking could be a defence mechanism, explains Nia Charpentier, a therapist and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). “By appearing to not factor in people’s responses or feelings in a situation, we keep people at arm’s length, perhaps in order to not get hurt.”
Underthinking can also lead to “patterns of impulsivity, whereby a person feels they have little control over their impulses or spontaneous behaviour,” Blackman adds. This can be normal behaviour in teens or young people, but if someone constantly underthinks or acts on a whim well into adulthood, there may be something in their psychopathology which causes them to behave this way. This can be addressed through therapy.
The perks of underthinking
Life might be breezier for some underthinkers, says Nippoda. “Underthinking doesn’t waste time with thinking and analysing, and makes things simple and mentally efficient. For overthinkers, this laid-back attitude can be seen as a virtue.” Underthinkers may also come across as intuitive and creative, since they don’t always engage with things as deeply on a cognitive level, she adds.
“I think it’s healthier to focus on the things within your control,” says underthinker Toria. “What another person wants to do or what they think is unknown territory and people are always going to do what they want. Overthinking about it doesn’t change anything except adding unnecessary stress.”
Underthinking can therefore be a way to put yourself first. Charpentier explains: “For some, it might be a conscious decision because they want to prioritise their needs and not get bogged down with overthinking and worrying excessively about what others think.” Those with a tendency to overthink might want to veer more towards underthinking to conserve their energy and time, she adds. “Overthinking can be a symptom of anxiety and can manifest itself as catastrophising – constantly thinking of worst case scenarios of everyday situations.”
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