On being analytical

This can be great, but maybe only if you know you’re doing it and it’s on purpose.

Story time!

So once in a while I travel, most recently by train. One of the things I enjoy about travelling is that it very nearly guarantees conversation with a complete stranger, while stuck inside some form of metal tube that is going fast. Oddly enough I tend to really like this sort of thing (or maybe it’s not so odd. I do crave connection with people and get it only rarely). On my last train trip I wound up sitting next to a Lutheran pastor and having a most enjoyable conversation. One thing that we wound up talking about more than a little bit was autism and Asperger’s. What also came up was my tendency to be analytical. Apparently it shows through, even to a complete stranger in the middle of the night whilst in a metal tube that was going fast.

He commented on this fact. A type of comment I have gotten from many people throughout my life, who typically mean well but don’t get it.

That is, he said that maybe sometimes I’m too analytical. That there are times when it’s best to just go with the flow and stop analyzing for a while.

Now, this can be true for me if I’m doing a solo thing. If I’m doodling or making yarn or crocheting, it can help to relax my brain and let my hands do what they do. Of course, I am able to relax and let my hands do the work because I’ve already put time into making sure my hands know what to do, and my brain is still always sitting ready to jump in if my hands get confused. And sometimes, like when I’m writing, my hands seem to know what’s going on better than the talking part of my brain, but in a way that’s just thinking with a different part of my brain. Still, I can stop being analytical in those types of situations.

However, people don’t tend to mean it that way. They mean it in social situations. Even worse, they mean it in group social situations. People really believe that my constant analysis must get in my way, and I’d be better off if I would stop and just “go with it.” The problem is, while this might be true for them, and might even be true for most people (I wouldn’t know), it most definitely is not true for me.

Telling me to go with the flow assumes that I can somehow naturally detect the flow, the same way a person detects the flow of water while standing in a stream. I can’t. It does not work that way for me. Telling me to go with the flow assumes that I already know what to do and how to respond to that flow that I’m supposed to detect, the same way my hands know how to hold a hook or spin my spindle. Except I don’t know what to do or how to respond to that flow that people keep insisting is there.

So instead I engage my brain. I watch what people are doing and saying, I watch what I am doing and saying, I watch how people respond to what I do and say, and how they respond to each other, and how I respond to them. I analyze. I work it out as best I can, and I do it all very consciously. It’s not intuitive at all.

This does mean that I respond and adapt more slowly than other people. So they see that I’m doing all of this analysis and assume it must be slowing me down and tell me to stop. What they don’t see is that if I were not analyzing the way I do, I would simply be at a standstill. Or maybe I’d be going off in some other direction entirely, unaware of this “flow” that’s supposed to be taking me along with everyone else. Or I’d just go in circles, or flail, or whatever else.

I do this in most social situations. It’s one reason (of oh-so-many) why groups are so much more difficult than one-on-one. Groups have far more variables and the social dance is far more complex than one-on-one socializing. Even in groups, I strongly prefer to find one or two people who are sufficiently similar to me to just sit in a corner with and talk to. I really dislike the social butterfly dance and have no desire to participate in it. It’s stressful and even my analytical self can’t keep up with all the cues and subtle shifts and changes that keep happening.

So yes, I’m analytical, and I’m not going to apologize for it. In fact, I’m proud of it. My ability to analyze and logically work my way through things has carried me further than I’d have gotten without it. Even in this post while I was using metaphors, I was thinking about the metaphors and both visualizing their literal meaning along with thinking about the figurative interpretation that I was intending and seeing how well they matched up. Because that’s what I do.

I very much doubt I’m the only one.

And to people who want to tell me to stop being so analytical and just go with the flow – you’re not helping. Please listen to me when I say I don’t work like that. Don’t try to tell me that I must be wrong because surely I work the same way you do. Recognize that I’m different. And to the Lutheran Pastor whose name I don’t remember who conversed with me in the metal tube that was going fast, thank you for listening. You were awesome.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “On being analytical

  1. I like this piece. I always it was just dumb literalism that led me always to view metaphors & concrete reality simultaneously, though never actually conflating the two:)

  2. Tricia

    Great post. Nodding in agreement all the way through. I am also “too analytical.” Patty and Bob have learned to adapt to my very real need for information. If I think through all the scenarios, I won’t be surprised and unable to react. And that does mean jumping off the deep end sometimes, just to make sure that I’ve taken into consideration anything that could happen. They have both learned to see the positive side – if something does happen, I’m usually on top it faster than they are and am already ready with backup plans or a detour or whatever the situation may need. But it was a push/pull thing with Patty for several months until she could see that.

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