Rumination is defined as:
Engaging in a repetitive, negative thought process that loops continuously in the mind without end or completion.
Ruminating thoughts are those that we can’t seem to shake, and live in the back of our mind no matter what we do to distract ourselves. They are the “What ifs” and the “Why nots” and can steal our focus and ruin our peace if left to spiral out of control.
Breaking the pattern of ruminating is not an easy fix, but it is possible. It takes a compassionate understanding of why we do this, and the willingness to practice taking back control. Here are three things to do when you find yourself stuck in a negative loop.
Pause and engage the left brain a little bit. Right away, examine the thought pattern and ask yourself:
“Is this possible? Is it likely? Does it make sense? Has it happened before? Where did it come from?”
Take stock of reality. Look at the world you’re living in right now and understand that not everything you think is real, or possible, or likely, or going to happen. Our brains like to treat every thought like it is 100% true and happening right in front of your eyes, no matter how unlikely it may be. This is why these thoughts can manifest so strongly in our bodies! Notice how your heart races, you feel your skin prickling, you lose your appetite, etc.
Our body really believes that this worst-case scenario is playing out in real time. It’s not our fault, our brains can’t tell the difference. Especially when we spend so much mental energy playing out this scenario in our head!
This is the same idea which allows us to attract good things in our life by practicing gratitude and marinating in positive thoughts. When we focus on the good, our breath becomes easier, we smile more, we can detach from negative thoughts, and we more easily see patterns and opportunities for good.
Don’t allow one pesky ruminating thought derail your reality. If it is not happening right in front of you, you have no control over it at this moment. Sitting in a mental whirlpool of the same negative ideas is doing more harm than good.
Does this thought get to hang out with you for the rest of the day? Do you enjoy how it makes you feel? Does it make you feel safe? Does it reflect the highest version of yourself?
Does it serve you?
Most of the time, the answer to all of these questions is a hard no. Often, these thoughts that we ruminate on are fear-based recreations of some past traumatic experience, projections of insecurity, fear of failure, imagined arguments, ideas of what other people think or feel about you and your life.
Sometimes we have to snap ourselves out of it by remembering that this is a waste of time.
We need to take charge of our minds, and decide to be at peace. (Easier said than done, but worth the exercise!)
Take a moment to recognize the goofiness of your brain. To hyper-focus on something that isn’t even real until it makes you physically sick is an incredibly misguided attempt to keep you safe.
Think about that with a sense of humor. Your mind has decided that you need to be ready to fight or flee, so it is trying to prepare you for the worst of the worst. Remind yourself that you are safe, thank your mind for trying, and choose to enjoy the moment you’re in.
It’s hard to break the habit of ruminating while you’re ruminating, but I encourage you to notice the next time it happens and try these steps. Really try to catch it right away, and gently remind yourself that you are in charge of your own peace.
A really great practice which also serves to take a little more control of the mind is to meditate. If you have read any of the other blog posts on our site, you know how much I believe in this as a centering habit. I recommend finding a mantra or a piece of music to focus the mind, and being really aware of the nature of your mind (what keeps coming up for you?) Also be aware that you’re not following the thoughts wherever they want to go.
For example, when you are meditating and begin to worry about the past or future, visualize the thoughts as a cloud in the sky. Notice the cloud with curiosity and friendliness, and then allow it to pass by out of your mind’s eye view.
This kind of visualization is a powerful tool to illustrate the true power of mindful awareness. Understand that you are not meant to be controlled by every thought or worry that comes into your brain, and as you continue to break our old habits, you gently take back control. Think of it like you’re relieving your nervous system of being on high alert. You’re giving yourself a break.
(Don’t forget that you deserve it.)
Let me know how it goes!