If you constantly replay or obsess over negative situations, you're doing what's known as rumination. Your mind goes over and over a play-by-play of that horrific breakup, a fight with your mom, or your boss calling you out in a meeting.
Often getting stuck in these cyclical thought patterns only increases the frustration or anxiety you're feeling.
Reflecting on the past can be helpful in problem-solving but getting stuck in rumination takes it to the next level. Most often it serves to intensifies negative feelings and leaves us without any real solutions.
These thoughts keep us from being present or focusing- and stop us form moving forward.
Over time, we become hyperfocused on the things that aren't going well instead of seeing the larger picture.
How to stop ruminating
Here are some of my favorite tips to help you change your obsessive thought patterns.
Identify the underlying thought or fear. What is your biggest fear? Maybe you are afraid of getting fired or looking foolish in front of others. Try journaling to clarify and write out your list of big fears. Putting words to worries often takes some of their power away.
Think about the worst-case scenario. This may sound like an awful suggestion, but we can often handle the worst-case scenario, which takes away the power of the original thought. Again, putting worry into words takes their power away.
Ask yourself: What is the worst thing that can happen? Can I handle that? Odds are in your favor- human beings are very resilient. Remember, sometimes our biggest hardships can turn into our biggest growth experiences.
Let go of what you can’t control. Ask yourself “what can I change, if anything?” If you cannot change the situation, breathe to let it go. For things you can change, set up a list of small incremental goals and start to make the appropriate changes to move toward what you want (and away from fear).
Reinterpret mistakes as learning opportunities. If you made a mistake ask yourself what you would do differently in the future. Then look at what you can do to support yourself in making a different choice next time.
For example, I once left my rain barrels in storm season and they flooded my basement. I felt terrible about the financial and emotional energy lost in the clean up and found myself ruminating about rainstorms. Instead of ruminating, I researched drainage and set up the rain barrels on a different system so I wouldn't have to worry (I also apologized to my partner for all his hard work). In time rumination went away.
In addition, frequently remind yourself how far you’ve come. Every time you make a mistake, you learn something new.
Schedule a worry break. Schedule 20 to 30 minutes a day to worry and make the most of it. Write it out, entertain ridiculous thoughts, call a friend- whatever helps you get all the worry out in that time period. This allows for a time and place to think about all your biggest insecurities while containing it to a specific period of time.
At other times of the day, remind yourself that you will have time to contemplate later. Save a journal page to write down worries that show up at other times of the day and tell them you'll get back to them during your worry appointment.
Exercise. Go for a walk. A change of scenery and fresh air can quickly interrupt our stuck thoughts and give new perspective.
Get help. If ruminative thoughts are interfering with living the life you want to live, consider meeting with a professional. Consulting an expert is a great way to learn how to use these techniques with the help and guidance of a trained professional.