Common Issues Series – Rumination
Do you find yourself ruminating often? A mind that just will not stop, that goes round and round in circles thinking about every potentiality under the sun and stressing you out? You can stop this!
No, you cannot stop thoughts. You cannot only think thoughts you want. Your thoughts are not subject to your will. But you CAN respond differently to thoughts so that the difficult, stressful ones loose some of their power and the supportive ones become more prominent.
How to go about that?
You will have thoughts
Let’s go back to basics. You will have thoughts, you are a human being after all. It is an illusion to think that you will clear your mind or indeed that you can influence your thoughts. There are many tricks out there that might push thoughts away, or that distract your for a while, but ultimately the best way to deal with thoughts is to treat them with passing curiosity and not get too caught up by what they are telling us.
Thoughts are not the enemy, but do play a massive part in how much stress or unhappiness we experience. Imagine the following scenario. You are walking down a street near your house. On the other side of the street you see someone you know quite well and who you haven’t seen for a while. You start waving at them and you shout out ‘hey!’. The other person keeps on walking and does not react.
What happens inside of you if you think of this scenario? What are the thoughts you might have if this were to happen to you?
In the trainings I give I do this exercise quite often and I usually hear the following thoughts: they are ignoring me. What did I do wrong? I look ridiculous shouting at someone who does not respond. But also thoughts like: I wonder what is wrong with them. They must be preoccupied. Maybe they are not wearing their contact lenses.
You may feel that if your thoughts tend towards the first ones I mentioned (ignoring me, what did I do wrong etc.) you will feel more stress and would feel unhappier than if your thoughts were that they were not wearing their contact lenses. You cannot decide which thought you have, but you can decide what to do with your thoughts.
The truth of this scenario is that you do not know why they walked on and did not greet you. So any thought you have about the topic is speculation, not the truth. However, if we get stuck in a ‘they were ignoring me’ thought cycle it could get us really down and trigger all kinds of other thoughts that take us down a rabbit hole of feeling down and unloved. By the time you are down the rabbit hole, it feels very true and the next time you see this person you might still feel some resentment towards them. But remember, the truth was that we did not know why they walked on.
That is the power of thoughts. We believe our thoughts and once we do that, we stay in a loop so very easily. In addition, our the thoughts we get stuck in are usually things we worry about, are stressed about, are not finished, or make us feel a strong emotion. This in turn feeds the thoughts and so the loop grows stronger.
Step out of the loop
We have to stop taking our thoughts so seriously all the time. This is hard as our thoughts can feel very serious and true. But even if it is hard, it is incredibly valuable to be able to step out of our rumination habits. This does take a bit of training and work, as, like I mentioned, our natural pattern is to get stuck in thoughts easily.
So what can you do to step out of thoughts:
- Get to know your top 5 thoughts. You, like everyone, will have similar thoughts today than you had yesterday and that you will have tomorrow. What are your top 5 ? Try to write them down. For example: I am not good enough. I am so busy. I am not being heard. I am not feeling well. Why is this happening to me. The list is endless. Try to identify yours.
- Meditate. Sit in meditation for at least 5 to 10 minutes as often as you can. Focus your mind on your breath and you will notice very quickly that it is hard to keep your mind on the breath. Your mind will wander off. It will think that meditation is boring. That you have no time for this. Watch those thoughts, focus back on the breath and do that as many times as needed. You are training the muscle of your brain that will help you step out of rumination
- Gently but firmly say ‘no’ to yourself. Notice that you are stuck in rumination. That you are reliving that conversation with your boss? That you are fantasising about how you should have handled the conflict with your partner better? Once you notice it, tell yourself ‘no’. I am not going to entertain this. I am not going to feed these flames. Tell yourself this as many times as needed. You can bring some curiosity to this – when you notice that the thoughts just keep coming back and back, ask yourself: I wonder how long this will take? Maybe it is an hour, maybe a day, maybe a week or longer. It is ok. Just do not allow yourself to go down the rabbit hole.
You can check out all the meditations on my site, just navigate to ‘resources’ and select meditations from the drop-down menu. Try the ‘Focus’ and ‘Awareness’ meditations to really train your brain to step out of rumination.
Want some more help with this? Book your free session and let’s talk about what you need.