How to stop ruminating

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“What if they find a mistake in my report?”

“I looked like an idiot when I stumbled during my presentation! Now everyone will think that I am stupid.”

“I should have told my boss that I am not a slave to work on the weekends.”

“Why did she say “Hello” in such a cold manner? Have I offended her? Is she mad at me? Or…”

“Should have”, “could have”, “what if” – do you get repetitive thoughts about the same problem? Imagine an old broken record – the needle bounces in the same place, moves back, and the same stuttering fragment of a song is being repeated. This is approximately how it works with anxious thoughts when they run around the same useless circle.

What can you do?

1. Analyze your sphere of influence. Notice whether these thoughts concern something in the future, or something that already happened, or something that another person has done.

Do you have the power to change something that happened yesterday? What about tomorrow? Can you change how other people behave?

Unless we can travel in time or we are playing The Sims – it is obviously impossible. We don’t have the power to change something that already happened. Neither can we predict the future nor control the behavior of other people. And making plans about this is a sheer waste of time and resources.

Therefore, ask yourself “Can I influence this? Is this in my control? Can I change this?” If the answer is No, it is time to move on.

2. Take a sheet of paper and write down – what do these repetitive thoughts deprive you of? Peace, joy, pleasure to watch an interesting movie… (continue this list). Are they worth it?

3. Switch to different tasks. If you tell yourself “Do not think of a white elephant” – you can be sure that it will be present in your thoughts for the next 5 minutes. By forbidding something you are making this thing a priority and it becomes dominant in your mind. Therefore, in our example, it would be best to think about a blue elephant. In other words, think about something different or start doing some different tasks. Then these stupid repetitive thoughts will disappear by themselves.

4. If you still would like to worry about something, then allocate some time for it. “I will think about this for 20 minutes in the evening after dinner”. And do start a stopwatch and spend 20 minutes thinking only about this issue.

All these techniques are simple, but they work. They will help you learn to switch your attention, and your life will be much better.