The ability to engage in deliberate and focused thinking on the issues and challenges in our lives is a real strength. Focused attention to an issue will help us create positive action and outcomes, and avoid negative actions and outcomes. I have written about this in a previous post titled The Lost Art Of Thinking. Nevertheless, as with many areas of life, a strength, when overdone, can become a weakness.

We’ve probably all had the experience of ruminating. Psychology defines ruminating as thinking about something repeatedly and often over an extended period of time. We might also know it as over-dwelling, over- thinking or mind spin. It’s generally not fun and sometimes hard to break out of. We have many things in life that require our attention so it’s important not to get our mind overly stuck on one (or more) things. In this post, I offer some tools to deal with rumination.

Of course the first step is acknowledgement – noticing you are ruminating. This can be difficult but it leads us to the very important concept and skill of metacognition. This is the concept of thinking about your thinking. It’s the idea of being a watcher of your thoughts, like you’re a good friend of yourself, observing your own thinking without judgement. I like the metaphor of being in the theatre audience but watching yourself on stage, observing your thoughts and actions.

It is only by noticing your thinking patterns that you will know if you are ruminating. The question to answer is: am I repeatedly thinking about something but not moving forward with it? Am I feeling stuck about this thing?

Rumination is relative to the issue and can occur over days, months, years, and even decades. Oddly, psychology tells us that we can get comfortable, almost addicted to rumination, even when it’s destructively negative for us. Our brains love familiarity, and so this familiarity of thought feels good in a perverse way. But it’s not good. A healthy psychology is all about balance, and our psychology directly affects our biology, which means our health. A mind that has shifted to park on an event, experience, or subject, can be minor or in extreme forms, range all the way up to debilitating. Mostly it’s something we unconsciously but unnecessarily put up with, not really recognizing it for what it is.

If you believe you are ruminating and the thoughts are antisocial, hateful or very negative, seek professional help. There are resources out there, including through CCMF – check out their programs and services at Aim hard and take action to get back to a joyful outlook; it is completely doable and your duty to yourself and others.

In my coaching experience I have observed that most mind spin can be quickly addressed by actually putting words to it. It’s hard to move forward on problems in the mind that are nebulous and confused. Humble The Poet tells us our thoughts are fragmented and are generally heavier than they should be when not expressed. Putting words to these thoughts can involve talking to yourself out loud (sounds silly but it works), or to a coach or trusted friend. And the extra step of writing it down makes journaling a great way to synthesize your thoughts to first understand them and second, to make them actionable. A couple of starter questions to answer would be: What’s bothering me? Is there an easy solution? Is there a deeper issue? Is this something in my control? What next step can I take now?

Moving the issue forward is the key intention. And this may be just deciding that you aren’t going to give it mind space anymore, i.e. forgetting about it. If it’s something that is out of your control, how much do you really want to be thinking about it? Moving forward involves intentionally designing the next steps to create a resolution; something you can accept that allows you to move on, or at least forward.

I can give an example from my own experience:

I was feeling uncertain and quite unsettled about how often I should be visiting my Dad, who had recently moved to a town about a 45 minute drive from me. I knew he needed my company. We were great buddies and I loved our time together, but I had a lot of other responsibilities. I probably ruminated on this for 6 months or more. I finally called my coach and in all of ten minutes we came up with a solution – just ask him. So I did and Dad and I came up with a good plan for regularly connecting. No more mind spin, no more suffering in discomfort. Yay!

The discomfort of rumination can be minor or it can be very nasty causing us to find distractions to avoid our mind and thoughts. These distractions can be self affirming or self sabotaging, for example going for a run vs self medicating with alcohol. For me, I’m able to notice and correct rumination pretty quickly now, which avoids the need for distractions.

In many cases, the best defense is a good offence. To get out of your head, it can help to get into your body. Physical energy is positive energy, especially out in nature and having fun. We can generate heart energy with creative pursuits, family and social connection. We are energy beings and generating positive energy is always good medicine. It takes effort, but as we all know, rewards generally only come after effort.

Being in service to others is another powerful way to blunt our ruminations by giving them context. Finding a group or cause gets you out with people for that all important human connection. And most everything good happens though people – who knows where those connections will lead? Being in service helps us to live a richer, fuller life internally – the effect of generating positive energy. It has real and positive effects on our biology and shifts our brain state towards loving kindness. Directly helping others with their real world challenges can often mitigate the importance we give our own issues.

As with my experience above, speaking to a coach or other well-being professional is very effective. My coach is on standby and I just set up a call whenever I wish for her support. It’s wonderful and I believe we can all benefit from a trusted, skilled confidant. There are many online and app options for coaches and therapists. Please consider this as a great investment in you and for you. You will wonder why you didn’t do it years ago.

Noticing our thinking patterns and breaking free of tendencies like rumination give us really great benefits by making room for more positivity, love and joy in our lives. I wish you success on your journey to explore the great benefits of metacognition and to break free of rumination.

With loving kindness,
Coach Billy