Do you ever find yourself endlessly mentally replaying situations in which you wish you’d performed differently?
Do you ever find yourself endlessly mentally replaying situations in which you wish you’d performed differently? Such rumination isn’t just unpleasant. It’s closely linked to poor problem-solving, anxiety and depression. The good news is that there are effective solutions for breaking out of this rut, and they’re simpler than you might think.
IDENTIFY YOUR MOST COMMON TRIGGERS. You can’t quell rumination without noticing that you’re doing it, but people can’t always spot it in themselves. A great way to get better at it is to think about what has triggered you in the past. Your list might look something like:
— Collaborating with people I don’t trust
— Being around people who seem smarter or more ambitious
— Taking a step up in my career
— Making major money decisions
Notice if the dominant pattern of your rumination is to blame yourself or blame others. Most heavy ruminators lean toward one or the other.
GET PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTANCE. Next, you need to put some psychological distance between you and the things you ruminate about. For instance, you might feel concern about how you’re perceived by people who have no impact on your success, get hung up about very small amounts of money or see yourself as an underachiever despite the fact that objectively you’re doing very well.
DISTINGUISH BETWEEN RUMINATING AND PROBLEM SOLVING. To shift from rumination to improvement mode, ask yourself, “What’s the best choice right now, given the reality of the situation?” Start by taking one step, even if it’s not the most perfect or comprehensive thing you could do.
TRAIN YOUR BRAIN TO BECOME NONSTICK. As soon as you notice you’re ruminating, try to distract yourself for a few minutes.
CHECK YOUR THINKING FOR ERRORS. Sometimes rumination is triggered by cognitive errors. If you’re ruminating about someone else’s behavior and attributing a cause to that behavior, at least entertain the idea that your explanation is wrong and try to accept that you might never know the truth.
Rumination is a widespread problem. Before you go into your next “would have, should have, could have” spiral, give one or more of these ideas a go.
(Alice Boyes is a former clinical psychologist and the author of “The Healthy Mind Toolkit” and “The Anxiety Toolkit.”)