Have you noticed that whenever someone tries to give you advice and the advice starts with the word just, it almost never works?
Like if you are stuck in rumination mode, with worries and repetitive thoughts totally taking over your poor brain, they’ll say “just stop worrying about it” or “just stop caring so much” or “just think about something else”.
And you’re like “why don’t you just take a hike?”
Because it’s just not that simple. If your mind is dead set on ruminating about something, you can’t just will yourself to stop.
Having struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember, I’ve had my fair share of obsessive thoughts and mind-spinning rumination sessions. When you keep worrying about something over and over and over. Your mind replaying the same negative thought over and over and over. Laying in bed at night staring at the ceiling. Your body ravaged by stress hormones.
It’s no way to live.
So I want to teach you how to make it stop. I want to teach you how to stop ruminating.
You see, I get caught up in excessive rumination a lot less these days than I used to. It happens to me a lot less because of three tools I have learned to keep in my back pocket. They don’t ALL work in ALL situations, but depending on what my mind is stuck ruminating about, at least one of them will almost always work.
(Pssst, I like to share my personal experiences managing anxiety with the hope that some of my discoveries might resonate with others. Making lifestyle changes has greatly contributed to my own well-being, and as a life coach, I help people make impactful changes in their own lives. But I’m not a mental health professional and I’m not qualified to diagnose or treat mental health conditions. If you have questions about the appropriate intervention for you, please consult a qualified professional.)
How To Stop Ruminating: 3 Ways To Get Rid Of Negative Thoughts
1. Eliminate The Target Of Rumination From Your Life
Here’s one of my favorite quotes of all time:
“Maturity is learning to walk away from people and situations that threaten your peace of mind, self respect, values, morals and self worth.”
There are things you ruminate about that are worth it. And then there are things you ruminate about that are not worth it.
If my husband and I get into an argument, hell yeah, I’m going to ruminate about it until we sort it out. And whatever time I spend ruminating over that argument will have been worth it, because for the most part, my marriage is a positive experience for me. There is a lot more good than bad. And whenever we do hit a bad phase, we usually learn from it and grow from it. This relationship is worth it to me.
I’ve had other relationships that just weren’t worth it. My father was an alcoholic and a wife-beater. My mother divorced him when I was five and he got visitation rights every other weekend. (Nobody asked me!) So I spent much of my childhood dreading these visits, worrying about whether he was going to be drunk, anticipating the next blow-up. Even when I grew up and had more control, the only thing I got out of this relationship was stress. Dreading the phone calls, dreading the visits. Ruminating about the stupid shit he would say. It wasn’t worth it.
So I walked away. I told him not to contact me anymore. I haven’t talked to him in more than 20 years and I rarely think about him. My life is better without him in it.
For you, it could be an immediate family member or an extended family member. It could be a “friend”. It could be your job.
If you are constantly ruminating and worrying about a particular relationship, activity, or situation, you have to ask yourself: Is it really worth it to have this person or activity in my life?
2. Take Action
Here’s another great quote:
“If you change nothing, nothing will change.”
If you are ruminating and you don’t do anything about it, the ruminating will continue.
So when you catch yourself dwelling… Change something. Take action.
- If you are constantly ruminating about what a terrible horrible very bad person you are, learn how to love yourself.
- If you are constantly ruminating about a mistake you made, learn how to get over regrets.
- If you are ruminating about a problem you don’t know how to solve, seek help. Google it, buy a book, talk to someone.
- If you are ruminating about a course of action, set a deadline for making a decision.
- If you are ruminating about what some douchebag said to you, write a response. Even if you never send it.
- If you are ruminating about something you really kinda sorta totally need to do, just do it. Even if it’s the middle of the night.
If the first action you try doesn’t work, try a different action.
And finally… If you are ruminating about something you honest to goodness, cross your fingers and toes, can’t do anything about – at least not today – check out Rumination Eliminator #3 below.
3. Fill Your Life With Good Stuff To Ruminate About
I have one more quote for you, this one from Roald Dahl:
“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.”
Lukewarm is no good, because your mind won’t stick to something that you feel lukewarm or so-so about. And if your daily life is mostly filled with things you feel lukewarm or so-so about at best, it’s all too easy for negative thoughts and feelings to take over your brain. Especially if your negative feelings are burning hot.
The best way to kill the negative thoughts and feelings that are burning hot is to smother them with positive thoughts and feelings that burn even hotter.
Instead of spending your energy on fighting the negative, on trying to will the worries away, on trying to use logic to convince your mind to calm down…
Put your energy into adding more positive things into your life.
Give your mind so much positive material that there is no more room for the negative.
Give your mind something that is… so interesting… so captivating… so fascinating… that you just can’t help but think about it.
Give your mind something it’s drawn to like a magnet.
Go on a quest.
Go find your passions in life.
Find your passions and serve them to your mind on a silver platter.
What are you interested in? What have you always wanted to try? What do you feel passionate about?
What kind of life do you want? How do you want to feel?
Make a list. Make the items on that list a priority. Make them a part of your life.
And you will find your mind being so busy with good stuff that the bad stuff will fade away without you even trying.