We often use the term “ruminating” to describe contemplating or thinking about something that happened in the past. Are you aware of the literal meaning of the word “ruminate”?
It means “chew the cud”. It is animals like cattle, goats, or sheep that chew the cud. They tend to graze faster. Later on, when they are comfortable and relaxed, they bring back the partly-digested food to the mouth where it is re-chewed and swallowed.
So, are we doing the same action with our thoughts when we ruminate? Indeed, we are.
Isn’t it disgusting? Yes, it is.
Then why do we ruminate?
Most probably your answer would be, “I don’t know how to stop ruminating thoughts.”. If you are trying to understand why and how to stop ruminating about past mistakes, you have come to the right place. Read on to find answers to your dilemma. You may be able to get rid of this dirty and annoying habit and lead a happy and content life.
Before you proceed to find a solution to your ruminations, it is important to understand why you do it.
What Causes Rumination and Why Do People Do It?
The triggers for rumination are diverse. However, the most common causes are an unsolvable problem or an unsatisfactory situation.
You experienced a situation for which you were unable to figure out a solution. Then, you resolved it in the best way you could and moved forward. But later when you have time, you look back at the incident and go over each scene to find a solution.
Maybe the situation doesn’t have an acceptable solution for you. This means you keep at this exercise for as long as time permits.
Another trigger is an undesirable situation. Something happened to you to make you unhappy. Maybe someone hurt you badly. You couldn’t do anything about it or you are not satisfied with your response. Later, your mind keeps going back to the incident to figure out a better response.
You ruminate to figure out how you could have responded better. When you are faced with a reality that you are unwilling to accept, you try to find ways to rewrite the narrative. Maybe you want to find a solution to a problem or you want to know how you could have responded better.
Either way, you ruminate to reassure yourselves that what you did was the right thing. You want to feel good after the stress and anxiety of distressing experiences.
However, the reality is nowhere close to this. When you start to ruminate, you go into a downward spiral of depression and negative thinking. Depression and other mental disorders can also trigger ruminating thoughts.
9 Ways to Stop Ruminating on The Past and Start Moving On Towards A Happier Present
Once you start on repetitive thoughts and obsessive rumination, it forms a vicious cycle of negative and self-destructive thinking. It is hard to escape from this even if you want to stop obsessive thoughts.
You may think that once you find the solution to the problem you are trying to find, you will not have any more of the rumination thoughts. A point you fail to understand at this point is that this is merely a mirage.
It is an unsolvable problem and that is why you are having trouble with it. You are never going to find a solution to it, no matter how long you ponder over it. All you achieve is to dig yourself into a deep despairing hole.
Here are some suggestions to get out of this vicious cycle and stop yourself from ruminating.
1. Find ways to distract yourself
This is a proven technique to deal with ruminative thinking. When you find yourself going over and repeating thoughts over and over, channel your attention to something more captivating and interesting. Whatever you choose should be attractive enough to take your mind away from it.
Going for a walk or jogging is found to be helpful. Talking to someone you love is also very effective. Listening to your favorite song, watching an engrossing movie, reading an unputdownable book, or even chores and running errands work for some.
2. Devise a plan to take action
Do something about it rather than repeatedly thinking. Devise a strategy to resolve the problem. You can make a detailed plan, including the steps you are going to adopt as part of the strategy.
You may make the plans in your mind or write them down on paper or in a journal. Take extra time and effort to make a detailed plan for each step. It is important to make this believable. Or else, your mind would reject them outright.
All the planning will help in disrupting your ruminations.
3. Follow the plan and take action
Now that you have a plan ready and instead of thinking about the problem, take definitive steps to resolve it. Take deliberate steps, ensuring you are following the plan properly.
All the action and excitement of resolving the problem that has been troubling you will provide enough distraction to help you abandon the rumination.
4. Challenge your thoughts
Instead of following the train of thoughts that form a vicious cycle and bring you down, confront them and ask questions. By doing this, you can put them in perspective and gain a clear picture of what is troubling you.
You can use this technique to see whether your worries are justified and accurate. If you are having misplaced apprehensions, all you need to do is put a full stop to the ruminations. If your worries are based on wrong perceptions, there is no point in ruminating.
5. Change your expectations and goals
Unrealistic outlooks and beliefs can set your goals so high that they are impossible to achieve. This can lead to rumination. Understandably, you want to reach your goal. When you fail in this attempt, you start to ruminate about the whys, hows, and whats.
You are doing yourself a disservice by raising the bar so high that you won’t be able to reach it no matter how hard you try. Once you realize the mistake, try to be more realistic when you are setting goals. This can help you reach goals and feel happy and content at succeeding in them.
6. Work on raising your self-worth
Low self-esteem is often linked to more incidents of rumination. It is also connected to numerous mental health disorders including depression. All these are triggers for rumination and its associated after-effects.
You can adopt any technique to increase your self-worth. What works for one may not work for another. Find out what works for you. With enhanced levels of self-esteem, you will find the frequency and intensity of rumination diminishing.
7. Identify and understand your triggers
You can do this by keeping a log of your thoughts. If you feel it necessary you can start a journal specifically for this purpose. Later on, you can analyze the thoughts to figure out the pattern for rumination.
Is anything acting as a trigger for rumination? Is it a person? Or is it an incident?
Once you know the triggers, all you need to do is avoid or manage the triggers so that it doesn’t overwhelm or affect you.
8. Ask for help from a friend
If you feel you are unable to deal with your ruminating tendencies on your own, rope in your best friend for helping you out. Choose a friend you are comfortable with and can open up your heart to. And, the friend should be mentally strong enough not to get influenced by your troubles. Otherwise, instead of helping you, they will also fall prey to rumination.
9. Seek professional help
If everything else fails, don’t hesitate to approach a mental health professional for help. You need not wait to try all options for this. Therapy is considered a highly effective treatment technique for rumination.
How to stop ruminating about past mistakes? This is something that bothers most of us. There are some simple and effective techniques to deal with this affliction of the mind.
Make the best use of them to get rid of this disturbing and bothersome practice.