Ruminating and how to change how you think?

“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” ― Terry Pratchett, Diggers

We all self-reflect on situations and life’s events. Constantly. Every moment of every day. I do it. You do it. We all do it. It is one of the most powerful, and yet potentially destructive features of our makeup.

We ruminate.

When people ruminate, they over-think about situations or life events, including; work challenges; relationships issues; problems with friendships; money worries; and even health issues. Research has shown that rumination is associated with a variety of negative consequences, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, binge-drinking, and binge-eating.

Ruminating is like a record that’s stuck and keeps repeating the same lyrics.

Sorry, that is an ageist analogy. I used that with my children, they looked at me blankly. I just asked my teenage daughter and her comment was that sounds like when you watch something on playback on the internet and you have to keep restarting the playback session.

What causes rumination episodes?

It is not clear exactly why we ruminate, although there are strong reasons to believe that it may be an unsuitable mental coping strategy adopted to try and cope with strong emotions; such as the fear of loss, impending significant change or a major life / relationship challenge.

What is the impact of rumination?

Rumination paralyzes your problem-solving skills. You become so preoccupied with the problem that you’re unable to push past the cycle of negative thoughts. You cycle round and round not able to break out of the self-talk. You start to feel helpless and if left unchecked potentially into depression.  It takes time to cycle out of a rumination event. For some, it can be hours, for others, it can be days. For some, unfortunately, they are unable to cycle out of the rumination event and cycle down into a depressive episode. We all have experienced a rumination episodes. For me, my most recent one took about twenty-four hours to cycle out of the event. A number of the techniques below helped me.

How do you begin to change your mind and reduce rumination episodes?
There are a number of ways to help reduce the impact of a rumination episode and even shorten the duration.

Positive problem-solve the situation: People who ruminate not only replay the negative and helpless situation in their head, they also focus on abstract questions, such as, “Why does this happen to me?”; “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why do I keep making the same mistake?” or the ultimate one “Why am I a failure?”.

Positive thought activities: Engage in activities that foster positive thoughts. These could be anything from a favorite physical activity such as swimming, walking, running or cycling; to a hobby; or even to meditation, which is the technique that I use to help deal with the episode. The main thing is to get your mind distracted away from the rumination for a time so that the thoughts begin to subside and hopefully die out.

Instead, when you can think positively and clearly you can try to change the “self talk tape”. Identify at least one positive, constructive and concrete thing you could do to overcome the problem you are ruminating about.

For instance, if you’re worried about a situation at work, commit to sitting down with a close colleague to discuss the situation and how to deal with it.

If you have a relationship challenge, commit to sitting and talking through the positive aspects of the relationship; the things that you both appreciate in each other.

There are many different ways to help change your self-talk. If you have techniques that work for you, it would be wonderful if you could share.

I leave you with the following quote.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Mahatma Gandhi

A world of unrecognised thoughts

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” Friedrich Nietzsche


I am reading a fascinating book at the moment and one small section really caught my attention. It mentions:

“Thought is the architect of both hope and despair, the source of every colour in the emotional rainbow.

Without thought, there would be no delineation in our world, like the pure clarity of light before it passes through a prism and bursts into a kaleidoscope of color.

But unrecognised thought demands our attention and fills our consciousness.

And when we get caught up in thought, we lose our way.”

We are ruled by the thoughts in our head. Generated moment by moment, every day. What triggers those thoughts can be any outside influence. Be it a picture. A place. Someone you see. A physical object. Literally, anything. However, whilst we might experience an external trigger; our minds pick up this and run like hell. We get caught up in a relay race of chasing thoughts. One following another. A personal example from me:

Question  – “What are we going to have for dinner?

Thoughts and self-talk – Why ask me what is for dinner?

I don’t know?

What is in the fridge?

I’d better check the fridge before I go and buy something? [Seems logical…]

We could have fish cakes? [Where did that come from? Not had them in a week?]

But Jen is allergic to fish? [Logical as this is a friend who is staying with us who is allergic]

Why is she allergic to fish?  [Seems sort of reasonable thought]

Burgers then. [Back to food]

I need some shoe polish. [Now where did that thought come from?]

Better clean the oven? [Now I think I am loosing the plot]

Brillo pads and vim are the best? [Deffo time to call the nut house…]

… and so the thoughts keep coming.

See. Hundreds of thoughts running into and alongside one another. Constantly. It’s a wonder we have time to do anything. As the quote above says, “when we get caught up in thought, we lose our way”.

However, there is something that can help us enormously.

Something so simple, yet so profound, people will think you are quite mad. You have to recognise that these thoughts that you have, are just that. Thoughts. Nothing more. Moment by moment you are recreating a past inside of yourself. A past that you are choosing to create. A past that you can choose to make positive and uplifting. Or a past that is full of doubt. Fear. Even horror. That is what we are capable of. Talk to any counsellor or psychologist and they will confirm, that most treatments for anxiety, fears, phobias and the like are based on changing your perceived view of the past.  

What is even more profound, is that you can then change your viewpoint of what the future might hold. If you accept the future more openly. Without judgement and the feelings of the past, the more likely you are to look at things positively.

What helps you to do this you might ask?

For me, it is Mindfulness and the meditation that goes with it. Moment to moment, being present. Open acceptance. The technique is simple, systematic and direct. Mindfulness training focuses on observing the mind in its natural state, with a non-attached, objective awareness (mindfulness) of what is actually present; moment to moment. Meditation is not a goal, but a tool for realization. Unlike our normal attitudes and perceptions in daily life; which carry an ethical content; during mindfulness we observe only the phenomena of the mind and the body.

There are “Four Foundations of Mindfulness” which serve as the primary base of an insight meditation practice. They are as follows:

  • Mindfulness of Bodily Objects (breath, movement or posture)
  • Mindfulness of Bodily Feelings (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral sensations)
  • Mindfulness of States of Consciousness (mind with or without greed, hatred or delusion)
  • Mindfulness of Mental Contents (joy, apathy, worry, calm, doubt, restlessness, happiness, sadness, etc.)

Or, simply stated, mindfulness of Body, Feelings, Mind and Mental Objects. Once you start to practice Mindfulness, you begin to realise how deep and meaningful it really is.

So the next time you get wrapped up in your thoughts, the first step is to recognise that there is a way to do things in a different manner. Stop for just a moment. Let the thoughts come and then go. Don’t chase after them. In a while the thought that triggered that relay race in your mind will fade. And you can come back to the present moment.

By the way, the book that prompted this post is “The space within, by Michael Neill”. I would really recommend it.

I leave you with the following quote:

The past is gone: the future has not come. But whoever sees the Truth clearly in the present moment, and knows that which is unshakable, lives in a still, unmoving state of mind.”

— The Buddha.    Bhaddekaratta Sutta

We can change our negative wiring!


Oddball: “Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves Moriarty? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?”

From the Film “Kelly’s Heros”


So what are we going to do about being hard wired with a negative bias? Accept it and just live with it? Or try to do something about it?  

Being surrounded by so much negativity and being hard wired towards it; it’s a wonder we are all not complete manic depressives. But somehow, most of us, seem to lead reasonably balanced lives. So it is not all doom and gloom. We instinctively try to balance both the negative and the positive.

One of the ways we strive to hold the positive is we surround ourselves with mementos of pleasant events. We may have photos of family members and loved ones in our houses. We listen to music which triggers memories of past discos and situations where we first heard the tune; a gig or a concert; or when the music was playing and we met a person we fell in love with. We may keep possessions from our past, from our family, that when we see them and touch them, trigger pleasant memories.

One of my mementos, is my grandmother’s watch. Why is it so special?

She was blind and almost deaf for most of her life. Was she down hearted? No, not at all. Most of the time, she was happy and chatty. One of her constants was the Royal National Institute of the Blind designed watch that she would wind and listen to the tick tock. It is like a old fashioned pocket watch, but the top case, when it is pushed up reveals a watch face with no glass. Instead, the dial hands are chunky and there are raised pips next to the numbers on the watch. She would run her fingers over the face of the watch and be able to tell the time. Even as I type this, the positive memories come flooding back. 

Another trick you can use is to record, remember and reflect on the positive experiences you have every day. Big or small it does not matter. As part of the MBSR – Mindfulness Stress Reduction Program; one of the activities you are asked to complete is to capture positive things and situations you are placed in every day. You write them down in a mini diary during the day. For instance: You say “good morning” to someone and they smile back at you; You hold the door open for someone and they say “thankyou”; You let someone in at a traffic queue and they flash their indicators. Anything and everything.

Then at the end of the day, read through the list and reflect on the day’s activities and how those positive moments made you feel.

There are some other tips you might like to try that are not related to Mindfulness or meditation in any way:

  • Be conscious of the viral effect of negative people and how they can “infect” positive people. If you can, choose not to be with them. You can not change them, but you can certainly avoid being with them if you can.
  • When positive events or interactions occur, savor the positive experience. Write it down. Record it. Photograph it. It is those positive moments that you want to remember.
  • Demonstrate and encourage others to be mindful of the “triggers” that can stimulate negativity. Reflect on whether the negative situation has been exaggerated or blown out of proportion, and how it can be changed or minimised.
  • Avoiding over-analyzing or ruminating on past negative events; rather focus on what can be done in the present in a positive manner. It is the rumination that build the negative memory sets.
  • When at work, focus on the small wins and progress on a daily basis, and take time to celebrate those, rather than waiting for the end of a project or an extended period of time before celebrating sucess.
  • Remember that it takes up to 10 positive experiences to counterbalance one negative experience. Perhaps you can see if you can record 10 positive experiences in a day. Big or small, I am sure it will be easy to capture them


Now you have reached the end of this article, why don’t you take a few moments to search out a treasured picture; a momento; a piece of music; or an object in your life. Look at it, hold it, listen to it and really feel it. Remember the memories it brings back. Positive ones. I hope, like my grandmothers watch and my memories of her.


If you liked the quote at the start, here is a collection from the film “Kelly’s Heros” where odd bal talks to Moriarty about “those negative waves”. Made me smile:


I leave you with the following quote:


“Try giving up all the thoughts that make you feel bad, or even just some of them, and see how doing that changes your life. You don’t need negative thoughts. All they have ever given you was a false self that suffers. They are all lies.”

Gina Lake, What about Now?: Reminders for Being in the Moment