How to manage ruminating thoughts

When people feel regret, sadness, loss or disappointment about events in their lives, some review their prior actions to determine their contribution or lack thereof in causing the above emotions. Though self-evaluation is a valuable undertaking, ruminating about one’s problems, failures, losses and unsuccessful endeavors, only reduces one’s effectiveness and happiness in life, may further facilitate failures and may even set a pattern of recurring misery.

Emotionally healthy people who monitor their thoughts, feelings, conduct and speech enhance the effectiveness of their personal, professional and social interactions. Yet, some engage in excessive ruminations that hinder authentic and participatory exchanges with others and hampers their personal and professional relationships.

Researchers, McIntosh and Martin found that “Occurrence of repetitive, unwanted thoughts appear to be a major contributor to unhappiness.” They add, “Rumination is also interesting in that it is in some sense illogical. It often occurs in situations in which nothing can be done about the target of the thought or after the best chances for effective instrumental behaviors have passed. For example, it is only after we graduate from college that we begin to ruminate about how we should have studied much better in school.”

It is also common for some people who have been divorced to rehearse and rehash in their thoughts about how they “could have” or “should have” behaved differently to avoid the marital split. Many people recall some actions in their lives, that if taken, may have spared them some current misery. Though these thoughts may become lessons for the future, they certainly do not rectify past events. All they do is cause the individual to feel remorse, shame and reduced self-esteem in their own eyes. This is a self-defeating practice and should be curtailed.

It is certainly easy to advise ourselves to be observant and wise in assessing our behaviors and alter them more promptly. Though this advice is helpful, it should be exercised before execution rather than after making the faux pas. I often use the analogy of the need to avoid falling by abstaining from physically looking back, while trying to walk forward, which certainly applies to emotional issues as well. As we all know, there are lessons to be learned from past mistakes, but they need to be considered in advance of present and future actions to spare us the pitfalls of misjudgment and the challenging consequences that may ensue.

Manage your thoughts:

  • Be proactive in considering the pitfalls before taking any action, while avoiding fear and doubt.
  • Abstain from caving to irrational fears.
  • Plan ahead before taking action that does not feel comfortable for you.
  • Think in a logical and linear way and use your past successes as guidelines for current actions.
  • When in doubt, seek guidance from experienced people whom you respect and follow their given advice.
  • Abstain from blaming or shaming yourself for failures- balance it with recalled successes.

Related Articles

About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

(0) Readers Comments

Leave a Reply