Do you tend to rethink situations in which you wish you’d performed differently? Maybe you said something you wish you wouldn’t have said or you wish you’d volunteered for a project that’s now winning accolades. Or perhaps you wish you wouldn’t have dropped the ball with a client you were trying to win over. This overthinking is called rumination. While you might worry about future events, when you look back on what has already happened, you ruminate.

Alice Boyes, Ph.D. says a ruminative reaction to an event often triggers memories of similar situations from the past and an unproductive focus on the gap between the real and ideal self. Prompted by this one event, you begin to chastise yourself for not being more of something—whether you wish you were more ambitious, organized or intelligent.

Rumination can lead to poor problem-solving, anxiety and depression. However, you can break yourself out of the rut. We share Dr. Boyes’ guidance in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.

Identify your common triggers. Do certain situations tend to set you off, such as making major decisions or collaborating with people you don’t trust? Do you tend to blame yourself or blame others? Dr. Boyes says most ruminators fall into one of these categories. Take time to notice patterns so you can spot them and stop them in the future.

Get psychological distance. Dr. Boyes suggests getting distance by labelling what’s running through your head as thoughts and feelings, a tactic described as emotional agility. Instead of saying, “I’m inadequate,” you could say, “I’m feeling inadequate.” You could even take a light-hearted approach and say, “Oh, that’s just my ruminating mind overheating again.”

Distinguish between ruminating and problem solving. You might sometimes glean a useful insight while ruminating, but it’s mostly avoidance coping. The more people ruminate, the less effective they become at problem solving. Either they don’t think of solutions or they don’t pursue them quickly or effectively. To shift from rumination to improvement mode, Dr. Boyes recommends asking yourself, “What’s the best choice right now, given the reality of the situation?”

Train your brain to become non-stick. If you notice yourself ruminating, try to distract yourself for a few minutes. You could spend 10 minutes completing an expense report or engage in physical activity such as walking or running. These practices ask you to notice when your mind has wandered off to the past or future and bring it back to the present.

Check your thinking for errors. Dr. Boyes says that sometimes rumination is triggered by cognitive errors. The catch-22 is that you’re not likely to be good at detecting distorted thinking when you’re ruminating, since it clouds thinking. The solution is to develop a good understanding of your typical thinking errors in calm moments so you can recognize them when you’re feeling heightened emotions.

Mistakes happen, but don’t ruminate on them. If you notice yourself slipping into the rumination rut, apply the strategies above to get yourself out and keep moving forward.

Source: Alice Boyes, Ph.D. is a former clinical psychologist turned writer and is author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit and The Anxiety Toolkit.