Anyone who has participated in competitive sports understands that one of the most important factors in determining an athlete’s success is what goes on in the brain. Natural talent only goes so far. At some point, things get tough and that’s where your mind matters most.
This week’s topic in the TLC Class is rumination. “Rumination refers to the tendency to repetitively think about the causes, situational factors, and consequences of one’s negative emotional experience (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991). Basically, rumination means that you continuously think about the various aspects of situations that are upsetting (Psychology Today).”
The term comes from the repetitive chewing that takes place in the cow’s digestive process. A cow repeatedly chews, swallows, then chews its food all over again. That works great for a cow, but it is a thinking process that can cause great distress to people.
Rumination is the opposite of problem-solving. It is problem-focusing. When our mind keeps its focus on the problem, the potential negative results of the problem take priority in our thoughts. We then begin to respond as if these bad things actually have occurred – even though they simply are things that may occur. If we look at the problem with a logical frame of mind, we would see that the potential bad things we fear are actually least likely to occur. I have seen statistics ranging from 85 – 92% of what we worry about never happens. So, why do we let these tortuous thoughts take up so much space in our brains?
Hebb’s Rule may be one explanation. This is a theory that states that neurons that fire together, wire together. When we repeat the same thought patterns (or do something over and over again), the neurons in our brain tend to strengthen that pattern, becoming a habit. It then becomes the easy road for our thoughts to travel. It may be an easy road, but it also is a destructive road when it’s rumination. You can recognize rumination when you find yourself mulling over something and you realize your thoughts lead to no positive or productive course of action. Once you recognize that you are stuck in a ruminating thought, you must get off that road!
Three Quick Tips to Stop Rumination
- The moment you catch yourself in a ruminating thought, tell yourself out loud to stop! Your voice will stop the pattern in your brain, while simply thinking you must stop ruminating is far less likely to do the trick.
- Grab and pen and paper and write down five positive things happening in your life.
- Once you’ve broken the pattern, distract yourself with an activity that requires your brain to be engaged. Take up a task (cook or bake from a recipe, organize a drawer or closet, clean a room) or action (call a friend, take a walk to a specific destination while noticing the scenery around you).
You are not required to be polite to every thought that enters your head. If it’s a negative thought, tell it to leave. I heard this great piece of advice, recently – you decide to control your thinking. You determine what you think about, when you think about it, and where you think about it. I love that! Our thoughts are not some entity beyond our control. You are in charge! Why not allow only productive thoughts that help you feel better and be better?
Another way to prevent rumination is choose to hang out with people who are positive. We have a tendency to take on the characteristics and qualities of the people with whom we spend the most time. That’s why I recommend hanging out with people who make exercise and their health a priority in their lives. These are some pretty content people.
Do not allow a ruminating thought to prevent you from enjoying your life or striving toward a desired goal. Any athlete who has overcome obstacles to achieve a tough goal knows this very well. As quickly as a negative thought can lead you down a road of defeat, a positive, productive thought can change your course to one that leads to solutions and accomplishment. The choice is yours. You’re in control.