You’re tired of thinking the same repetitive, ruminating thoughts. You want to stop them, but you can’t help but focus on the negative side of everything. Then the fearful thoughts pop up in your head to make you anxious. You know, the ones around “I’m not enough” or “I don’t have enough”.
You realize that you should let go of the thoughts that don’t serve you, and you even do your best to stop them. But they get the best of you as they keep coming back to you.
You try meditation, mindfulness, yoga, relaxation, escapism, and even traveling, but they find a way to strike you back. And most of the time, you don’t even realize your ruminations until you do it again.
I’ve been there too. Dwelling and being anxious was like my full-time gig. I would do it when I was alone and I would do it again when I was around people. I didn’t tell anyone how miserable I was in my head, but only I knew how fed up I was because of my thought patterns that kept making me feel worse and worse.
Sometimes, for a while, I would feel good and peaceful, but that didn’t last long. Before I knew it, I would go back to rumination again.
The Root Cause of Rumination
We are wired for the negativity bias because focusing on the negative helped us survive in the past. Today our brains have made a tremendous evolution, but our primal brain still takes over our unconscious thought patterns.
Sadly, most people never train their minds and stay stuck in the fight-or-flight mode to crash and burn their entire life.
So how do you get around your primal mental conditioning? How can you choose your state of mind to live in a positive state where you don’t have to pretend to put a smile on your face?
Our goal is not to avoid the automatic negative thoughts (ANTs), but it is to change or redirect them to something more useful or positive so that they serve you instead of punishing you. The way you do it isn’t rocket science. It’s simple, but it requires conscious mental training, just like you would train your body to perform at its best.
How To Stop Ruminating Thoughts
Here’s the wisdom from 3 Stoic philosophers, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca that helped me fix my ruminating thought patterns:
1. The Fault in our Perception
“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.”Marcus Aurelius
There’s an innate storyteller in your mind. It tries to fill in the gaps and close the open loops with a wild imagination. Most of the time, the things it imagines aren’t pretty. Your mind also tells you what is “right” and “wrong” or what it means to be “successful” and “unsuccessful”.
But these stories are a mere perception of your reality which may or may not be true in the absolute sense. As human beings, we have a tendency to choose the perception that helps us survive by blaming, complaining, comparing, making excuses, and so on. While we avoid the thoughts that lead to gratitude, love, peace, joy, abundance, and freedom.
To change your perception, realize that your reality is subjective and malleable. Simply choosing a different perception will make a paradigm shift that can change your stories and beliefs. When you do that, you gain the power to define your own reality based on a perception that serves your evolved brain.
Try this: In one hour, count the number of stories you tell yourself. The stories could be about your beliefs, or they could come from your brain trying to make sense of a situation. Once you’re done, categorize them into fact or fiction, positive or negative and useful or useless. See how many of them you can turn around to make a perspective shift.
2. The Act of Dwelling
“Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.”Epictetus
Dwelling is the act of overthinking the things that are not under your control or the things that aren’t any useful upon thinking more about them. Overthinking itself isn’t a problem when it’s used for contemplation or for extracting lessons from experiences. The problem arises when you overthink the wrong things at the wrong times.
This is where the act of meditation, mindfulness, healthy distraction, and above all else, Amor Fati (love of fate) philosophy can help you out. Ask yourself this — Have you learned what your thoughts are trying to teach you? Is it not in your control to correct things now? If the answer to both is yes, that’s when you know that overthinking serves no purpose here so you can direct your thoughts towards something that’s within your control.
Try this: Think of a thought that has been bothering you for a while. Write it down and dig deeper into why it is bothering you. After that, find out the lesson that thought is trying to teach you. When you have the lesson, write it down too. If it’s applicable, also write what you’re going to do about it. Now end the exercise by saying “thank you” to your initial thought.
3. The Fear Illusion
“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.”Seneca
Conquering fear is the biggest lever you can pull to ease anxiety and achieve greatness. More often than not, we haven’t thought through the worst-case scenario of a situation, so we stay paralyzed in our comfort bubble. But as soon as you pop that bubble, you realize that the worst isn’t too bad or likely after all.
The only way to conquer fear is to acknowledge it and take action anyway. Don’t wait for confidence, but be courageous instead. And if it’s something you can’t act on at that moment, then all you can do is wait for your moment and seize it when the time comes, knowing that overthinking before the event won’t help you overcome the fear.
To train yourself to be more courageous, use as many opportunities as you can to use courage when you know that fear is an illusion in your mind. As you become more courageous, it will get easier for you to use the trait in other areas of your life.
Try this: Think of something you’ve been struggling to gather courage for. Maybe you don’t feel confident or you fear the consequences of failure. Now imagine the worst as if your fears have already come true. What will you do to undo the damage? Now visualize the positive outcome of your action as you think of your future. Is it worth taking the leap of faith? If so, it’s time to choose courage over confidence.
Almost all the problems in your mind arise for wrong perception, dwelling on the wrong things or fearing the wrong things.
If you practice useful perspective shifts, pragmatic thinking, and cultivating a heroic mindset regularly, you can overcome most of the unnecessary mental suffering and rumination.
As a result, you’ll live with beauty and serenity in your mind and ward off depression, worry, and anxiety on demand.