In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (animated version), one of my favorite scenes is a quick exchange between the villain, Gaston, and his sidekick, Lefoux.
Gaston: Lefoux, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking.
Lefoux: A dangerous pastime!
Gaston: I know.
I can’t seem to shut down my thoughts…ever. Whether meditating, walking, showering, or just existing, I am at a near-constant state of thinking:
What’s my next step? What prep do I need to do to make this thing go smoothly? What should I be doing instead of what I’m currently engaged in? What could I have done differently? I wonder if that person from three years ago still thinks badly of me.
Productivity guru, David Allen, champions the concept of clear spaces – clutter-free areas in which to work. He says that it is totally appropriate to make a mess when being productive. However, it is almost impossible to be productive if your space is already a mess.
So, if my mind is always thinking, is my brain a constant mess? And, how does this impact my productivity?
To help address my mental mess, I researched rumination. The dictionary definition of rumination is “deep or considered thought.” In psychology circles, rumination is repetitively thinking about an issue without achieving resolution. It worsens your mood because you are likely obsessing about negative circumstances.
Rumination can be a bridge between anxiety and depression. As a person who deals with anxiety, I prefer to stay on this side of that bridge.
How to reduce rumination
Rumination is problem-solving taken to an unhealthy extreme. Yes, we need to use our brains for the purpose for which they are intended, BUT rumination takes a bad situation and puts it on mental replay.
As with anything complicated and psychology-related, opinions differ on how to deal with it. Before you read the list below, please understand that if rumination is a serious issue for you, you are going to need a therapist.
For the sub-clinical ruminators, here are some tips:
- Thank your brain. One school of thought is that the more we try to avoid something, the stronger it becomes. Accept that your brain is delivering this message to you because that’s what brains are designed to do. Say, “thank you, brain for doing your job…good work, brain!”
- Change the channel. Rather than wrapping yourself up in the problem over which you are ruminating, picture the problem as one of many channels on your internal TV. See yourself as the viewer and change the channel. Move on to a channel with more positive messages.
- If the nagging issue is a problem over which you have impact, exert your influence. Make and implement a plan. Rip off the band-aid. Eat the frog. Get whatever it is over with so you can move on.
- Focus on positive things. When ruminating over something distressing, it can be helpful to look at happy pictures on your phone or talk to a friend about positive things. Take a mental break from the negativity.
- Do something you enjoy. Listen to songs that remind you of a simpler time in life. Savor one piece of delicious chocolate. Take a walk while listening to a good audiobook. Engage your senses in pleasurable activities.
It’s hard to be productive in the present moment, or plan for the future, if you are ruminating about the past.
My own ruminations are closely tied to my perfectionism. However, I have supportive family and friends, and a great therapist.
Take care of yourselves, friends.
And don’t overthink things…
Melissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.
excellent information! when i decide to “eat the frog” and make a plan, i share the plan with someone. i let them know that i am going to let know by sharing the completion of each step. this gives me some accountability.
The accountability piece is so smart! I tell my clients that there’s no ability like accountability.
As I read through your article, I kept wondering where Christ is in this story? Have you thought about meditating on Christ? Jesus says in John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
I enjoy your practical advice and perspective. Thanks.
I’m big on ruminating, and my downfall is that I ruminate on things over which I have no control (but over which I want control). I want to fix the world, so when someone behaves badly, I want to stop them, fix them, repair the world. If I could “exert my influence,” I would probably never ruminate. Changing the channel, if I can do it (and it’s often a toughie), is definitely the key to ending my rumination.