Rumination, or dwelling persistently on distressing situations from the recent or distant path, saps our energy, confidence, and ability to solve problems. We all know someone like this, and it could even be YOU. When Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” he was probably not referring to an endless and counterproductive focus on the past.
Get over, over thinking. It’s a trap, a habit that can be changed. Are we primed to ruminate? According to psychology professor, Stephen Ilardi, memories are linked to powerful emotional associations. Common themes may be familiar to you like: “I can’t believe I said that or replaying what might have been a better or faster response in a personal or professional setting.” When an unpleasant event puts us in a despondent mood, it’s easier to recall other times when we’ve felt terrible, which can set the stage for a downward spiral. If events in the past were negative, then present and even future events will also go wrong. We think we can “fix” the problem by playing it over and over. On the contrary, the more we do this, the more it ramps up activity in the brain’s stress-response which can eventually sap motivation. No winners here.
Yes, this is much more typical in women than men. In a series of studies, women were more likely to accept undue responsibility for other’s well being. They also were less likely than men to believe they had control over negative emotions or important events in their lives.
Ruminators are not worriers, who tend to live in the future and are concerned about what could happen. Their anxiety is forward focused on what has yet to happen. The ruminator already has a scenario and replays it. Not only does this send you into the past without a time-machine and an eraser, but it takes your attention away from the present and the opportunity to refocus on what you have learned and how you can change.
We have all had unpleasant memories or regrets about things we said or did. You cannot change history, but if you cannot let it go, call Jane/John/Jasper, apologize and move on. Sometimes that is easier said than done, but it will put an end to at least one cycle of personal discomfort and afford you some closure and even relief. It’s also important to recognize that some behaviors are habits that you have the power to short circuit and change the outcome before it becomes another “thing” to focus on looking backward.