On this week’s show, I’m going to talk about RUMINATING. I mentioned it in passing on THE INNER CRITIC episode 6 I think it was, but I’ll be expanding on it here and offering solutions. Rumination can take over your mind, kill your creativity, bring you down, make you paranoid and kill your love for life. It’s a nasty, nasty piece of work.
Before I go on to that though let’s talk about last week’s episode. So switch off your mobile phones, stop letting yourself get distracted and let me recap on PROCRASTINATION.
It’s something most of us have a bit of a problem with so I hope you found the episode useful. If you checked it out, how did you get on with the call to action? Have you applied the solutions to your life and work and if so, how’s that worked out for you? Remember you can always get in touch via twitter @filmproprodpod or on Facebook @filmproproductivity, or on the official website at filmproproductivity.com/contact. The more adventurous amongst you might even want to use the SPEAK PIPE SERVICE on the contact page to leave a voicemail. I genuinely love hearing from listeners so please check that out.
My final word on procrastination is this, and it’s a quote from Karen Lang - “A year from now you may wish you had started today.” And if you really have to procrastinate make sure you do so by listening to this podcast. At least you’ll be moving forward in your productivity skills.
As I said a minute ago, today’s show is all about a rather nasty, creativity-killing, negativity forming, stress, anxiety and paranoia-inducing ailment called RUMINATION.
The Cambridge dictionary describes rumination simply as “the act of thinking carefully and for a long period about something” but that doesn’t go even halfway towards describing what it really is. Another online dictionary hits nearer the mark with "to turn over in the mind," and says it comes from the Latin “ruminates”.
Healthline.com hits far nearer the mark – It says “The process of continuously thinking about the same thoughts, which tend to be sad or dark, is called “rumination.” Later it says that “a habit of rumination can be dangerous to your mental health as it can prolong or intensify depression as well as impair your ability to think and process emotions. It may also cause you to feel isolated and can, in reality, push people away.”
This starts to give you an idea of just how dangerous rumination is for the soul. If your head has ever been filled with one single thought, or a string of thoughts or even a memory of something you just can’t change that keeps repeating… and repeating… and repeating itself, then you suffered or are still suffering from RUMINATION.
To me, and I haven’t had it in a long time I’m relieved to say, “RUMINATION” is the nagging incessant part of your subconscious that replays your failures and what if’s and only focuses on the negative. It’s not so much a voice - like the negative inner voice or INNER CRITIC I’ve talked about in Episode 6 - it’s more likely to manifest as thoughts, emotions or resentments that just keep looping in our mind and will keep you awake at night. Typically we ruminate about the past, including perceived mistakes and missed opportunities. I say perceived quite deliberately as some people find themselves ruminating over NOTHING AT ALL.
It’s an incessant repetition of a problem without resolution and is common in those who suffer anxiety and depression as these conditions cause our brains to become less flexible and able to deal with problems. Rumination makes us rethink again and again and again AND AGAIN what we should have said or done and keeps kicking at us when we are down long after we can do anything to change it. It replays the unfair treatment (REAL or IMAGINED) we have received by others, by the government, by our employers or friends or family. Things that most of the time we can’t change anyway – especially in the wee small hours of the morning when these looped thoughts take root. Rumination is born of our bad experiences and it won’t let you forget them.
I think I’ve used this analogy before but it’s true. I was once stopped by the cops for using a mobile phone whilst driving. Trouble was – it wasn’t true. I was driving along minding my own business and got pulled over. These two cops would neither look at my phone which would have disproved them nor search my car for another phone, which they suggested I had hidden. For 10 months I awaited a trial for this as I refused to pay an on the spot fine nor receive the points they were trying to force upon me, and I actually had to appear at court twice. Once to see if I’d changed my mind, which was infuriating, and once for the supposed trial.
I lost the job of fight director on I think it was Case Histories, a big Jason Isaacs drama because of those idiots that made up a story to meet their quota as both dates I was booked for fights on it fell on the two court days I had to attend. That incident lit the fuse that finally led me to completely lose the plot because I couldn’t handle the injustice. Even now, injustice stings me more than it should, in any form.
I played the incident over in my head 10000 times or more over the 10 months, getting more and more angry but do you know what? I stood up in court and I won the case. Even now, although I am perfectly happy with my life and position, I feel a fear of the time I was angry for 10 months – and it was so damaging to me - who has ruminated so much over that one incident - over the loss of the work and over the injustice – that I will never go to the police ever again. The damage is so rooted by rumination and I simply can’t trust cops. That’s their fault for lying, that’s how I won the case by the way – I caught them in a lie - and the fault of rumination for ensuring I’ll never forget it.
But don’t panic folks. That small damage is left within me, and I live with it, it’s no big deal. A destruction of my trust and a clouding of my outlook certainly, but for the larger part I got over it and all is well. Peter Kinderman says that “Rumination tends to be eased if we learn to be mindful; if we are able to be aware of, and understand how our own thoughts work.” And it’s with that mindfulness that I live happily now.
Let’s look more closely at what it is, why we do it and some solutions.
Professor of Psychology Sonja LyubomirskyI explains that “The combination of rumination and negative mood is toxic. Research shows that people who ruminate while sad or distraught are likely to feel besieged, powerless, self-critical, pessimistic, and generally negatively biased.”
In an article in Psychcentral, and I’ll link to all these sources in the show notes, we discover that Ruminating as a thing is “characterized by overwhelming self-criticism and negative self-talk about one’s failures and shortcomings.” We think that if we’d just done something better or had been better, the outcome would’ve been more positive. It is also is characterized by black-and-white, all-or-nothing catastrophic thinking, which is referred to as CATASTROPHIZING by the way, and if you don’t do it yourself, I bet you know someone that does. When we ruminate, we think things like “Why me?”; “Why does this always happen?”; or “Why did he or she say that?”
The research on RUMINATION is quite prolific but it’s not something that I often hear discussed. We know what Rumination is now, but the bigger question for me is - WHY DO WE DO IT?
Well, According to the American Psychological Association, we RUMINATE for a variety of reasons including:
- The belief that by doing so, you’ll gain insight into your life or a problem.
- Having a history of emotional or physical trauma – sounds like that was the root of my problem when I had it.
- Facing ongoing stressors that can’t be controlled. For listeners for whom English is a second language STRESSOR is a noun which means “something that causes a state of strain or tension.” Basically, it’s something that causes you STRESS. So just to recap on that one - The third they list is Facing ONGOING STRESSORS that CAN’T BE CONTROLLED
- It goes on to say that rumination is also common in those who possess certain personality characteristics, which include perfectionism, neuroticism, and who have an excessive focus on one’s relationships with others. These individuals might be consumed by what others think.
The article in Psychcentral suggests a few other reasons why rumination might manifest itself. According to “The Psychology of Success.” Blog:
- It’s just human nature to ruminate. Our brains, which evolved over millions of years to pay attention to danger, tend toward negative thinking for the sake of survival. “Back then, if we failed to detect threats, like a predator, a natural hazard, or some other kind of aggression, it could cost us our lives and the chance of passing on our genes.” As such, our brains — thoughts and beliefs — are wired to detect and attend to negative experiences instead of positive ones.
- They next suggest that RUMINATION may be common in Individuals who have low self-worth. These people use absolutes like nobody will hire me, or nobody likes me, or I have to do everything instead of searching for productive solutions to their issues.
- “PEOPLE WHO ARE DEPRESSED AND ANXIOUS tend to show this pattern of thinking more often,” Research has shown a connection between rumination and depression. “Rumination dampens problem-solving and keeps people trapped in a depressive state.” People who ruminate don’t have much confidence in their solutions, so they aren’t proactive about alleviating their pain. Plus, rumination often pushes people away, further feeding the depression.
CEO David Sikhosana says that “Overthinking is best known as creating problems that are never there.” And that’s a big part of the problem that ruminators face. The rumination of things that don’t really matter, breeds paranoia for problems that just don’t exist.
Some might say of course well, what's so bad about rumination, it's all about problem-solving right?
Psychology Today answers that while it's true that problem-solving and planning are essential to overcoming a difficult problem, people who ruminate tend to take these activities too far and for too long. It goes on to say that:
- People who ruminate will often spend hours analysing the situation, even AFTER they've developed a plan for dealing with it.
- Sometimes people will ruminate about the problem so much so that they never develop a solution to the problem. This is where rumination becomes really problematic.
- If the situation has you in a bad mood, rumination will keep that bad mood alive, and you will feel upset for as long as you ruminate and if you ruminate on the problem for days, chances are you'll remain upset for days. In my own analogy remember I was angry for 10 months, and probably still suffered for another year after that before I finally settled.
And the research is extremely consistent.
- People who ruminate are much more likely to develop problems with depression and anxiety.
- Rumination is also connected to many different forms of self-sabotage. For example, if you ruminate on something upsetting a friend did, or is perceived to have done, it's going to take longer to forgive that friend and get back to enjoying time spent with them.
- If you hold a grudge and constantly ruminate on what that friend did or is perceived to have done even if they are innocent, you will forever destroy that friendship.
But I’m not going to leave you hanging. There are solutions to the problem. I’ve learned some of these the hard way so listen up so you don’t have to.
- For me, the surefire best way to beat it is to try and DISTRACT YOURSELF. That goes really for any worry you might have, whether it’s a relative in hospital or the loss of a relationship, or just generally being down. If you start to ruminate and recognise it, which is part of the solution btw - find a distraction to break your thought cycle. Call a friend or do a household task - preferably something a bit more engaging. Maybe watch a film or read a book – that worked for me. I’ve got the ultimate distraction and that’s my dog Angus – If I caught myself ruminating I’m certain that just walking the dog would go a long way to improving my mindset.
- STOP YOUR TRAIN OF THOUGHT. Think or even tell yourself “Stop!” or “No!” when you start to ruminate. You can even utilise my higher level thinking strategy to manoeuvre yourself out of trouble. Try putting your repetitive thoughts in perspective. Writing it down will help this. When it’s out of your mind you may just realise that the problem is not important at all, and might be able to let it go.
- Another technique might be to take this further - PLAN AND THEN TAKE ACTION. You could - instead of repeating the same negative thought over and over again, take that thought and make a plan to take action to address it. Write it down on a piece of paper and be as specific as possible and realistic with your expectations. Doing this will disrupt your rumination. Once you have outlined a plan of action, take one small step to address the issue. Refer to the plan you made to solve the problem you’ve been obsessing over and move forward step by step, to resolve it or get over it.
- If perfectionism and goal setting has led you to rumination with GOALS THAT ARE UNREALISTIC, you may have to just revisit them and make alterations. Setting more realistic goals can reduce the risks of overthinking your own actions. I scheduled a load of stuff to happen at the same time as I am working on this podcast, but the jumping around slowed me down and almost ground me to a halt. That was solved quickly however when I took on my own advice from the multitasking episode and simplified my schedule. Now I am only working on the podcast for a few weeks, and I’ve moved my other goal-oriented tasks till after the 24th February when this launches. I’m zooming through my podcast stuff now as a result.
- An article I read in psychology today which is my starting point for this solutions section, suggests that HAVING MANY SOURCES OF SELF-ESTEEM is important for keeping you in a better mood and reducing your risks of rumination. The more sources of self-esteem you have, the smaller the risk that you will fixate on your perceived shortcomings. The self-esteem that I believe they are talking about is treating yourself with respect and taking good care of your health, development, and environment. If you are open to growth experiences and meaningful relationships, tolerant of risk, quick to joy and delight, and accepting and forgiving of yourself and others then your self-esteem will strengthen.
- You could try MEDITATION. It can reduce rumination because it involves clearing your mind to arrive at an emotionally calm state. When you find yourself with a repeating loop of thoughts in your mind, seek out a quiet space. Sit down, breathe deeply, and focus on nothing but breathing. If you think it’s a bit mental or you are uncomfortable then check out the app called meetups, or you may have luck on Craigslist or Gumtree, and find a group nearby that you can learn with. Meditation is big these days and you won’t have to look far to find others who practice it. Try udemy.com for video courses on the topic if you prefer to learn alone.
- TALK TO A FRIEND - Ruminating can make you feel isolated. Talking about your thoughts with a friend with an outside perspective may help break the cycle. Talking through your concerns can help, but make sure you pick someone who won’t simply ruminate along with you. Oh and try to stay off social media. Releasing you woes there may make you feel good in the short term, but you’ll get dragged down by it if you don’t get the responses you hope for. You may get a bit of interaction at first but over time, people will switch off to you and you will feel even more isolated. Talk to someone. Find real human interaction.
- If you really need it – TRY THERAPY. A therapist can help you identify why you’re ruminating and how to address the problems at their core. If you feel that somehow that therapy is over the top, get over it. Therapy exists for a reason and if you’ve tried what feels like everything else then it’s gotta be worth a shot. It’s not half as expensive as you think it is either, so stop putting obstacles in your way and pick up the phone or send an email. It’s a good way out of the problem.
- Finally – and this is one that really worked well for me. SCHEDULE TIME TO WORRY. What I mean is, put it in your diary. Put in 10 minutes at a specific time of day and allow yourself to worry only during that period. This simple psychological trickery really works. You give yourself permission to worry at that point and you will be able to let go far more easily at all other times. It’s a bit hippy-dippy you might think, but it’s good.
So there are a few good solutions for you. I hope that they will help you if you believe yourself to be a ruminator. And if you want to bring an end to your repetitive negative thoughts, here are some changes you can make to your life to help you out.
- BE PROACTIVE - Use your higher level thinking self to identify the problems in your life and then start taking actions to solve them, one step at a time
- SET YOUR OWN EXPECTATIONS. Constantly work on building your self-esteem by taking care of yourself and doing things you enjoy and excel at.
- CREATE A SUPPORT SYSTEM. Having friends and family members, and maybe even a therapist, will distract you from your ruminating thoughts and will boost your self-esteem.
To sum up you must realise that it is absolutely possible to stop ruminating.
It starts with high-level thinking, the practice of working on your life and career at the same time you find yourself living and working in it. So each time you find yourself ruminating, make a mental note of the situation you’re in. This includes where you are, what time of day it is, who is around you (if anyone), and what you’ve been doing that day. Developing ways to avoid or manage these triggers can reduce your rumination and allow you to take back control.
A lot of what I’ve presented has been from psychological journals tempered by my own experience but I’ll just chuck in a thought or two further on the matter as we finish off - firstly I’d say to try and avoid AVOID BLACK-AND-WHITE THINKING. If something has gone wrong, or you made one mistake, it doesn’t mean that your whole life is doomed. Cut yourself some slack and teach yourself to realise that black and white thinking just isn’t reality.
And remember when you’re feeling low, that it’s easy to get caught up in believing that bad things are happening because of you. Don’t allow yourself to believe that you’re a victim. Having a victim mentality will not lift you up, it’ll entomb you in your fears and enslave you to things like rumination.
I’ll end with the words of author Colleen McCarty
I’m tired of being inside my head. I want to live out here, with you.
CALL TO ACTION
Your call to action this week is if you have a problem with rumination or you think you know someone that does - to tackle it head-on with the advice that I offer here today. If you don’t then revisit the advice I gave in episode 4. The 5 a day for good mental health system, with the acronym alive. Stay active. Observe the world about you. Interact with others. Help others. Keep learning new things. It’s all good for your mental health.
I realise that this episode is not a particularly film pro one at all, but it is something that everyone may suffer from, from time to time and hope that it’s been useful for you. I don’t choose these topics lightly and I think this is important. Next week I’ll be talking about productivity topics such as COMPOUNDING, and FRONTLOADING in an episode entitled KILLING THE MICROWAVE MENTALITY. It’s one of those mind-expanding concept episodes so I think you’ll like it.
Earlier I quoted Professor Lyburmirskyl or Professor Unpronounceable might be more appropriate for me. I’ll end with another one of hers as for me it represents the spirit of this podcast.
“If you're not happy today, then you won't be happy tomorrow unless you take things into your own hands and take action.”
So please don’t allow yourself to get cornered into anything that makes you miserable. Take control, seize it if you have to, and save yourself. It takes a little courage to make it so but if you can stand on your own two feet and move freely in a direction of your choosing, you will be happy.
Thanks again for choosing to spend your valuable time here with me. Please - take control of your own destiny, keep on shootin’, and join me next time on Film Pro Productivity.
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Thanks: A Himitsu