Anyone who is prone to ruminating will be familiar with what a curse it can be when that rumination has a negativity bias. Fortunately, there are things that can be done to help stop rumination in its tracks and in this article we look at one of the most powerful of those techniques.
These words from Rumi, the Sufi mystic and poet, sum up rumination beautifully.
“Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open"
Anyone who is prone to ruminating on things is likely to relate to that sentiment. I certainly do, but knowing you have the choice to think or to not think about something doesn't mean a thing when that thought is stuck in your head and seemingly refuses to move.
There are lots of varying dictionary definitions. I'll tell you the one I like second best and then I'll share my favorite. The second best one comes from thefreedictionary.com. They define rumination as:
"The act of thinking about something in a sustained fashion"
That's pretty much a bullseye, but my favorite, although it refers to food and not thoughts, really gets to the heart of that feeling of having a thought in your head that goes round and round and round endlessly.
Rumination: the act of bringing up food from the stomach and chewing it again
That's just how I feel about that process of the ruminating thought cycle. I can be driving along in my car listening to music, or in the shower, or preparing a meal, and the next thing I know that thought has been dredged up from the dark recesses of my mind and I start going over it repeatedly. If you are prone to rumination, and a large percentage of the population are, then you'll know exactly what I mean.
So what's the solution to getting rid of those viral worm thoughts that wriggle around in your brain endlessly and refuse to leave.
For some people the answer is to drown out those thoughts with alcohol or recreational drugs. Other people turn to therapy or seek acceptance through meditation or physical exercise.
But there is one solution that has been proven scientifically to help reduce rumination dramatically or eliminate it completely and it is something that almost all of us can do whenever we like and with spending a dime.
That solution is writing.
How to stop ruminating with writing
Of all the solutions I have tried to stop me constantly mulling over the same issues obsessively, writing has been the most effective by quite some margin. If you've never tried it I can highly recommend it.
Here are ten reasons why it is worth giving writing a go.
1. Writing techniques to suit different needs
The great news is there are dozens of well research writing exercises to help with rumination and obsessive thoughts. Just good the phrases 'expressive writing' or 'writing therapy' and you'll find a whole heap of tips and techniques to get you going.
2. Do it when it suits you
You don't need to make an appointment or even schedule some space in your diary. Just grab your keyboard, or a pen and paper and away you go. You can do it home, in the office, in a cafe, or whatever works best for you.
3. Take as much time as you need
Unlike an appointment with a therapist you can take as long as you want with your writing. Often just a quick 10 minute session is enough, but if you want to write for an hour or more that is fine too. Whatever works for you.
4. Continue until it is processed
Writing is super flexible. You can use it to quickly get your head around an issue that is bothering you, or keep coming back to the same piece of writing several times over the period of a few weeks.
5. No cost
Writing is super cost effective. No hourly rates. No big up-front investment. All you need is your laptop or a pen and a notepad.
6. Allows you to see different perspectives
Part of the problem with rumination is that the thoughts are locked-in and unless we make a real effort it is often difficult to see things from a different perspective. There are wonderful writing exercises that can help us to view any issue from a wide variety of perspectives.
7. Helps you to create order out of disorder
When we ruminate we are often struggling to make sense of an issue or situation. Unfortunately, the chasms of our mind are rarely the best place to create order. Writing, on the other hand, can be amazingly effective at seeing patterns and putting disparate pieces into some kind of order.
8. Helps to get it out of the head
One of the first things people who are new to expressive writing observe is how the racing thoughts in their head almost always diminish dramatically after writing. This realization is what converts many people to the many benefits of writing to heal.
9. Almost everyone can write
Almost everyone has the skills to type words into a computer or write them on paper - and that is all you need. You can be terrible at spelling and grammar, and be totally lacking in creativity. None of these skills are required for this kind of writing.
10. It is your little secret
This kind of writing is not for public consumption. It is your little secret. Many people who do this kind of therapeutic writing will tear up whatever they write or delete the file from their computer once they have finished. Alternatively, you can use an online system that stores your writing in an encrypted form so that no prying eyes can ever see it.
Writing is quick, easy and inexpensive and it really works. If you've never tried it I urge you to give it a go.
As I mentioned in benefit number 9, you definitely don't need to be a good writer so don't let that put you offer. Nobody is ever going to read what you write so you can just dump your thoughts straight out of your brain onto the screen or paper without any form of self-editing or proofing. In fact, the quicker you write and the less attention you pay to getting it right the better.
If you need some guidance before you get writing do an online search for terms such as expressive writing or writing therapy and you'll find a whole heap of useful information.
What are you waiting for?