I'm an award winning Senior Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and Mindfulness Teacher. I help perfectionists break the cycle of never feeling good enough.
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Hi, I'm Natalie
Do you ever find yourself ruminating? Going over things from the past again and again? Usually with a strong flavour of self-criticism and negativity? ‘I could have done this, I should have done that etc’. It’s very common among perfectionists who get stuck in a cycle of repetitively mulling over a thought or problem without ever coming to a resolution. If this sounds familiar, I’ve got you! Before we learn how to break the rumination cycle, let’s discuss why changing this habit should be a priority in the first place.
Some people believe rumination is helpful because they think it means they’re analysing their feelings. They believe going over events will help them understand what’s happened, how and why. They think covering all areas is the best way to solve problems. But rumination doesn’t help in any way. In fact, it’s quite unhelpful. Here’s why:
By ruminating, we’re trying to reduce distress and overcome problems, but we actually end up increasing and prolonging our distress, and making the problem bigger. As well as interfering with clear thinking, daily activity and our ability to cope, it often leads to unhelpful behaviours like self-harm, drinking, drugs and comfort eating.
Although they often go together, it can be helpful to distinguish the difference between rumination and worry.
Worry is future focused, imagining the worst will happen and thinking ‘what if?’ about potential risks and challenges. Rumination is past focused, constantly chewing things over, regurgitating and repeatedly thinking about the same thing. It’s often characterised by regret with an emphasis on personal failures. It’s thinking ‘if only’, ‘I should have’ and ‘I shouldn’t have’ on repeat. These thoughts keep returning and it’s difficult to break the cycle.
The first step is to become aware of the fact you are ruminating and realise it isn’t helpful. Increased awareness is crucial. You can’t shift out of rumination unless you start noticing it in the first place. This part takes lots of practice, but the more you notice when rumination starts the quicker you’ll get at catching it when it’s happening.
The second step is to identify your triggers for rumination. Learning to recognise what sets your rumination off will mean you can intervene sooner and break the cycle.
The third step is to make a conscious decision to ‘ban’ rumination and to stop ruminating once you notice it happening. Of course this is easier said than done, so my top tip is to find a distraction. Focus your attention elsewhere for ten minutes to help interrupt rumination. You’ll soon learn which distractions work most effectively for you.
Here are five more things you can try when you find yourself ruminating:
1. Consider what you would say to a friend in the same situation. This can help you start treating yourself more compassionately. As you would with a friend, forgive yourself if you’ve made a mistake or done something wrong.
2. Reframe the situation. See if you can find something funny about it – humour can help you see things from a different perspective and move on. Viewing what’s happened as a learning experience can help you approach the situation constructively while looking to the future. You could even try stepping back and viewing the situation as you might watch a scene in a movie.
3. Accept your situation. Pain and suffering intensify depending on how you think about them. We feel sad because we feel sad, are angry because we feel angry, and so on. Feel your feelings, accept your current state as it is and try to stop wanting things to be different.
4. Be present and centre yourself in the here and now. Use mindfulness meditation to focus your attention on your breath instead of being attached to your thoughts and caught up in rumination.
5. If all else fails, set aside some dedicated ‘rumination time’. Make a decision to stop ruminating and plan to to do it for 20 minutes later on, i.e. after lunch or when you’ve finished work. Once you’ve scheduled time for ruminating later, you don’t have to stay caught up in your thoughts. In the meantime, do something that will take up your attention and help you feel better.
It’s true that the more we ruminate, the stronger the habit becomes, and the harder it is to change. But the good news is, the less we ruminate, the weaker the habit becomes. You can start moving in this direction today.
You’ll find more expert advice on my Instagram page, the.perfectionism.therapist. I also send a fortnightly newsletter designed to encourage you to be kind to yourself and embrace your imperfections. Sign-up here. And if you’re looking for a therapist you can book a free consultation with me here.