Overthinking and Ruminations – Part 1

After a lot of internal complaining and feeling sorry for myself one day, I opened the “How of happiness”, a wonderful book by Sonja Lyubomirsky, that I recommend to everybody. I found myself at the chapter talking about “ruminations”. I must admit I am an expert ruminator and have been all my life.

 

I remember my mother telling me that ruminating was for cows- “Stop ruminating”, she would say. But despite this, my whole life sometimes seems like a giant rumination. Turning around and around in my head everything I don’t like. Have you noticed that overthinking is rarely about what is right in your life or what you are happy about?  We ruminate our problems and situations because we think that somehow, the more we think about it, the more we’ll find some insight that will give us the solution, the “key” to our own happiness.

 

The thinker by Rodin
The thinker by Rodin Photo©SuzanneBélair

But scientific research shows that it is the opposite that takes place. People that ruminate are generally unhappy and suffer feelings of distress and anxiety. (1) The author talks about rumination like a bad habit that needs breaking if one is to find some happiness. She gives tools to stop rumination when it starts, or as soon as we are aware that we started doing it. Although ruminators think that the more they think about their problem or issue, the more insight they’ll discover  into their own personality and solutions to their problems, or find the answer as to why something is not working, the opposite happens: Ruminators go deeper into their problem and their personal distress, bringing a lot of negative consequences to their life.

 

Sadness is enhanced and sustained, the overthinker becomes biased and doesn’t see reality as it actually is, it becomes a vicious circle. If we are ruminating on a problem, it impairs our ability to find a viable solution because our mind is being taken over by negative feelings, it saps motivation and often provokes a “victims” mentality where we find ourselves in a situation where we don’t see any solutions. It also interferes with concentration and stops us from taking any initiative.
So instead of gaining insight into ourselves and our problems, we gain a “distorted and pessimistic perspective” on our lives. If there is already a tendency to negative mood, the combination of ruminating and negative mood is toxic. Overthinking and ruminating will eventually take a significant toll on us and on our relationships if it hasn’t already.

 

I like that the ruminating is presented as a habit that it is possible to break. According to the author, becoming happier means taking the decision to break free from overthinking about both major or minor negative experiences, it is about learning not to pay attention to every bump in the road whether small or big, and not let them affect how we feel about ourselves and our life as a whole.

 

There is a real sentiment of freedom once we realise that no good can come out of overthinking and ruminating. It is the first step to recovery and seeing our lives clearly and finding happiness.
Tomorrow I will post some strategies to overcome this bad habit.

 

 

(1) Lyubomirsky S., 2007,The How of Happiness, The Penguin Press, New-York, London.

 

http://www.suzannebelair.com

©2014 Suzanne Bélair

 

6 Comments

  1. I’m excited to read your follow-up to this. It was very soothing to read your perspective about this issue, and encouraging that somebody else gets what it’s like to think about something for so long because you think you’re gonna break through a wall and arrive at some higher understanding. And like you hinted at, it just doesn’t work. Overthinking doesn’t replace the power of feelings–it actually suppresses them. Having the patience to wait for them to arise is key. As another woman once said, “Clarification doesn’t come from thought–it comes from engagement.” It’s difficult because ‘feeling’ makes a person so much more vulnerable than thinking does, but it’s essential to living.

    1. Thank you Eric. I have only now come to the realization that overthinking is a big waste of time. I wish I knew before, but then, when you are ruminating, you really feel it is necessary to your well-being. I now realize it only emphasizes the pain and anxiety. Feelings without over-analysis, intuition is what we need to follow. Remove what is all around burying what is real. I am with you there !

  2. Is there room for positive rumination? I’m thinking the type of introspection and reflection that can lead to a deeper understanding of our circumstance and help cultivate appreciation.

    1. Thank you Isaac for bringing that point. Introspection and meditation are usually peaceful and not accompanied by the feeling of deep anxiety we feel when we are in the grips of out of control sterile negative thinking. Rumination is a toxic process that leads to negative self-talk and can lead to depression.

      We are then more or less on autopilot and out of control of our thoughts, incapable of directing them toward introspection. I have been caught up in this on and off for as long as I can remember and never had an Ah!! moment during these episodes. Unfortunately, from my experience, it never leads to anything positive.

  3. J’aime beaucoup marcher quand les ruminations commencent à pointer, regarder les arbres, le ciel, les autres humains. Et la plupart du temps les idées fixes s’envolent et proposent un espace plus créatif. Cela amène une nouvelle façon de voir le pourquoi de notre rumination de l’instant. Et le tout prend une autre route et nous revenons plus léger de notre marche !

    1. Oui une bonne marche fait du bien quand on est capable de mettre le focus sur ce que l’on voit autour de nous au lieu de ce qui se passe à l’intérieur. Vivre le moment présent pour sortir de nos ruminations.

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