Want to stop ruminating? Imagine your mind is a house with floodwaters all around it
Written on March 11, 2014 by Dr. Laurie
My client Sam has come in the last few times with a goal.
“I want to stop ruminating,” he announced. “I realize I spend far too much time going over and over what I should have done, or could have done, or where this next failure of my nervous system is going to take me. It’s time to get better thoughts.”
A noble goal – a healthy goal – but Sam has been ruminating as long as I have known him.
How does he plan to stop?
We look at his thought patterns, and he tells me about a new book he’s read – Managing Stress by Derek Roger. Roger has created a visual that he teaches his students called “Look from the Loft.”
Imagine your mind is a house, with floodwaters all around it. The floodwaters are the difficulties and pressures of everyday life.
We have three options.
1. We can try to control the water by denying it’s there We pretend our difficulties don’t exist. Eventually the power of the water will blow open the door and windows and we will be flooded.
2. We can ruminate about how awful it is that there are floodwaters at all. We let the water in and try to swim in all the pressure and angst and can barely keep our heads above water.
3. We let go and see that there is a front door and a back door. We let the waters flow through, but we go up to the loft and watch it happen without being attached.
This is how I plan to put an end to my ruminating, Sam tells me. I want to watch how my mind travels, and let it all flow without getting so caught up in the drama and the sad feelings.
Ruminating is a mental habit. We chew over the past and replay conversations or events and think about what we could have said or done. It’s the equivalent of swimming in endless powerful floodwaters.
Sam’s intention is great – and good for both his physical and mental health. But how will he get up to that loft to watch? How will he change his automatic habit?
I remind him that the first step is to find an inner perch where he can begin to observe his thoughts and his mental patterns. We imagine the perch – he sees it in his mind’s eye.
The next week Sam bounces in excited – it’s working! He has found a way to get above his mental chatter.
Some people would call this mindfulness – others describe an observing self. Whatever you want to call it, the practice (and it is a practice) takes some intention, but the payoff is great. You begin to let go of the past or the wished for outcomes without even realizing it. Peaceful feelings, calm feelings replace the former edginess.
We can each move beyond the regret, recriminations, replay and stuckness of our thinking.
Imagine your perch, and begin to see those thoughts flowing by.
Practice this every day – even for five minutes a day. It’s all you need to change your story, and change your mind.