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Melissa Ng

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July 14, 2013

Rumination

July 14, 2013 | By | 5 Comments

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein

Do you ever find yourself captivated by your own thoughts?

On the good days, ideas can feel like they’re just pouring out of you, right? Your heart’s racing, mind is rapidly firing one seemingly genius thought after the other, the flow is just exhilarating until…

The high suddenly disappears.

Maybe yours doesn’t fall apart as quickly. Perhaps yours deteriorates at a painfully slow pace— the type that loves to give you false hope only to suddenly shrivel up into a pile of frustrating thoughts.

Before, the focus felt so wonderfully effortless and you’d do whatever it takes to reclaim that high—that flow. But you can’t.

In fact, the harder you try, the greater your mental battle likely becomes. Every idea just looks stale, jumbled, and all around bad.

Before you know it, those nasty little thoughts start suffocating you and your mind begins to ruminate on all your supposed inadequacies and failures. Call it whatever you like—your inner critic, little demon, or (as I call it in Lumecluster) Nightmare—these bad boys are masters of capturing your attention.

Leading you into a potentially paralyzing and all-consuming downward mental spiral.

Sure, on the decent days you can sometimes withstand your own blows and focus your attention where it really matters. But during your low(est) moments, your mind becomes creatively cruel at tearing your self-esteem and self-compassion to shreds.

When these moments hit, I’ve learned that the best thing is to take a break and do something totally unrelated to what I normally do.

To break the negativity cycle.

Okay, I know this sounds like “duh” generic advice. And, yeah, I guess it kind of is, but it doesn’t make it any less important. And if you’re a little like me (a perfectionist and slightly OCD), you know that doing this is not easy.

You forget, I forget, we all forget…to listen to our voice of reason when we fall under (our own) pressure. 

Rather than just taking that break (the smart thing to do…), I tend to pressure myself to just try for another hour and another and another…until the day is gone. Even if it does “work,” I know that I’ve mentally bent myself out of shape and probably won’t perform my best when it comes to taking the next step.

So, why not just take the break? Because I become consumed by guilt and anxiety when I try to bring my attention away from the thing that I still haven’t “fixed.”

At the same time, I realize that I’m no good to my unfixed problem while in my current state.

Recently, I’ve been training myself to take real breaks (and my own advice) again by putting post-it notes on my laptop, desk, notebook (basically, every place I’m usually at) that say, “Pissed off? Do something else NOW or you’ll regret it.”

I need reminders because I’m too easily consumed by my own negative thoughts. But I figured you don’t want to use a note that sounds so threatening, so I made this illustration instead.

For me, this image will remind me to take some time to engage in the other things I love and bring me joy, like reading, doodling, playing piano, playing video games, enjoying a long walk outdoors (rain or shine), taking some photos, etc. It’ll also remind me to engage in the new and different.

I’m not trying to escape my difficulties. I aim to refresh, recharge, and reclaim a sense of calm.

And remind myself that, although the negative thoughts can feel like a whirlwind of craziness inside my head, they’re only thoughts and not a definition of who I am.

Do you often ruminate on negative thoughts and experiences? What mental tricks or activities do you engage in to get yourself out of a ruminating rut?

Leave a comment below and share your experience.

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Comments

  1. Ahhh … this is a game I know all too well.

    I can especially relate to the evils of pushing onward even though I know that doing so does not really do me (or the client upon whose project I toil) any real good. I stay up into the wee hours, cranking out words and crossing off tasks only to find as I topple off to bed that I have not really improved my circumstance for the next day. In fact, I have worsened it by driving myself so hard and so late that I will surely wake in the morning exhausted and cranky – certainly not the best state for creative work (or, any work, for that matter).

    I am grateful that I have my two cats to school me in the fine art of taking breaks throughout my day – breaks to play, or stare out the window at the birds on the feeder, or indulge in a little treat of one kind or another. They are a mother and daughter, my two feline friends, and the younger of the two is a persistent coach with a piercing meow that never fails to move me from my desk.

    As for the “nightmare,” it comes and goes. I agree that the best defense against its attack is to turn away and focus my attention on something else entirely. Logic is not the best weapon in such cases. A little sleight of mind is a better trick for outwitting the negative thoughts.

    Thank you for this post. Glad to know I am not the only one facing such battles. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Jamie. Cranky is definitely not how we want to live day after day! 🙂

      And yeah it’s always a nice reminder to know that we’re not alone in our struggles. It’s funny how we often irrationally punish ourselves by thinking we’re somehow the only dolt in the room -_-

  2. If there is one bad habit that introverts probably tend toward, I would say it’s rumination. For me, it usually takes the form of replaying past events over and over in my mind, wishing I had done or said something different. It’s also a way to nurse perceived wounds by others, to work myself into such a state of anxiety that I start to believe that person is pure evil, which is of course false.

    I snap myself out of these downward spirals by doing something fun, like you suggest – watching TV, researching/shopping online, or going out. It’s amazing how our brains can outsmart themselves and we actually manipulate ourselves into feeling like crap.

    I try to remember that a negative thought is simply the result of a negative belief that somehow made it into my subconscious. No judgment, just a gentle reminder to refocus on the good and to CHOOSE to feel better.

    • Haha, I’m constantly replaying events in my head as well. It’s a tough habit to break. But we need to remember that we’re ALLOWED to move on…and not constantly punish/trap ourselves in our own mental purgatory 😉

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