Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought up a problem in your head that never really existed in the first place. Psychologists call this phenomenon rumination: an endless cycle of self-examination and worry. Alice G. Walton, PhD in Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience, offers tips backed by science on how to get out of your head to avoid wasting time and stress on this matter.
Going through a daily routine is one thing that personally triggers my brain’s default network mode (DNM), or mind wandering. I find myself repeating thoughts of the same worries if I feel they have not yet been resolved, like kicking a can down the road. Among common practices like meditation and talking to friends or therapists, Walton’s article in Forbes Magazine cites 2 particular methods for avoiding out-of-control thinking that I revere as quite profound.
The first is to think of your life as a storybook. Speak of events that took place in a linear format so that you can see where the situation should be heading realistically, rather than dwelling on the same event and imagining infinite possibilities.
The second is to push the limits of political correctness and be bold in revealing and asking questions regarding more specific, almost intrusive-seeming topics. People are often more flattered to be asked about their personal experiences than offended. Sharing a testimony is the best way to establish a closer and more trustworthy bond with anyone. For example, What’s one thing your wife hates about you? seems rude and assumptive but this will definitely draw out a funny story at the very least, and some positive introspection on their end at the very best. Having these tough conversations will shed light on your issue by getting an opinion from another perspective and can help the other person think through their feelings as well. Interestingly enough, I found a great list of other intrusive questions here. Try them out and let me know what happens!
To this list I add an additional remedy to spiraling rumination: the arts. Creativity comes from this exact obsessive mental place and expels these thoughts from the brain through expression. So, next time maybe try to write out your thoughts as a story or song or painting or photograph…. And until then, indulge in this pulsing music video for the song “Sons” by Concorde which perfectly depicts the crazed human self-conscious thought process.