3 Secrets On How To Stop Brooding Over The Past

Rumination_Nicholas_TYou encountered a conflict with a colleague and had some minor argument.  A few seconds later, you kept thinking about the incident, re-creating the scene and how you could have managed it better.

It was an emotional exercise and you could not help re-think.  You tried to talk it out with another fellow and it seems that your reaction to the incident made sense. However, that small incident lingered in your mind for a while and kept coming back over the next few days.


Do you experience brooding over some big as well as minor incidents and find yourself wasting time, energy and emotion as you replay it back in your mind?

My Encounter With Brooding Over

Recently, I had a chatter with friends and persuaded the career consultant in the group to use one of his methods to ‘analyze’ us. When  it was my turn, he revealed that I was a sensitive person who has the knack to sense people’s behavior.  I think and ponder over a lot of things.

In other words, I tend to sense what others think – which is good for my analytical profession but on the other side I tend to brood over some incidents over some time, even for days. That hit me bull’s eye!

I did not even know how you call that but this friend just told me how to describe it- ‘you brood over things for a while’.  Looking it up further on the net, something else came out- ‘ruminate’.

Ruminating is like a record that’s stuck and keeps repeating the same lyrics. It’s replaying an argument with a friend in your mind. It’s retracing past mistakes. – Margarita Tartakovsky, MS in “Why Ruminating is Unhealthy and How to Stop” from PsychoCentral

Everyone has his piece of this experience.  Hence, you and I are not alone! Many are mildly able to brush it off after some stage in their life, some carry on with this challenge for most of their life.

Sad to say, it is not a joke to get into these situations, as probably most of you who experience this can tell.  Psychologist Guy Winch from Psychology Today mentioned a number of dangers in brooding over too much such as that it can be addictive, cause depression and more so physiological and psychological stress.  This is considering burdening oneself with a lot of thoughts on even the simplest things that become so complicated.

We would not want to waste time and energy brooding over useless things.  For sure we want to get over ruminating and be able to make good use of our resources.

Here are 3 tips on what to do to stop brooding over the past and over-analyze and move on to a more productive and happy life!

#1 Go cold turkey 

In the same article in Psychology Today, Winch suggested this way to get over with ruminating. By throwing the thoughts out of our brain windows once we catch ourselves ruminating, we might be able to save ourselves from this trouble.

Just as the typical advise on getting over an emotional or heart-breaking experience, distracting ourselves and keeping ourselves busy may help simmer down this bad habit.

Sometimes, the more you dwell on those ruminations, the more you get stuck.  As long as you are able to keep yourself into sanity and being conscious of how much the thought requires thinking and its implications, it is better off to just plainly ‘forget it!’

Our ruminations can come into many forms and can include for example that recent encounter with your boss criticizing you, that innocent frown on the face of a colleague or that nag from your spouse about the use of toothpaste.

If the boss’s criticism will not entail a heavy consequence such as losing your job – perhaps you can think whether it is worth to find time to discuss this with this boss or put it aside as non-sense typical encounter? Regardless of the issue, always think if it’s worth your previous time. Otherwise, go cold turkey.

#2 Engage in positive thoughts

Tartakovsky advices on doing positive activities that will foster useful thinking.  Instead of dwelling on the issue and playing back what happened and over-analyzing it, orient yourself in the positive exercises such as reflection, breathing exercise or meditation.

It is not only going to help to distract yourself as mentioned in #1, but to use positive psychology methods in order to give your inner self some cleaning and unburdening that it allows you to get a fresh perspective of the situation.

#3 Solve the problem

Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, psychologist from Yale University who did research on the subject said that people who ruminate not only replay the situations in their heads but also  tend to ask abstract questions like “Why is this happening to me?” rather than “What else can I do to resolve the issue and move on?”

Hence she suggests coming out with a concrete solution to get on with rumination and continue with life.

What I find useful in escaping the grimy world of rumination is to write down the situation that bogs me in simple terms and what I could do to resolve it (if there’s a problem to be solved).  If it’s plainly replaying the incident and what-I-could’ve-done thought, I just write down how I feel about it and ‘park’ the emotion on my notepad.

Some others find the ‘traditional’ ranting it out to a fellow or friend – a useful tool to get away with brooding over.  Be careful though that doing this can replace the thinking into verbalizing which ends up with another dilemma.  Rather, talk it out keeping in mind of getting over rumination and shouting out the thought inside of you.

Put it Plain and Simple

We must be familiar with the words ‘analysis paralysis’.  We often times get trapped in thinking and over-analyzing situations even the simplest ones out of habit.  But the only solution is to throw it out of our mind and engage in useful activities.

Any concrete way you plan to apply reducing rumination in your life? Share your views and comments and start the conversation!





  1. I’ve definitely been guilty of ruminating. I don’t do it as much as I used to, but it still rears it’s ugly head from time to time.

    I’ve found that letting go of the situation seems to help the most. It’s already in the past. There’s nothing I can do to change that situation. At the most I can learn from that mistake.

    I have zero control over the past and a 100% control of the future. So I let go of what happened and look towards the future instead. Seems to work quite well.
    Kevin Cole recently posted..My Secret Life In “The Game” & A Vow Of HonestyMy Profile

    • Rob Leonardo

      Hi Kevin! Guilty as charged! Haha. Well-said- there is no point in looking back at the past as we cannot turn back the hands of time. Rather, put your energies in the future of which you can have more control of and perhaps solve the problem at hand. Cheers.

  2. Amazing and timely post – I needed this today. I made a hard decision to narrow my list of activities and give myself more time for the more important things. But ironically I spent so much time ruminating over how I had released the time-wasting, unrewarding tasks that I didn’t spend any time doing the important ones! Anyway- thanks for the helpful suggestions.

    • Rob Leonardo

      You are welcome Ekanem. Thanks for dropping by. So much time and energy is wasted by drooling over what we have done in the past or what could have been better. The other thing I do whenever I get trapped into the ‘what-could’ve-been’ mode, I review my goals and adjust. I also tell myself- you can be flexible, you are human and you also need to balance things. Justifying- with caution- helps.

  3. Gah I did SO MUCH ruminating after my last breakup…and it’s HARD to stop!

    I think a quote by Brian Tracy sums this up nicely:

    “Successful [happy] people think about what they want and how to get it”

    • Rob Leonardo

      There’s also such a thing as grieving. Take time to feel that emotion and let go. Make sure you have closure to make the pain go away easier and avoid it to keep coming back.

  4. I’m in complete agreement with Kevin. I used to brood over what happened in the past AND what might happen in the future. What a detrimental combination to waste mental energy and time.

    I still do have these moments but much less. A book I recently read says: It’s OK to react emotionally but when you’re slipping into self-doubt and self-analysis mode, you’d just need to stop it by saying “That’s it. Enough. Forget it.” I liked this a lot. It has helped me to worry about things less. The key is to be aware of your emotional state and observe it as it is without labeling it like failure, blame, etc. The more you practice the easier it gets.

    • Rob Leonardo

      Well said Yoshiko. The words “forget it” can oftentimes work very well for us. It’s like throwing away remnants of grime in our minds and hearts.

  5. I like the idea of “throwing thoughts out of your brain’s window.” :) What a funny image. And yet it’s exactly what we have to do sometimes. We just have to force ourselves to stop and get those ideas out of our heads.

    When we ruminate, we can have some empathy for people who have OCD – it’s like we’ve got a touch of it ourselves at that time. . .we just can’t seem to stop.

    For me, the idea of throwing the thoughts out is what works best. I just have to tell myself “STOP!” every time I catch myself doing it. It’s such a vicious cycle, it really needs to be interrupted or we’ll drive ourselves nuts! :)
    Jessica recently posted..Top 5 Tips for Career Change at 40My Profile

    • Rob Leonardo

      HI Jessica! Speaking of OCD- yes, I may have come to that point and yet I do not want to get caught in an obsessive-compulsive disorder seriously. Hence, I stop before it’s too late!

  6. Hey Rob, I am 100% with you on all the 3 points you make. Going cold turkey and of course solving the problem is what works best for me personally. I have certain activities that I choose to do whenever I start thinking negatively, like playing the piano.. or reading something motivating.

    This helps stop the negative process in it’s tracks and allows me to focus 100% when I go back to what I was doing. Of course if I had a standard job I wouldn’t always be able to do that, which is also perhaps a small part of why I’m seeking an untraditional career.
    Ragnar recently posted..Cloud Staring and Shower Singing: The Lost Art of Enjoying LifeMy Profile

    • Rob Leonardo

      Well said Ragnar! Focusing on your goal as well as choosing relaxing and well-loved activities to distract you indeed are good alternatives!

  7. 3uminating over the past is one ‘disease’ I haven’t seem to get over. I got married sumtim in the year and wasn’t happy all thru the day cos my wedding gown was practically dropping from my bust. I became so conscious of it and had to pull up the gown all d time. It was really terrible as the more I pulled, the dirtier my gown became. At last, d wedding ended…but I couldn’t get over the memory of the day. I didn’t even enjoy d day :(. I kept ruminating about the whole event, things I culd have done better, and all of the ‘what if’s’. Still cnt get over it…I put in so much effort planning the wedding and at the end of the day,my wedding dress became a nightmare.


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