Monday, October 10, 2011

Rumination is NOT Problem-Solving

"Rumination: Problem-Solving Gone Wrong — How Rehashing the Situation Can Ruin Your Mood" is the title of Eddie Selby's post on his PT blog, Overcoming Self-Sabotage. Here's the link: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/overcoming-self-sabotage/201002/rumination-problem-solving-gone-wrong

Selby points out astutely that we all can label our endless rehashing of relationship problems, work issues, chronic sources of stress as attempts to solve the problem, but they're not.  He notes that, "While it's true that problem solving and planning are essential to overcoming a difficult problem, people who ruminate tend to take these activities too far and for too long. They will often spend hours analyzing the situation, even after they've developed a plan for dealing with the situation. Sometimes people will ruminate about the problem so much so that they never even develop a solution to the problem. This is where rumination becomes really problematic. If the situation has you in a bad mood, rumination will keep that bad mood alive, and you will feel upset for as long as you ruminate. If you ruminate on the problem for days, chances are you'll remain upset for days."

Right on. Negative thoughts bring on negative emotions which bring on a bad mood, with brings on more negative self talk etc. etc. Rumination or "overthinking" is never the way to go. So how do you interrupt the process quickly and get out of a funk? Here's my suggestion for women in particular.

1. Tell the whole long stressful story, in minute detail to a trusted friend within a few hours of the most recent event associated with the stress or within 24 hours max.
2. Ask him or her to help you define the problem, as they see it. E.g. John isn't interested in a future with you. Your boss chose someone else to lead the project that you thought was locked up — for you. You hired a new associate and she's not a good fit with the rest of the team. You work together to find a problem definition that fits and can lead to a solution. Here are some problem-definitions that don't usually work well. E.g. John is a two-timing jerk. My boss screwed me over. I should have known better than to hire Rhonda. Big mistake.
3. Start talking about possible solutions and write them down without discussion or evaluation. Tolerate the uncertainty of incubating the ideas and maybe generating some more in the next 24-48 hours.
4. Commit to focusing on solutions, not the problem. You agree to not tell anyone else the whole grim story in detail, but rather to be vague if someone asks how you are or what's wrong. E.g. "I'm not feeling my best." "The job situation is sticky right now." "I'm preoccupied with work stuff right now."
5. Plan to make a plan within 48 hours if possible, even if that plan is inner action. E.g. "I don't have to do anything right now as long as I'm not ruminating, rehashing, and miserable. If I start down that path again, I have a plan and I'll take action.

Like many suggestions I make, techniques I suggest, plans I propose, they're hard to implement, practice is required, and they don't work out perfectly but usually the alternative is much worse!
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