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Shark attack & The Troll Brain

Sometimes, we can get stuck in toxic thought loops, which will make us think about the same stuff over and over again, but it’s serving no purpose. We’re literally moving around in circles. It’s called rumination. Often, it also means we keep beating ourselves up for a mistake we have made in the past. However, as we all know, we can’t turn back time, so those thought loops are usually completely dysfunctional and only dragging us down. 

It’s not very easy to stop these thoughts, because it seems that once they have started, one thought leads to another. A typical downward spiral of catastrophising thoughts may go like this:

  • I love swimming in the sea!
  • Going on holiday is expensive though…
  • Maybe I don’t have enough money to afford this?
  • I have to find myself a new job.
  • Where I can I find a new job?
  • It will be very difficult to find a new job that fits my schedule.
  • Nobody wants to hire me anyway.
  • I’m stupid, I don’t have the right qualifications. 
  • Nobody likes me.
  • I’m a failure. 
  • Remember that last time when you really messed up?
  • (…)

This is just an example, but as you can see, the brain is quite creative when it comes down to creating those thought patterns. Instead of using your creativity and free association skills for ideas that will really get you somewhere, you are actually wasting quite a lot of time creatively coming up with new reasons as to why your life could be doomed. It’s a huge waste of cognitive resources, because thinking those thoughts doesn’t only consume a lot of energy, it also puts you into a very negative mindset- it can literally ruin your mood from one moment to the next. Not only that, it’s also damaging your self-esteem. If you already have a negative self-image and continuously look for reasons as to why those negative affirmations could be true, they will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, because you will literally be waiting for things to go wrong in order to confirm those negative affirmations and consequently feeding into the vicious circle. 

So, how can you actually stop those infinite loops of self-destructive thought patterns?

Well, there are probably many strategies to go about this. Personally, I’m using the following approach:

  1.  Identify that you’re in a rumination loop (a good indicator you’re in a rumination loop is that you are thinking about stuff you can’t change immediately and it’s having a negative impact on your mood).
  2. Say “stop” (either internally or, when you’re alone, speak it out loud)
  3. Force yourself to come up with a list of at least 5 positive things you have experienced so far during the day (it doesn’t have to be success stories, it can be little things such as “I found a nice parking spot” or “I did the dishes” or “I managed to get up although I didn’t feel like it”- the point is that you get yourself to think about positive things instead of dwelling on the negative events in your life).
  4. Distract yourself- do something you really enjoy (for example, for me that’s playing the guitar or drawing).
It will taking some getting used to it, but this strategy has helped me to ruminate significantly less. Most importantly, even if I start ruminating, using this strategy helps me to stop it quickly and avoid getting into a bad mood. This is not a text book strategy. It’s something I have come up with for myself and I don’t know if it works for anyone else, but you could try it out :).