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How to Stop Ruminating About the Past

It’s natural to look back at your relationship and (hopefully) learn from it, but at some point you need to focus on your future. Here are a few tips on how to stop ruminating about the past, based on the results of recent research from Florida State University.

rumination about the past

Secret of Letting Go

The Secret of Letting Go by Guy Finley offers examples and stories that illustrate his concepts of how to let go of all the emotional baggage that drags down our spirits and often makes life a painful journey.

“You don’t need strength to let go of something,” says Finley. “What you really need is understanding.” He adds that our inner selves are like hot air balloons, always trying to soar, and we hold them down by not letting go of the angry attitudes, wasteful wishes, and harmful habits that offer false promises of strength. This book will help you become truly strong and independent.

One of my most popular articles is How to Let Go of Someone You Love, because it’s so difficult for us to move forward after a breakup, separation, divorce, or death. Accepting and surrendering to reality doesn’t seem to come naturally to us.

If you tend to ruminate about the past, you’re setting yourself up for more emotional stress, problems sleeping, and other difficulties in your life. Here’s a brief summary of current research on how holding on to the past affects us, and how to stop ruminating on the past.

Thinking About the Past is Normal, But…

“It’s natural and expected for employees to look back at things at work to see what went right, what went wrong, and what can be improved upon,” says Wayne Hochwarter, Jim Moran Professor of Business Administration in the Florida State University College of Business. “But at some point, both the good and bad need to be whisked away and the future needs to be the priority.”

Hochwarter’s research focused on employees who ruminate on past transgressions at work, and who can’t move forward into the future. I’m taking the liberty of applying these research results to relationships. I’m sharing their tips on how to stop ruminating about past work mistakes, and applying them to breakups, divorces, and even death.

If you feel anxious and depressed because you don’t know how to stop ruminating about the past, read How to Get Over a Breakup When You Don’t Have Closure.

Ruminating About the Past Causes Problems

Why do some people heal after a breakup, while others get stuck in the past? And, how does ruminating about the past affect your life? This research study compared people who were more prone to think about past transgressions at work to people who were more able to focus directly on the future. Approximately 20% of employees in this research study could be considered “ruminators” while 40% were classified as “forward thinkers.” The rest of the employees surveyed were a combination of both to varying degrees.

If you can’t stop ruminating on the past, you are more likely to experience higher stress levels, more difficulties and disruptions in your sleep, less productivity at work and home, less healthy relationships with others, and higher levels of depression, sadness or isolation. The researchers found these results in employees who couldn’t stop ruminating on the past, and I’m applying them to people who can’t stop ruminating on a past relationship after a breakup.

3 Tips on How to Stop Ruminating

The researchers suggest several potential ways to stop ruminating on a mistake and let go of the past in healthy ways.

Set your alarm clock. First, they suggest employees give themselves a set amount of time to deliberate over the day’s event. In How to Stop Feeling Hurt and Stuck in the Past, I offer the same type of advice. I’ve actually read this tip on how to stop ruminating about the past in a variety of different books and articles on how to stop ruminating about the past. Give yourself 15 minutes to sit and obsess about the past. Then, when the alarm goes off, you need to focus on other things for the remainder of the day.

how to stop ruminating about the past

“How to Stop Ruminating About the Past” image by holdosi via Pixabay, CC License

Avoid people who ruminate about past relationships. Ruminators would benefit from developing relationships with fellow employees who were more forward-thinking than those with like-thinking patterns. If you’re stuck in the past, are you surrounded by people who are similarly stuck? Perhaps that’s one of the potential hazards of joining a support group of people who keep talking about something in the past. If you want to stop ruminating about the past, you need to focus on the future – and surround yourself with people who are future-oriented.

Focus on what you did right. Finally, even ruminators can pick one or two positive nuggets from any interaction with which to build upon the process of moving forward. Those positive nuggets should be the focus rather than what is causing grief or impacting work performance. If you want to stop ruminating about a past relationship, you need to hang on to what went well and what you did right. Avoid obsessing about the mistakes you made or the things you wish you would’ve done differently.

If you feel obsessed with your ex, read How to Get Over Your Ex and Get On With Your Life.

What have I missed? I welcome your thoughts on these tips on how to stop ruminating about the past.

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Source of the research study: Let it go: How rumination makes what’s bad a whole lot worse, a press release from Florida State University. The research study was published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

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