“Negative thoughts and tensions are like birds: We cannot stop them from flying near us, but we can certainly stop them from making a nest in our mind.”  Rishika Jain


You’re probably scratching your head at the title of this conversation. We know that dwelling on problems doesn’t help.

But knowing that ruminating is unproductive doesn’t mean we don’t do it anyway. It’s hard to stop, especially when we’re going through difficult circumstances. Even when life is relatively fine, we soul-searchers tend to fixate on our thoughts. Whether our issues are trivial or legitimately painful, obsessing about them interferes with our ability to enjoy the present moment. So how can we stop?

The answer is, we can’t. So if we can’t stop entirely, we can at least give our worry time some parameters. Like designating time each day to ruminate.

I was introduced to this idea almost nineteen years ago while visiting friends in Hawaii after a painful breakup. I wasn’t able to fully enjoy my holiday because I couldn’t stop thinking about my ex. My friend suggested I set a specific time each day to focus on my sad thoughts. I laughed at the idea, but thought it was worth a shot. The next morning at 8am, I sat in front of a scenic window with my cup of tea and set the timer for thirty minutes.

I focussed hard the first two minutes. I even shed some tears. Then I checked my time. Hmmmm. Twenty-eight more minutes to go. I settled in. Repeated my thoughts. Checked my time again. Seriously? Twenty-seven more to go? I chuckled. OK, maybe I only needed five minutes. I felt satisfied with my abbreviated session, gave myself a pat on the back and went on to enjoy my day. 

Later when I’d talk or think about my breakup, I’d remind myself that my next appointment wasn’t until the next morning at 8am. You can imaging how this went. Each day I spent less time until half a minute was all I needed. Not only did I maximize my holiday joy, I discovered I had surprising control over my thoughts.

This strategy brings peace of mind to this day. Maybe I’m replaying a difficult conversation, worrying about the kids, or analyzing my life while in a low mood. If I notice my thoughts derailing, I designate a time. Then, when I catch myself fixating, I remind myself: not until 7:15 tomorrow. Guess what? I barely EVER show up to that appointment.

Turns out that more often than not, it’s a lot more fun to enjoy the present moment rather than ruminate!


Purely Practical Tip

If I had to recommend just one self-help book, it would be Richard Carlson’s You Can Feel Good Again. His approach towards managing and responding to moods, “thought attacks” and our thinking habits in general are a game changer. Concise, gentle, and effective, this book has helped me live more presently for nearly two decades.

Join the Conversation

Any favourite books or quotes along this topic? Do you have any of your own tricks to help prevent thought-derailment? Let me know how this strategy works for you!

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