How to stop thinking about something I'm undecided on?
November 5, 2018 3:43 PM   Subscribe

How do you stop thinking about something that is bothering you? For instance, let's say you are undecided about something in your life, whether it is a relationship, whether to stay at a job, etc. Whenever I have a problem like that, my mind will think about it from the moment I wake up, til I go to bed, and won't stop no matter what I'm doing, even when I try my hardest not to think about it. I've tried mindfulness in a sense of allowing the thoughts there and going about my day anyways, and I've tried distraction techniques. Sometimes the thing is something that I can't decide right then, and need more time to feel out, but the constant thinking about it depresses my mood. I'm wondering if anyone has some helpful tips.
posted by oracleia to Religion & Philosophy (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I would also like a solution to this, but it helps me a little to set aside a specific time that I know I'm going to think about it, and then actually spend that time doing that. Then tell yourself you're going to do that again at x time on x day. If you run, that could be the time that you set aside (running also seems to help focus the mind).
posted by pinochiette at 3:51 PM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I know this is totally not going to be the kind of suggestion you were expecting, but I am a world-class ruminator and in the last year have accidentally discovered that taking CBD oil puts a stop to it. Why, I have no idea. But it's awesome.
posted by HotToddy at 3:56 PM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am not great at this, but I have also had some had some luck with allotting specific times/spaces for specific things, and then not just going "stop thinking about that" but making a note if something genuinely new has occurred to me and knowing that I will come back to it. I also have anxiety issues and will say that I've had some luck with mindfulness as a broad idea, but not with meditation outside of "guided listening to deal with panic attack" kind of stuff. I have an easier time with being in the moment when the moment involves doing stuff.

In a lot of cases, I have had to realize that it is better to make a decision that is less than optimal than to just leave whatever it is as an open loop. So that's also a thing. Many things, you can make sort of a provisional decision and just leave open the possibility that you will change your mind. But like, I spent like two years trying to find the perfect office chair and it was ridiculous and my life was substantially improved by just getting a chair that was... fine, and knowing that it's not like I can never buy another office chair later.
posted by Sequence at 3:59 PM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yes to setting aside a specific time to think about it.

You can also keep a running list of pros and cons, or whatever points are circling in your brain. I find that writing things down gets them out of my head so I'm not walking around trying to live my life while trying to remember a massive amount reasons and points that will go into actually making the decision.
posted by ananci at 4:25 PM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If the only kinds of thing that bring on unproductive rumination for you are decisions, I recommend embracing the coin flip tiebreaker method.

Whenever I have a large decision to make, my general process will always be the same:

1. Think it over, coming up with pros and cons for each of the ways it could go; make notes and lists if that seems helpful. If no clear decision emerges:

2. Ask other people for advice, then have another go at step 1. If no clear decision emerges:

3. Sleep on it. If no clear decision has emerged by deadline time:

4. Assign one outcome to heads, the other to tails, and flip a coin. If my immediate reaction to the way the coin falls is distress, turn the coin over once. Commit fully to the choice dictated by the coin.

Knowing that I have a clear stepwise process that guarantees a decision of some kind is generally enough to avoid the feeling of helplessness and impending doom that comes with unproductive stewing.

I'm not bothered by the possibility of leaving important and possibly life-changing decisions to chance, because if the process gets that far it means that I simply don't have enough information to make the correct call on my own, which means that even without the coin I'd be as likely to get the thing wrong as right.

The rationale for the part where I allow myself to turn the coin over once is that sometimes intuition doesn't make its results available until it absolutely has to, but if it does, it's more likely right than wrong.
posted by flabdablet at 4:48 PM on November 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

Have you tried journaling about it?
posted by saturdaymornings at 5:09 PM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mindfulness meditation is a huge help with this. Not exactly as an immediate response when you catch yourself doing this, but over time you get more and more accustomed to really being able to direct your thoughts.
posted by Miko at 5:45 PM on November 5, 2018

over time you get more and more accustomed to really being able to direct your thoughts

You also build the skill of being able to recognize an intrusive thought as a distraction from whatever else you were doing at the time, putting it aside and returning to your main game instead of giving it enough oxygen to run your show.

I've never been a huge fan of trying to combat distractions with further distractions. Mindfulness meditation is pushups for your soul, and a regular formal mindfulness meditation practice can build the strength you need in order to live more mindfully without making doing so a chore.
posted by flabdablet at 6:42 PM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I went from being someone who brooded over the stupidest thing for days to being almost bulletproof. Here's how:

Breath in. Imagine your problem as a fire in your chest. As you breath your breadth makes the flames white hot. Feel the burning in your chest. In you head feel all the emotions intensely; fear, anger, shame, misery, hopelessness.

Breath out. Let your body relax. The flames die down. Feel the emotions just drift away and feel blissful emptiness replacing them.

Repeat until you have used up all the fuel and you'll find the intrusive thoughts have lost their power.

I do this while driving, walking, watching TV. It's also a great way to fall asleep at night.
posted by night_train at 3:57 AM on November 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a specific thing I am trying not to think about, so I keep track of the times I think about it on our kitchen chalkboard. I'm trying to limit thinking about it to five times a day.

It doesn't eradicate it completely, but it draws my awareness to it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:32 PM on November 6, 2018

Along the lines of "schedule a time", I started seeing a therapist and then when ruminating I could tell myself "okay, this is something I'll bring to my therapist." That set a date and time for me, plus she helped me detangle some of my thought patterns.
posted by bookdragoness at 8:52 AM on November 7, 2018

Best answer: “Having made the decision, do not revise it unless some new fact comes to your knowledge. Nothing is so exhausting as indecision, and nothing is so futile.”
― Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

posted by wittgenstein at 1:31 PM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

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