CBT … Stopping the Negative Thoughts.

person looking searching clean
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Good habits, bad habits, they’re a part of us.

I spend my life trying to halt the bad habits in their tracks with a large stop sign and a smattering of self control. I usually fail, dismally.

The limited good habits that I have and I am scrabbling around trying to think of what indeed they actually are, I am unbearably smug about. Ah yes, I don’t like dark chocolate at all and therefore I don’t eat it. Filthy stuff. So when offered some, I say with a sweet self-congratulatory and faintly superior smile, “Oh no, thank you, but I’ll pass this time!” as though I have some exorbitant levels of self control and treat my body like the proverbial temple. I don’t. I am effectively lying. I just don’t like dark chocolate. Oh God, I’m a fraud.

However, back to the point; stopping the negative thoughts. Do you have a habit of thinking about something vaguely depressing or negative (usually about the past) that within minutes can be blown out of all proportion? And one’s musings seem to slide downwards into the dark murky waters of depression? Well, in the wonderful world of CBT there is a name for this:


Now, when these negative thoughts start to take over, there are 3 points to ask:

1). Have I made any progress towards solving the problem?

2). Do I have a better understanding about this problem now that I’ve been thinking about it? And finally,

3). Am I feeling better or less depressed than before I started thinking about this?

If the answer is a clear NO, then yup, you’re ruminating.

Thinking about something and trying to find a solution is completely different and not to be confused with rumination. Trying to find a solution is positive. Rumination is not. Rumination is a habit, of the bad, disgusting dark chocolate variety.

How to stop it

The CBT experts will give you a load of chit chat about bringing yourself back to the present as rumination is so often about the past, I however need less of the chit and none of the chat. I need answers and solutions in what to do. So cutting through it all, the answer is this:

As soon as you have asked yourself those 3 questions above, recognised that yes, you are ruminating, immediately GET UP AND DO AN ACTIVITY. Um, yes it’s actually that simple but as with so many things, distraction is a powerful tool.

A pleasurable activity is of course the easiest way. Baby steps and all that. But in simple terms, find something, anything that ensures that your brain is totally and utterly focussed.

Despite some claiming to be able to multitask, it is impossible to truly focus on more than one thing at a time. Perhaps that is why rubbing your tummy and patting your head is so difficult, but maybe that’s just me. Whether this activity is turning on the television and cleaning out a cupboard, blogging, cooking, whatever floats your boat … it simply doesn’t matter. It’s just a case of stopping ‘feeding the beast’ and bringing an end to this self destructive habit called rumination.

Every time it happens again, repeat the process. Yes, your cupboards will be incredibly clean and you will have devoured the entire Game of Thrones series, but you will be learning how to stop the habit. And eventually, ‘the beast’ will wither and die. The habit will go and less effort will be required. You may become a serial cleaner with a penchant for trashy tv but hey … does it matter?

To me, this makes a lot of sense, and yes, I’m doing it. And yes, it works.

To summarise for those who haven’t read the above:

. Recognise it and act on it.

Give it a go … you have absolutely nothing to lose, but a happy and peaceful life to gain.

Katie xx

Do you ruminate? Do you let it lead you into the depths of despair or do you try and break the cycle?

31 thoughts on “CBT … Stopping the Negative Thoughts.”

  1. I’m trying to wrap my messy little mind around what rumination is. Is it what I did at the weekend and what I did just now?

    At the weekend: Bambino (and this is unrelated to vodka-gate) and a friend headed out to the shop. Half an hour later, they’re not back. I call his phone and he doesn’t pick up. Within minutes I work myself into a tail spin including scenarios the likes of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley would appear in. I’m not exaggerating, my brain is evil like that and serves up the most horrific thoughts you can imagine. Moments later, Bambino and friend turn up. Like they always do.

    Just this morning: Hubby always texts several times per day. Typically on his drive to work when he texts me from the car whenever he’s stopped at a traffic light (aawww) and also to tell me he’s arrived at work. First one arrives but suddenly it’s approaching lunch time and Whatsapp tells me he’s last been “seen” around the time he texted from the car. Cue tailspin. I send a Whatsapp message. Then an e-mail. Then an e-mail to his work e-mail. Then I call him. Tailspin and evil brain now involving car crash and how we will cope living on the third floor with hubby paralysed from the waist down, that sort of thing. Or worse. I’m even conjuring up and trying to work out if our last kiss was a really good one. And then he calls me back – like he always does. He’s been in back-to-back meetings – like he always is.

    I mean – this sort of thing is EXHAUSTING. And ridiculous. But is this what rumination means? I like labels, see. I know I’m bat shit crazy but it’s nice to have it all categorised with neat definitions for my madness. ARGH!


    1. Oh God!! You’re so like me it’s frightening!! This is exactly what I do!
      In answer to your question, I pose three more …
      1) did you progress towards solving the problem (Err maybe no …)
      2) do I understand something more about the problem than when I thought about it last time (the ten minutes ago last time? Erm, probably not)
      3) do I feel any better now I’ve been thinking about it? (Probably even worse!)

      So I guess it’s a form of rumination (she says whilst yelping, “I’m not a psychiatrist! I need a disclaimer!”). I sense rumination is more about, “Why did my husband cheat on me/my father walk out on me/my mother blow up the house?” Delete as appropriate. “It’s all my fault/I’m so unhappy/I’m hopeless and homeless/Why me?”. Rather than, “Ok, shit has happened, now HOW am I going to rectify this?”
      I think there’s another word for what it is that you did (and what I do!) but I can’t remember what it is …. I’m sure a therapist would have a field day with us!!
      Anyway, I’m glad that all worked out in the end, and they’re ok. 😊☀️ xxx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. All makes sense! Thank you for taking the time to explain. Mwah! Xx

        PS. Now beginning to fret about hubby travelling to Hong Kong and reminding myself NOT to watch “Worst Flight Disasters” documentaries. 🙄

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh dear Katie, and we were getting on so well… You don’t like dark chocolate?? It’s the ONLY chocolate! Especially Green and Blacks 85%. Absolutely divine substance. Goodness, you’ll be telling me you like something horrific like Dairy Milk Or Milky Bar buttons next.

    Anyway, about the ruminating. I agree to a point about doing an activity to distract yourself and break the cycle, as ruminating can quickly become debilitating. But a part of me wonders about the benefits of any kind of distraction. If we’re constantly avoiding the issue, we’re not dealing with it. We’re constantly trying to sweep it under the carpet, or put another way, throw a rug over it. Then in time what were perhaps a few crumbs becomes a bulging cake sized pile of crumbs. This is what scares me when one takes one’s children to a 30 minute swimming lesson, and most of the parents can’t sit and watch their children but are instead glued to their phones doing something obviously greatly more important like checking what that strange boy from school they haven’t seen in 24 years is posting on Facebook, or reaching level 756 on Candy Crush… I don’t think it’s healthy being in a constant state of almost hypnotic distraction.

    Surely at some point we have to address the behaviour and the habit of ruminating, even if some of the issues we’re ruminating over are unsolvable, no matter how much we think about them. Isn’t finding something to distract us just constantly running away?

    I do find my imagination going into an instantaneous turbo charged explosion of irrational story telling when I’m faced with something unexpected and on the surface “bad”. It’s startlingly creative. For example, my car won’t start, so I can’t get anywhere, and it will almost definitely something terminal that means I have to spend £4k on a credit card that I’ll never be able to pay off and will end up having to sell everything I own (which isn’t much) and sell three vital organs to get out of a spiralling black hole of despairing debt. Then I realise I just left my lights on which ran the battery down, and after jump starting it it works fine… That kind of thing. But that’s not ruminating, just an example of how my mind can go from 0-100 on the ultimate disaster scale in a split second…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apart from the fact that you love dark chocolate (urghhh) and I prefer the Lindt milk chocolate (yum, yum, double yum), you, Anna (see her comments above or below can’t remember which) and I are all remarkably similar. Your point is exactly the one that I then asked. And this is what I learnt:
      Rumination tends to be about the past. eg Why did this happen, why did he/she cheat on me, leave me, treat me that way? Why did it have to happen to me? Why was I bullied, why did my parents not give me life skills to be able to cope etc etc.
      Yes, I do that, but also ….
      There is a different type of negative circular thoughts which are present and future based. Eg My son is travelling on a scooter around Cambodia, he might fall off and die, I will never cope. My husband hasn’t called me, he might be seeing someone behind my back, he might leave me, how will I cope? My car has broken down, how will I afford the thousands of pounds to get it fixed?
      Now it is normal to worry. We all worry. However the difference with you, Anna and I is that we then take it to the extreme and can’t push the stop button when it gets out of proportion and beyond normal worrying.

      The rumination type of thought processes need the 1, 2, 3 questions.
      1). Have I made any progress towards solving the problem?
      2). Do I understand something (or my feelings about it) that I didn’t understand before? And,
      3). Do I feel better about it now that I’ve been thinking about it for the last half hour, 3 hours etc?
      If the answer is a firm no and you have not been productive about CHANGING anything (normally because it’s impossible because it’s about the past and therefore it’s unlikely that just by thinking about it will in fact alter it) then that is the time for distraction. Individual counselling can help to start understanding what has happened, how we reacted and how to put things to bed and to adopt a different attitude to it, and this is when it is productive and therefore not swept under the carpet. This is GOOD thinking and talking about it. Rumination is when it is NOT productive and our default setting of doing this needs to be changed. This takes huge effort of course and an enormous amount of practice because it has become an ingrained way of thinking.

      The worrying type of thinking whereby we end up in a complete tizzy about when we imagine the worst possible future scenarios based on something currently happening, it when it is time for a different strategy. This is when panic is setting in and needs a different tack. eg. What is the true likelihood of my husband running off with Doris from Dorking? Has he ever done it before? Do we have a strong relationship and are happy together? Am I perchance letting my thoughts run away with me and my rational side has disappeared for a night out? Right… Action time. I shall call him and talk through calmly my worries. I know that within minutes all will be well with the world again.

      Sorry for the really long winded response but I totally get where you’re coming from and this is exactly what I asked. Does it make any sense? Katie

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it makes sense. Though we can never be best friends because of the chocolate thing. : )

        What I’m thinking now is there are different degrees and types of distraction. Some more useful, and dare I say, more healthy, than others.

        If you’re worrying or ruminating too much about one thing that you can not do anything to change as it’s completely outside of your circle of influence, then distraction can be helpful. As long as it’s a healthy distraction, ie doing something you enjoy and/or is productive in some way.

        But if you’re just lurching between worry and unhealthy distraction – which might be the kind of mindless checking of social media I mentioned before, for example – then which is worse? Neither are getting you anywhere, and both are avoiding doing anything positive and that will move you forward.

        Following on from the unhealthy type of distraction, it’s just really sad to see people out with friends and family, or parents taking their kids swimming or horse riding or whatever, then burying their faces in their phones whilst their kids are doing amazing things. These times can’t ever be regained why are you spending them on something ultimately vacuous and pointless online instead of being there in the present moment? It’s this kind of distraction that I find worrying. If meditation and mindfulness is about being fully in the present moment, this kind of distraction behaviour is a anti-meditation and mindlessness. Maybe this is an offshoot topic?


      2. Yes I think this is something slightly different and incredibly sad. Yes, there is an element of a lack of living in the moment, but in my mind it goes beyond that. It’s not understanding that those children will in a flash be gone, they crave our love and attention and family is the most important. In truth, I’ve probably done it in the past (although when my children were growing up I didn’t have a phone that could check emails, look at the news or the dreaded Facebook (that shows how old I am!) – I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I doubt very much it happened more than a couple of times. We just didn’t in those days. I think that now everyone is so busy and it’s become the norm to be organising the diary, dealing with emails and messages at the same time that Little Thomas is learning how to swim/ride a bicycle. Those moments are so fleeting. It’s sad and faintly irritating!


  3. I often get repeat scenarios of issues this is because I have not finished reviewing them from every angle. Once I completely understand the past isue then it is gone, closed off forever. No need to go into elaborate stages of analysis. Learn to accept your own and others mistakes and yes, some of them are really horrible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s very hard to accept mistakes … mine or anyone else’s (if they affect me I suppose). I hadn’t thought about ‘accepting’ that I’ve made a mistake … I shall ponder on this because I think you may well have rather a good point. X

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is a difficult one because in part we have allowed the other person to harm us in some way and have to forgive ourselves for allowing this to happen even if it was out of our control. We are often shown different aspects to the same issue so we understand all sides of it, then it goes away with our acceptance.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Katie– I really loved this post. There is a time for talking but its minimal to the time of taking action t shift things. I totally agree with what you wrote about getting busy. I appreciated your 3 questions. i will use them the next time my brain gets stuck going in circles.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this post! I definitely ruminate — or something like it. I don’t always have negative thoughts per se but sometimes just a suffocating sense that life is out of control. I’ve started to introduce a voice of reason that results in me identifying one thing I can do and then doing it. Then moving on to the next thing I can do. Eventually the inflammation of my reality seems to decrease enough that I can once more get my arms around what’s going on. I love your advice, and find it not only affirming but fresh and helpful!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, basically my understanding is that rather than trying to ‘solve’ the thought, we accept that thoughts always come and go and we can decide to ‘hold them loosely’ or something like that. I’ve found it helpful as while I can logically ‘fight’ the negative thoughts it gets tiring, this way I can notice them but then let them float on by….you better google LOL

        Liked by 1 person

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