7 Steps to Help Those who Ruminate.

Sometimes I think I am like a cow. I ruminate over things, chewing my thoughts this way and that. Trying to extract something good out of them. 

Much of my life I have worked on farms, I even have a University Degree in Agriculture. I humorously call this my first degree in pastoral care.

Cows sit out in the field and chew the cud.

With their mouth’s moving from side to side they chew food that has already eaten. Cows and sheep are ruminants and have four stomachs, so they eat their fill then they chew it later, colloquially known as ‘Chewing the cud.’

Rumination, according to Wiki is defined in this way

Rumination is the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions. Rumination is similar to worry except rumination focuses on bad feelings and experiences from the past, whereas worry is concerned with potential adverse events in the future. Both rumination and worry are associated with anxiety and other negative emotional states.

Do you ruminate?

I know you don’t re-chew your food, well at least I hope you don’t, but do you go over and over issues all the time?

What I had been taught all my life was not true: experience is not the best teacher!
It’s what you do with that experience that matters. John Maxwell

I think we all do this, some more than others, but if you are always looking back, then you are going to stumble in going forward.

It’s like we chew over things. Round and around and around.

‘Woulda,’ ‘coulda’ and ‘shoulda’ are echoed self-talk sound bites leaving you malnourished of hope.

Why do we ruminate?

  1. To feel like we are doing something about the problem.
    We want to change a situation, so we keep going over and over and over it, looking for a solution. This feeling of doing something can be a subtle downward delusional spiral to the depressing reality is that there is nothing you can do.
    The brain, in trying to resolve its tension, looks for the answer. Any activity, including rumination, feels good.We hate ambiguity, that sense of uncertainty and lacking clarity. We want to solve the mystery.

    So, like a good detective on T.V., we hunt out the clues to try to explain the murder and eliminate the mystery.Know that you will never know everything and to chase the past for purpose is like chasing the clouds for pleasure.

    It will leave you exhausted and lost.

  2. To Self deprecate.
    Perhaps it is a way of punishing ourselves. That below the surface of our thinking there is a deeper trail of chewing.’I did those things, so now I have to punish myself.’
    ‘This is the consequence of my actions.’
    ‘This is the reaping of what has been sown.’So we stew in this cud as punishment.Any sense of forgiveness, grace or loving father’s embrace (Story of Loving father – Prodigal son) is not allowed to touch our lips.
  3.  To potentially learn.
    We chew over the situation to glean some wisdom from the situation.We consider experience is the best teacher yet only considered experience teaches us wisdom.Rumination can be helpful, as long as it leads to action and not just stewing and procrastination.

7 Steps to Help those who Ruminate.

  1. Write it out. Learning to write is learning to think.
    You don’t know anything clearly unless you can state it in writing. S.I. Hayakawa
    Get what you’re ruminating in your mind out of the head and on to some paper. I think writing in a journal is one of the most powerful of all mental health disciplines you can have.Read Too much Traffic in your Mind? Try Journaling
  2. Problem solve it.
    This is where writing it down comes in helpful. Get together with someone you trust and talk about what you have written down. Tease it out to find the problem. Find one concrete solution you can (not should, could or would) do to overcome what you are ruminating about. Read How to Help Others Solve Problems
  3. Engage in activities that promote the positive.
    What activities fill your mind with positive thoughts. Hobbies, meditation, reading, running, cooking. The main point is to get your mind out of the rumination rut for a while.Read about Mindfulness here Questions and Answers about Mindfulness
  4. Can them.
    Get yourself a tin can, and as the questions come up write them down on a piece of paper and prayerfully place them in the can. Imagine yourself placing them in God’s hand to hold them for you. God has big hands!Place the can up on a shelf and leave it there. After a while, take that can off the shelf and see if any of your questions have been answered in the intervening time.

    Add more questions when they come up.

  5. Schedule them.
    Tell your brain this.‘I do not have time to think about that at this moment. I will think about it tomorrow at 3 pm’. It’s telling your brain that yes, what you are presenting is worthy of time and thought so, therefore, you will make space for it.If you remember to think about it at 3 pm, so be it, but I have found often that this little technique will slowly deflate the rumination balloon of any sense of self-importance.
  6. Place them.
    Do you have a place where rumination is worse?Look for patterns of where your rumination seems to occur more frequently and more powerfully.You could also create a place which is specifically for ruminating and thinking over ideas.Writer and speaker John Maxwell has a thinking chair.

    ‘When I found a place to think my thoughts, my thoughts found a place in me.’ John Maxwell

  7. Displace them.
    I often use truth coaches to get my thinking back on track.These are little powerful insights, quotes, verses that speak truth into my thinking.Remember, this.Whatever you dwell on, it will get you in the end.

    It will create thinking tracks in your brain the size of the grand canyon where every situational event will tumble into.

Read How to Develop a Compass for the Brain

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Quotes to consider and share

  • Monitor your thinking and deliberately dwell on the virtues of your difficult friend, or negative feelings will surely follow. David Riddell
  • What you focus on gets you. Focus on the negatives/ challenges will always take you down. Focus on the positive/ good things will always give me hope.
  • I choose to ruminate, ponder and toss over in my mind good things.
  • Thoughts disentangle themselves passing over the lips and through pencil tips. Dawson Trotman
  • The thoughts I indulge grow stronger. The thoughts I acknowledge and put in their place lose their power to discourage me.
  • The tricky thing about rumination is that it feels like it’s helpful, but there’s no action taken, and you don’t move forward to some sort of solution. Carla Grayson
  • He who cannot change the very fabric of his thought will never be able to change reality. Anwar Sadat
  •  To change your emotions, first get control of your thoughts. Ruts of the mind become moods of the heart. David Riddell
  •  To achieve radical change, I need to call some of my feelings ‘liars’ and choose to side with truth, against my own emotions, until my feelings come around. David Riddell
  • I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse Philippians 4:8 (The Message)


  1. Use a journal to write out what you’re ruminating on. Share it with a trusted friend, counselor or pastor and problem solve anything that needs addressing
  2. Find some truth coaches and write them out in an easily accessible place such as a small notebook you can carry at all times. When you feel the ruminations coming on, spend time reading your truth coaches.
  3. Get yourself a tin can and can the questions you are ruminating over.

Further reading

How to Develop a Compass for the Brain

God Sets the Lonely in Families

Your Failures in Life Need Love

Barry Pearman
Photo Credit: Biel Morro



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