Human beings have a gift that is both a blessing and a curse. The gift is imagination, and the curse is easily it can run amok and make us miserable. When we face difficulties, our imagination revs its engine, and we think of all the possible scenarios and solutions related to the problem. This is also referred to as rumination. It is a helpful state of mind, but it comes at a price: anxiety.
If you experience anxiety throughout the day then you also ruminate throughout the day. You are a “perpetual problem-solver.” You probably feel like you cannot control your mind. That is true, but only to an extent.
There are two parts to you: The habituated-self, and the conscious-self. The habituated-self learns from the conscious-self and is responsible for executing learned “brain programs.” It knows when to execute these programs based on context. Context is to be understood broadly. It includes what you experience outside and inside yourself. A good example of the habituated-self executing a “brain program” is the feeling of going on auto-pilot when driving.
If you find yourself ruminating throughout the day regardless of where you are, then that’s a sure sign that the habituated-self is associating all of the varying contexts with rumination. It is time to compartmentalize.
With persistence, it is possible to use the conscious-self to teach your habituated-self where it is okay to ruminate and where it is not. In classical conditioning, the process responsible for disassociation of the context (the stimulus) and behavior is known as extinction. In other words, “use it or lose it.” If you cut back on rumination even just a little bit, you will slowly begin to disassociate the context from the behavior.
Let’s get practical.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that you want to stop ruminating at home. If you ruminate at home, and particularly if you work at home, I recommend devoting one specific section of the house to just those activities. If you feel the need to try to solve a problem, then go to that spot. Call it your “thinking spot.” When you are outside of your “thinking spot,” don’t want to engage in rumination and thoughts continue to come up, make the effort to continually shift your attention to whatever activity you were doing (watching TV, reading a book, cooking, cleaning, resting, etc.). That’s your habituated-self doing what it thinks it should. If you find yourself getting too distracted from your activity, then go back to your “thinking spot” and let yourself think. Once you feel like you’ve had enough ruminating, go back out to the “rumination-free” zones of your house and continue practicing staying focused on whatever you are doing.
The process of noticing thoughts that interrupt your focus and returning your focus back to the activity is a form of single-pointed meditation. This is the vehicle of change. Remember: “use it or lose it.” By refocusing, you are “not using it, and therefore, losing it.” In fancy terms, your habit is going through the process of extinction.
If you find yourself tense when you ruminate, it may also be helpful to relax your body when you are outside of your “thinking spot.” Bodily tensions can also be recognized by your habituated-self as a contextual cue. This can create a “loop,” where tension leads to rumination, and rumination leads to maintenance of tension.
You can generalize the above example to your lifestyle. Designate different times and places as “thinking spots” and “rumination-free zones.” Then, compartmentalize by enforcing the rules.
Article Source: Constant Anxiety: The Common Culprit