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How to Break the Ruminating Cycle

21 May 2019

Janie read How to Manage Your Perfectionism by Rebecca Knight and was pleased to read an article that reinforced some useful practices for managing her inner perfectionist.   

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I think of myself as a recovering perfectionist, so when I saw How to Manage Your Perfectionism by Rebecca Knight on the HBR blog, it caught my eye. Earlier in my career, I struggled a lot with perfectionist tendencies and often found myself afraid to move forward with something because I wasn’t sure it was good enough. I’ve made a lot of progress on this as I’ve gotten older, but these tendencies are still present and sometimes when I haven’t gotten enough sleep, or I’m trying to juggle a lot, they become more prevalent than I would like. I was pleased to find some excellent suggestions for managing these inclinations in Knight’s article.

Knight consulted several experts during her research for this article, including Alice Boyes, a former clinical psychologist and author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit and The Anxiety Toolkit. Boyes discussed several methods for letting go of perfectionism, but she really got my attention when she talked about how important it is to “Break the cycle of rumination.”

Boyes said the first step is to be able to recognize when you’re ruminating. She said, “If you’re dwelling on a past event, such as an interaction with a colleague, be cautious… When you ruminate, you tend to focus on all the bad things, so you can’t trust what your ruminating mind is telling you.” 

This is so true for me and reading this article was a timely reminder. It helped me recognize that some things I’ve been feeling frustrated about lately are largely a result of my ruminating mind. I was reminded that when I’m ruminating, I tend to move very quickly to the worst-case scenario and can easily get stuck there. I don’t always recognize that I’m ruminating when I’m the middle of it, and sometimes I need something to help snap me out of it.

This article helped me get away from some unhelpful patterns and also helped me remember one of my favorite methods for dealing with ruminating thoughts when I feel stuck: repeating positive mantras. I’ve found that repeating positive mantras can help me regain perspective when I’m ruminating. One of my favorites (that I had forgotten and am excited to start using again!) is, “Don’t believe everything you think.” I’ve been telling myself that this week, and it’s helped me make progress in areas where I’ve been struggling. I’m glad I found this article to help me get back on track.


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Barbara Linney
May 22, 2019

So true about the ruminating habit for me, too. I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist because I will declare a project good enough. But I do ruminate about negative things that can happen, so I have to make myself stop with positive mantras. Your—don’t believe everything you think—can help jolt me into saying mine. Thank you.

Janie Kast
May 23, 2019

I’m so glad it was helpful for you, Barbara! This phrase helps get my attention when I’m going down an unhelpful rabbit hole.

Terry Sullivan
May 23, 2019

“Don’t believe everything you think.” What great wisdom!  Anyone who has ever taught and looked at those end-of-course student evaluations will always remember every word of the one negative comment and forget the 99 good comments. We all have a bias to dwell on the negative input we receive. If you can recognize it, you can’t start to avoid dwelling on it (ruminating).

Janie Kast
May 29, 2019

Thank you for your comment, Terry! I couldn’t agree more. Recognizing the negative bias, so I can avoid dwelling on it is the key for me.


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