Is it Rumination or Problem Solving? Weekend Hijack Takeaways

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This week I got the opportunity to relearn my stress management practices in real-time. I flew to San Diego to check in with my daughter at college. Given the population density of the destination and the logistics around accommodations, I’ve learned this experience can go either way. Typically, high speed, high emotions, a little bit scary, but ultimately all worthwhile.

However, this time was particularly stressful for several reasons, including a late-night Google Maps meltdown on the So. Cal. version of the Autobahn, and no wonder by the end of the visit my adrenals were shot. So, when I opened the trunk of the rental car and noticed the long white scrape, my brain shot straight into hijack mode.

My heart was racing, the blood rushed to my face, and I had to hold back the tears; I told myself I needed to focus on the limited time I had with my girl. Yet I couldn’t get out of ‘poor me’. What was going to happen to my insurance premium? Would there be a big bill?

My mind raced as I turned back onto the highway, still in a high-stress state and moving fast into victim mode – “I’m too old for this!” playing on repeat. 

Finally, I stopped spinning enough to remember to use the breathing practices I teach every day, and from my overwhelmed state I was able to summon some perspective – top priority – healthy kid, the rest I can deal with.

After making that mental shift from short-term reaction to long-term priority, I was able to pull myself back into a strong present state. I sat up straight, took a full deep breath, and reminded myself I was here for my girl and F*** the rest. I connected with my power stance and got back in the game.

And I had to laugh at myself and the irony of the situation. I was working on a new article about the link between worry, problem-solving, and rumination. In fact, it took my daughter to remind me “this car wasn’t in perfect shape when we picked it up; the scratch could have been there when we got it. Either way, there’s nothing we can do about it, and we don’t have to let it ruin our time”.

On the plane ride home, I was finally able to regroup and reflect on my experience. I was reminded that even after years of daily practice, I still get hijacked. Much less often, and usually without the shame/blame hangover that goes with it.

And to remember that when we’re in a high state of stress, our perspective is more limited, more negative, and at the same time impossible to recognize as anything but 100% accurate. We can’t think our way out of this Jedi mind trap, but if you’ve been using mindset management practices, you have the strategies at your disposal.

Back home I’m so grateful for 2, or even 4-lane roads and for the time I had with my daughter. And for another great lesson in self-awareness as a skill we can continue to grow. It’s not all or nothing. We get better at it a little at a time. When we break the reaction-rumination cycle, we’re more easily able to understand ourselves as we learn from our mistakes.

It’s a beautiful process and one that teaches us to shift our focus from short-term reaction mode to prioritizing long-term goals. And in the end, learning to manage our attention is essential on the path to sustainable growth.

The rumination process in review:

Rumination is often worry disguised as problem-solving.

  • Intense or prolonged stress leads to worry, which we pass off as planning or problem-solving
  • But the worry/problem-solving cycle keeps going, without resolving anything
  • This process is called rumination, and our brain naturally defaults to this setting in times of judgment or uncertainty.
  • Biased by stress, rumination adds to feelings of overwhelm
  • Mindset mastery gives us a way to shift our focus out of the past and into the present
  • It doesn’t stop us from caring about people or situations.
  • Instead, it reduces rumination by reducing stress, taking us out of hijack, defense-driven mode, and allowing us access to new perspectives and different options.
  • We can’t think our way out of a hijack, but by learning simple mindset management practices, we can work with the whole of our nervous system to bring our best selves to any situation.

Learn more at Mindbody Bridgeworks

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