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Obsessing and Ruminating without being able to make a decision is such a painful place to be, feeling like you need to make the perfect decision and never being able to. I struggled with it myself for about a decade of my life.

I share not just what helped me move out of that paralyzing process but also what the research and professional community recommends we do.  I share both short-term and longer-term strategies to reduce rumination and be able to move forward in your life.

About Dr. Liz

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Winner of numerous awards including Top 100 Moms in Business, Dr. Liz provides psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and hypnosis to people wanting a fast, easy way to transform all around the world. She has a PhD in Clinical Psychology, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and has special certification in Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy. Specialty areas include Anxiety, Insomnia, and Deeper Emotional Healing.


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Listened to in over 140 countries, Hypnotize Me is the podcast about hypnosis, transformation, and healing. Certified hypnotherapist and Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Dr. Liz Bonet, discusses hypnosis and interviews professionals doing transformational work

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Hey everyone. Dr Liz, here I am trying to work my way through the requests made during the podcast survey of 2024. Requests are always helpful for me, so don’t feel like you can’t send them to me even though the survey’s done. You can always email me requests. You just email me drliz D-R-L-I-Z at drlizhypnosiscom and I’ll try to get to it on the podcast.

I don’t know about everything, obviously, so I try to stick to my area of expertise or I should say areas but often the requests line up with those, so somehow I’m speaking to the people I need to speak to. I got several requests about ruminating, worrying a lot and balance in life like motherhood, wife, job, was the comment. Stress at work is another one that I feel like falls into that stress slash, anxiety category. When anxiety gets to a certain level, then we sort of tip it over into ruminating. Ruminating is this feeling of you’re thinking and thinking and thinking and never really making a decision about something or never moving forward with something, or you’re always thinking about the same thing that creates stress in your life or anxiety in your life, but nothing seems to ever change with it. I used to be a huge ruminator. I’m making a confession here.

I had about a decade in my life where I could not make a decision for the life of me. It was really awful. I had research and research and research. I’ve always been a researcher but I just felt like I couldn’t like pull the trigger. I couldn’t actually make the decision. I mean, this would show up in the grocery store what kind of cereal to buy. It would show up in my personal life Should I break up with this person? I think I was single most of that time. It would show up at work, like what type of training should I do or what specialty should I really go for, although I would say less so at work, like I always had a good idea of my specialty areas as I go along they have changed with time, but still it was this feeling of like maybe I should switch to this one, maybe I should switch to this one, maybe I should switch to that one, maybe I should take this training and feeling like I can never really make the decision about that.

This sometimes shows up when people are thinking about leaving a partner divorce, separation. Now, I’m going to differentiate this for a little bit, because that’s a big decision for most people If you’ve been together more than a year or two years, let’s say, and certainly if you have children together or business stuff together, own a house together, it’s a huge decision. So people do typically think about that, for I think the average is about two years before they make that decision.

That is not necessarily ruminating. Okay, that’s like you’re processing, you’re trying to figure things out. Perhaps you’re going to therapy, perhaps you’re not. You’re looking at information, you’re trying to decide what’s worth it. You’re running the pros and cons.

That’s not necessarily ruminating, but it can tip over into ruminating when things are very clear, like this partner is abusive to you, yet you still haven’t left them. Sometimes that’s financial decisions going on, and I completely understand that. Sometimes that’s safety decisions about your children. I understand that too. But then it’s like all right, the decision’s made, I’m not really leaving this person unless X, y, z happens, at which point I will doesn’t really fall into ruminating. That’s a decision is made. If you continue to think, maybe I should, maybe I shouldn’t, maybe I should, maybe I shouldn’t, maybe I should, you know, like years and years and years, then it sort of starts to drift into that category. Let’s say and that’s a common area that people do ruminate about is relationships. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering what to do about ruminating.

What I’m going to talk about comes from personal experience, which you know you’re pretty used to that on the podcast as well as professional training that I’ve taken. I recently took a training like, let’s say, the fall of 2023, on how to decrease rumination with Michael Yapko. Dr Michael Yapko, he’s amazing. He’s like this older therapist who just has so much experience. He’s very straightforward, like, very straightforward. There’s always a Q&A not always, but most of the professional trainings there’s a Q&A not always, but most of the professional trainings there’s a Q&A time and one of the therapists asked something. He said straight to her well, you’re not a good enough therapist. Like you need to work on that. Okay, I’ve never heard someone say that in a seminar of, like you know, 20 plus years of taking trainings. I thought it was really funny. He’s like, basically, you’re doing that wrong. This is what you do need to do and this is what you do need to work on. So he gave the solution, but it was like, wow, okay, that’s how straightforward he is.

Anyway, he says that ruminators really believe that they’re gaining insight when they’re running these things through their head over and over and over again. Now again, this could be around decisions. This can be around something that happened to you, but often it’s around negative consequences, like thinking of all the awful things that could happen and feeling badly about, like the potential awful things that could happen, which then keeps someone stuck. So when we tend to think about the good things that happen if I make this decision then we feel better and it helps us get unstuck. That’s one way out of ruminating right, I threw that in there. But when we’re constantly focusing on the bad things that could happen, then that’s going to keep us stuck, like, oh, most people don’t want to make a decision. That leads to poor outcomes, let’s say bad things happening in their life. So then they stay stuck.

He also said there’s often a history of trauma that goes with ruminators. They perceive that they face chronic, uncontrollable stressors, so they feel helpless often in their life and it’s this feeling of like why does all this bad stuff keep happening to me?

There’s also an element of perfectionism that goes on with ruminators, as in I have to make the right decision, I have to make the perfect decision. It’s not okay if I just make a decision that’s just okay. It has to be the perfect one, or else things will turn out poorly and I’ll be to blame for that. So that’s the second half of that sentence that often comes up, and there’s often a lot of self-blame that goes with it, like what’s wrong with me, or why can’t I do this, or what if I fail? Or this again perception of why is this happening to me? So all of those create anxiety and sometimes depression as well.

If you’re thinking what’s wrong with me all the time, that’s pretty sad. That doesn’t feel good. Versus, I’m a human being and it’s okay to make mistakes, and everybody makes mistakes, and this may not turn out perfectly, but I can manage, I can handle whatever the result will be be. Again, I’m throwing in here some of the solution thoughts to ruminating and sometimes it’s really this belief of I can’t manage or I can’t handle. Whatever’s going to happen, like this will just be awful at the end. This is how I used to feel this will be awful and I don’t know what I’m going to do if this happens or that happens, and how am I going to manage? All of these things come up unmanageable or feeling like things are out of balance, then they’re not making decisions to bring things back into balance, to be able to handle that stress, to decrease the negative feelings in their life.

Dr Yapko sees the essence of rumination as a reduced ability to problem solving. Like he says, these people are not problem solving. They get stuck in the thought process of the what ifs but often they’re not moving to the problem solving step. Sometimes there’s negative coping that goes on. Negative coping is like alcohol, drugs, binge watching TV or social media, something like that. Sometimes there’s compassion fatigue that happens on their relationship. So then people, friends will start to withdraw some of their support or avoid their calls, which then doesn’t help them problem solve right.

The research they’ve done on it is that when ruminators recall something, they have a negative, biased interpretation of what happened. So they are more likely to remember the bad things that happened versus the good things that happened. So that’s really fascinating, I think. To me From a research perspective it’s like oh, this is just not a perceptual thing. When you run a study, they are literally remembering things negatively. Perceptual thing when you run a study, they are literally remembering things negatively. So then if you’re remembering all the bad things that happened from a decision you made. That’s going to hurt your ability to make a decision in the future.

If you don’t have, let’s say, a list of all the accomplishments that you’ve done in your life, or what I call a victory journal or a success journal like the good things, the good decisions you made and how they turned out then it’s very easy to remember all the negative stuff. I actually do have a running list that I’ve kept for decades about the decisions I made that turned out well. I sort of did this intuitively at some point and then I heard about the success journal. I decided to keep one of those. You know I I fill it out from time to time. I don’t do it every day. I don’t know if I have successes every day, but I definitely do it from time to time.

I put things on there like built my business from zero, built two businesses from zero to the point where they could support myself and my girls. It’s a huge success. If you’re in business for more than two years, that’s a huge success. Vast majority of businesses fail within those first two years. You go past five. It’s another level of sustainability that you’ve created in your business.

I have in mind I got one kid off to college and graduated Fantastic. Now some people may say that’s her success. It totally is. People, that is her success. And at the same time, I was the parent that supported her through that. I was the parent who made sure she applied to more than just one college, which is what she wanted to do. I was like let’s consider, you know, let’s do five or six. I’m the parent who supported her financially through that, emotionally through that, even sometimes physically, meaning, you know, paying for her to come home and picking her up, and you know all kinds of stuff.

So it’s really looking at what can you put on that success list that then you can look back on in difficult times when you are struggling with a decision, and you can put large stuff. Those are large stuff to me. You could put smaller stuff. The AC broke and I figured out how to fix it myself. That’s a fantastic success. I figured out how to switch out the plugs in my house and I did it with YouTube and so I went into like update all the plugs so that they look more modern. My house was built in like 1979 or something, so I changed them out myself and I’m very proud of that. I’m like yes, I did that, so that’s something smaller. That goes on my success journal.

So it’s really starting to keep a list like that to remind yourself of all the difficult times that you’ve gotten through, all the things you have figured out.

All right, now let’s talk about more what do you do about it when you’re really stressing about something, when you’re worrying about something, when you feel like you are ruminating about something whether that’s your family or the news, political events, that type of thing, or the news, political events, that type of thing Now, sometimes this varies depending on what you’re thinking about. I often go to Radical Acceptance. I ran an episode about Radical Acceptance. It’s episode 260. If you wanna look that up, you can always go to my website drlizhypnosiscom forward slash episode 260, and you’ll find it. It’s on my website. You can also search it up on your podcast player, but often I think the website’s an easier way to go.

But some of what we need to do is move to radical acceptance. There’s some things I can’t control, and so how do I then reduce my worry about them? That’s a one sentence radical acceptance. There’s a lot more to it, but that’s the essence of it. Basically is this has happened. I cannot control it, I can’t change the past. So now, how do I practice acceptance of that and moving forward? And when I catch myself in ruminating, thinking about it, thinking about why, thinking about how did that happen, what mistake did I make, then I recognize that it’s not very useful to me and then think about what would be useful to me. How can I move forward? What kind of thought can I hold on to that is helpful to me? Now, for some people, the worst case scenario is more helpful, and for some people, the best case scenario is more helpful. I’m more of a worst case scenario person.

So my youngest is going to college in the fall of 2024. And we were visiting some colleges and we came home and I was awake in the night worrying about where she’s going to live. So she picked a college that doesn’t have on-campus dorms, and so I was really worried. I still am people Worried a little bit, not so much as that night, though. I was like where is she going to live? Is she going to take the bus? Will she be able to manage that? What happens if she oversleeps and misses the bus and then she misses the class? How is she going to get groceries, like all of these different things, because this college doesn’t have like a huge dining hall on campus like most universities do. All of these things came up for me.

Now, this is kid dependent too, so she is autistic level one, so she does struggle with some things. Well, she’s ADD, so she struggles with some time management and some executive function. She also has her own anxiety, so it’s like all of these different things that I was really worried about. And so in the middle of the night I’m like, oh my gosh, how can I get back to sleep? Like none of this is useful to me right now. I will help her manage it. She will manage it somehow. If she doesn’t, the worst case is that she drops out of college. That’s it.

That one helped bring it down some but didn’t completely stop it to the point where I felt like I could go back to sleep. So what did it for me is we can all die tomorrow. Awful thought, morbid, all right, but it works. It works for me. All of this worrying could be completely useless. That’s the one that worked for me.

I don’t know if that will work for you. That is often the one that I go to. Actually, all of this could be irrelevant because I could step off the curb tomorrow and that could be it. I could be in the afterlife. That’s it. You’ve got to find what works for you.

A best case would be like you know what she’s going to handle all of this. Fine, she has support, she has academic support from the college, she has support from me and her dad and her sister and friends, and we’re going to figure it out. That’s the best case. That’s going to help some people.

So figure out which one you are and then use that as a tool for yourself. So part of that process is actually practicing how to discriminate Discriminate what’s important, what’s worth listening to, what is a legitimate concern and what is not, what can you control and what you can’t.

So often when we’re going into a super worry cycle, very stressful kind of cycle, or a rumination cycle, we’re not discriminating what’s really important. Let me give this example of let’s say, someone is in an abusive relationship but they start to think about the good things. Well, this person takes me out to eat a lot, or, let’s say, the sex is pretty good, or they have a good sense of humor most of the time and it’s like okay, those are important things when you’re thinking about a relationship. But do they outweigh someone who then turns around and does significant emotional abuse or physical abuse? All right, we’ve got to weight these things. How much weight does taking you out to eat get, versus breaking up with you at midnight and telling you to get all your stuff and move out of the house when you have nowhere to go and they don’t care at midnight? Or they’re throwing your stuff on the front lawn, let’s say I think that carries a little bit more weight than well. He has a good sense of humor when he’s in a good mood, right? That’s a discrimination kind of problem that I’m talking about.

Let’s go back to an easy example of the grocery store and very US example. You’re sitting and looking at all the Alfredo sauces and there’s a million of them. One discrimination strategy is it doesn’t really matter, just pick one, that’s it. Pick one, move on, that’s it. Like they’re all the same, basically, or I’m going to try a new one every week until I find my favorite. That would be a discrimination strategy. But it moves you out of just sitting there staring at the Alfredo sauce feeling like I don’t know how to pick.

Or sitting in the store thinking I don’t know what shirt to pick if I’m trying to buy a new shirt, thinking, eventually, it doesn’t really matter. Like you, buy a shirt that looks decent on you, you don’t have to look perfect. Again, you’re moving out of perfectionism. You like this shirt, you like this color shirt that looks decent on you, you don’t have to look perfect. Again, you’re moving out of perfectionism. You like this shirt, you like this color, it looks pretty good, go for it. Versus, it has to be the perfect shirt and if it’s not, oh, I’m going to have to do this all again, so maybe I shouldn’t buy it.

And then you’re off on a rumination cycle, let’s say a discrimination, getting better at discriminating, getting better at taking some kind of action. So I talk about this in terms of anxiety quite a bit. If you find yourself in a really anxious cycle, then taking one small action can often get you out of that cycle. We’re converting that thought to an action plan, basically, whether that’s smaller or larger. But people, when they tend to like, stress out, worry, ruminate, they’re not taking action. Typically, they’re just thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking. And once we take one small action, it starts to break that cycle and it gets us out of our heads more.

One small action can be I’m just leaving the store. That’s a small action. I’m not going to worry about that shirt anymore. This isn’t the time or place. I’m leaving the store One small action. Maybe you’re sitting there on Amazon looking at three different shirts and you’re like I’m going to order all three, I’ll see which one fits best. I’ll return the other two. That’s one small action versus trying to find the perfect one and thinking I’ve got to do it right.

One small action would be I’m going to make a plan for if I do want to leave this person, what is my plan? That’s an action that you’re taking. I wouldn’t say that’s a small action. That’s a pretty big action, but you’re taking some kind of action to get you out of that.

Sometimes this is physical, like I’m going to go do a yoga stretch. I’m going to take a walk. I’m going to go in my shop and do some woodworking. Perhaps you turn on a show. I’m going to watch a show, distract myself and not think about this for a while. I’m going to find a thought that feels better. That’s an action finding a thought that feels better. You’re taking these actions to get you out of this cycle. Planning is one of those actions. Right, I’m going to make a plan for if I do stay with this person and I feel X, y, z in one year, then I’m leaving. Or then I’m reevaluating. Often people do that say I’m going to reevaluate in six months. Often when people come into couples therapy, the therapist will say can you commit for three months or six months to not leave while we explore this process? That’s actually an action Like, yes, okay, I’m committed right here and then at the end of that period I can reevaluate and see how I feel. Often an action people will take in an abusive relationship is if he does this or she does this, or if they do that, then I’m leaving Like that’s it for me. That’s a bottom line for me.

There’s a book by Mira Kirshenbaum called “Too Good to Leave, too Bad to Stay Step-by-step guide to help you decide whether to stay in or get out of your relationship.” It’s an excellent book. It is an older book. I don’t know if she’s done a revision of it. At any point, it’s a classic.

But she talks about bottom lines and how people have different bottom lines and those are individual and when someone crosses yours, it’s okay to be like that’s a bottom line for me. I can’t stay in this. Sometimes the action is making that decision. What is my bottom line.

If the bottom line comes and goes and is crossed and you don’t take action, then it is like, let me look at this again, what is keeping me in this? And that’s a whole nother episode. But I suggest to make some bottom lines, make some plans is my point as a way to stop some of the rumination, like I feel for you. Oh, a final strategy here.

And what helped me? Far before I took any workshop about it or even knew that it was called something, I just used to call it obsessing, like, like I’m obsessing about this and that’s basically ruminating. For me, it was having a sense of spirituality in my life and developing that. If you’ve listened to the podcast for any amount of time, you know I was an atheist for about 20 years and then I found a sense of spirituality in my life, mostly through going through some 12-step programs, never addicted to alcohol or drugs, but I definitely did some other programs Overeaters, anonymous, under-earners Anonymous, al-anon, all of those and it was the sense of you know I’m on the right path here, like I don’t have to be perfect, but I’m on the right path and I’m growing on my spiritual journey in a sense of like I’m taken care of here.

So often if I find that I’m really starting to ruminate about something, I’ll put on some spiritual kind of support on YouTube, some audios that I listen to. Abraham Hicks is a favorite of mine, very, very well-known and famous, but you can find whoever really speaks to you. Joe Dispenza sometimes has good ones, talks about how we do affect our life and talks about spirituality. Sometimes I’ll listen to a spiritual kind of hypnosis and say, okay, I have decisions to make here, but I’m also on a spiritual path. Some of this had to happen for me to move forward in a different way in my life. So that got me out of that kind of indecision cycle as well as a greater ability to just say I will adjust and manage, I will handle whatever happens. I can always make a different decision in the future. So all of those became really helpful for me in my life and still are All right, everyone wrapping up here, I hope that you are healthy and safe and that you’re having some small moments of happiness or joy or contentment in your life today. Peace.

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