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Believe it or not, psychologists have a term to describe people who like to think a lot. The trait is called need for cognition. It refers to people who enjoy effortful thinking and feel motivated to attempt to understand and make sense of things. For the most part, this is associated with positive traits, like openness, higher self-esteem and lower social anxiety. On the flip side, some types of intensive thinking—notably rumination and worry—tend to be associated with being closed to new ideas and poor mental health. Anxiety and rumination form a feedback loop where one causes the other. Here, you'll learn to recognize when you're ruminating so you can disrupt the loop.

1. Identify When You're Ruminating

To reduce your rumination, you're first going to need to identify it. Rumination can be about minor issues ("Why did I pay $4.20 for gas at the first gas station off the highway when I could've driven a half-mile down the road and paid $3.60? I shouldn't have been so stupid...etc."). Rumination can also be more heavy-duty self-criticism ("What's wrong with me? I have these dreams but I don't make them happen. Am I just full of hot air? Maybe I don't want them badly enough? Am I a just a big fraud?") Ruminating can sometimes be a bit like daydreaming, in that people often get lost in rumination without realizing they're doing it.

  • Experiment: Fill in the following blanks to create a list of topics you ruminate on: Replaying conversations with people in power positions in your life. For example, replaying conversations, including email conversations, with ______ [insert names of people] ______.

  • Replaying memories of experiences of failure from the past, for example ______.

  • Thinking about ways in which you're not as perfect as you'd like to be. For example, thinking you're not as good at ______ as you'd like.

  • Thinking about things you should be doing to be more successful, such as ______.