Rumination: Why We Dwell In The Past, What It Means and What To Do About It

Why is it that humans like to dwell on the negative? This is a phenomenon called rumination, everyone does it, some more than others, it is essentially, dwelling in the past, like a cow chewing over and over and never swallowing. Rumination in humans is the brain equivalent of that. Churning our past over and over and never letting it go. So why do we do it?

It's personality for the most part. More neurotic people ruminate more, but some people learn that that's what you're supposed to do. If you had parents that always stressed out on things past it is much more likely that you grew up to do so as well.

There is something fundamental to be understood here. You might not have been born a neurotic person, but instead turned into one in some way or another. Personality is plastic. It is malleable. And contrary to popular belief, people don't become set in their ways as they grow older, you're shifting and changing well into your late years. The lesson in this is that if someone's parents taught them to ruminate and as a consequence, they became more neurotic, or anxious, then you might be doing it to yourself. Perhaps a great deal, if not most, of your anxiety and negative feelings are stemming from focusing on everything bad that you did in the past.

Is there anything to be gained from it?

Looking back at your past experiences is what enables you to fix yourself and move forward, but it's a fine line. And many people end up fixating on it instead. Being unable to let go stumps all progress, and you will progress more by never looking back than never letting go. If you aren't sure if you're doing it right, chances are that you're not, just by virtue of having to ask that question. If you find yourself, however, unable to not look at the past then try this for every negative thing you remember, try to remember a positive. This will teach your brain that thinking about the past isn't equal to thinking about the negatives. Even better, instead of looking at the negatives and trying to build yourself up from that, look at the negative and find a positive in it.

I was bullied as a child. Looking back I know I made myself a prime target for it, it was almost like I brought it on. What I'm saying is I probably would've bullied myself too. I could look back at that and hate myself for it. However, I don't, instead, I take that and ask myself what would make me say I probably would have bullied myself too? Then, I stopped doing exactly those things. Now I have a positive from the negative. And a perspective shift.

Help yourself.

By focusing on the positives you don't just feel better. You get better, physically, and socially. By focusing on the positives you are able to form better relationships. You lessen stress (stress degrades you mentally but also physically). And you are much more likely to achieve success.

. . .

Don't focus on the negatives. It doesn't mean to forget all about them. It means looking into negative aspects with optimism. Optimism that you'll find positives, that from the bad things in you or that happened to you, you can find improvement. Once you start looking at something good that can be taken out of any situation your brain will very quickly learn to churn over the positives instead, and your whole perspective will shift. This is the number 1 thing I learned in my life. Make this the number 1 thing in yours as well and thank yourself later. What's your opinion on this? How often do you think about the past? Is it healthy for you?


Hi, I'm Matthew, my mission is to spread knowledge about motivation, productivity, and enabling people to achieve the best that they can be! I have a vast background in psychology and a passion for self-improvement. I literally can't remember a time when I didn't have a psychology book in my hands. On top of that, I've traveled around the world from a very young age, and seen many different courses of life, forming friendships with highly successful people, as well as people who are willing to do anything to make ends meet. My own life took me down a roller coaster of highs and lows, and I'm forever grateful that I've been able to overcome everything it threw at me. Now I want to take the opportunity to give back, and help others learn tools and methods for becoming who they were born to be!


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