You Can’t Believe Everything You Think

As an over-thinker, I’m an expert on rumination. My mind loves to grab onto something unpleasant and think about it as much as it can, especially if I’m feeling anxious or annoyed with someone. It can feel like it’s constructive or protective (even though it’s not!). I drive myself crazy (and waste a lot of cognitive and emotional bandwidth) if I let it get out of control.

What you think, matters. The more you think a certain thought, the more likely you are to have it again.

Recurrent negative thoughts build circuits in your brain

In your brain, the neural pathway or circuit that represents a particular thought gets activated every time you have that thought. The more often you think it, the more entrenched that pathway gets.

Let’s say that there’s something new that you start to worry about. The first time the thought occurs to you, you get a small jolt of anxiety.

As an example, you may have been reading the news online. Another headline warns of a possible recession. For the first time, you have the thought that you might lose your job if a recession hits. It worries you enough, that you start to think about it whenever you hear more news about a possible recession.

As this particular thought circuit gets strengthened, the thought starts to keep you up at night, when there’s nothing else to distract you.

Eventually, it pops into your head unbidden, at random times. It distracts you during an important meeting with your boss, or when you’re working on a deadline. Now you worry that this fearful thought might affect the quality of your work. Ironically, this makes you more likely to be laid off. So you worry about it more.

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