How to stop thinking about past mistakes

How to stop reflecting thoughts and let go of the past

We all have experiences that are difficult to let go of. Whether you have repetitive thoughts about a relationship that didn't work out, repeating old family quarrels, or getting stuck in times when you felt humiliated in front of your peers, you can develop the rumination habit.

What exactly is rumination? You can think of the unhealthy relative of self-reflection. Rather than promoting growth and self-awareness, rumination means being stuck in a negative thought cycle.

Instead of letting go of past difficulties, relive them and torment yourself about what you may have done differently.

However, if you are a ruminant you can make changes. In this article we will examine the details of rumination.

We're going to go through six techniques that can help you develop more productive thought patterns.

With time and effort, you can be more focused, positive, and able to have new experiences.

What is rumination and why do we have repetitive thoughts?


Let's start by working out the concept of rumination. Thoughts ruminating can relate to virtually anything in life, although they often focus on things that are very important to you.

How relationships, friendships, careers, and how others perceive you. Healthy thinking means recognizing the importance of these things, and everyone spends at least some time thinking about their mistakes.

However, obsessive ruminating is when you have really difficulty letting go of things and devoting large amounts of attention and energy to repetitive thoughts.

And this type of rumination comes at a cost - psychological research shows that those who ruminate are more likely to have psychological problems like anxiety, depression, substance abuse, PTSD, and eating disorders.

Why exactly do we have repetitive thoughts? One of the most common reasons is trying to gain important insight into your experience or a problem you've had. Additionally, those who have experienced physical or emotional trauma in the past tend to think about new difficulties they encounter.

Regardless of why you're ruminating, there are two main aspects to the process. We're going to look at both to help you understand why rumination can be so harmful.

Lingering in the mistakes of the past

Lingering in the Past Past mistakes are a big part of rumination. For some people, this means alleviating painful memories down to the smallest detail.

You could see yourself falling in front of a laughing crowd at school, being dumped by someone you love, or freezing during an interview.

When you ruminate, these memories can feel excruciatingly real, as if they just happened. For others, thinking about past mistakes means more of combing through every detail and figuring out what would have done things well.

While it is always good to try to learn negative and difficult lessons in these circumstances, rumination goes so far that you never feel able to move on.

You can have an endless what if parade desperately longing for a world where you have a chance to repeat a situation without making mistakes.

The past is the past, however, and no ruminating can change that. Once you understand what happened and have learned the most important lessons for life, it is healthy to let go of that experience.

In the next section, we're going to look at how you can start moving on from the past and focus more on the future.

Rethink everything

Rethinking is the second key aspect of rumination. While this can be focused on the past, it can also focus on the future and imaginary mistakes that you have yet to make.

You can tell yourself that you are just thinking ahead and trying to plan so that your life goes well.

However, if you have been feeling anxious and stressed for hours while envisioning possible disasters, you have left the healthy planning stage and have got straight into a self-destructive rumination.

Part of rumination involves the subconscious belief that if you think enough about a situation, you can control the outcome.

In truth, however, you cannot control other people, nor can you plan for the influence of luck.

To get the most out of life, it's important to learn how to live in the present - and really enjoy the present.

That is the other goal we will set as we work through our six anti rumination techniques.

Techniques for Overcoming Ruminating Thoughts

Now that you understand what it looks like when you ruminate, you should have a good feel for whether this is a problem for you.

For example, you may have trouble overcoming rumination in all areas of life, or there may be a particular context (e.g. dating or work) where rethinking is exhausting you.

Regardless, the following six techniques will help you develop more balanced, positive mindsets. If you want to learn how to stop thinking about fear, start putting it into practice today.

Distract your mind from these deep thoughts

First, try to find a number of things to do if you find yourself ruminating excessively.

These should be things that are particularly effective at distracting you.

Switching to a physical mode can be especially helpful. So try adding some form of exercise to your list of distractions.

Listening to music can also help change your mood. You can immerse yourself in a fictional world through books, films or TV shows.

As long as your chosen distraction is healthy and not self-destructive, you can refer to it repeatedly to stop yourself from ruminating.

Create a plan of action and make a commitment to take action

Whether ruminating is about the past or the future, there are likely some things you can do to encourage positive developments related to the subject of your reflection.

So as you reconsider, make a list of things you can do to improve your life.

For Suppose you are thinking about a bad interview.

What three things can you do to improve your interview performance?

You can add practice interviews to your list as well as learning pre-interview techniques to help overcome anxiety.

The key idea is to convert your unproductive reflections into points for positive change and action.

Question your thoughts on rumination

Another key technique is to actively question the things you think when you're on a ruminant loop.

Often times these thoughts become unproductive or paranoid, and if you are not in control your thinking can easily get out of hand.

Suppose you think about a relationship that has failed and you start thinking about how you were to blame.

You might end up telling yourself that you will never have a successful relationship.

Catch yourself and withdraw to a broader perspective. Ask yourself what competing evidence could refute your reasoning.

Change your life in a different direction with life goals

Choose to focus your attention on an entirely different type of action. In particular, you can shift focus to broader, unrelated life goals and think about how they can be achieved.

For example, suppose you are contemplating an argument with a family member. You start repeating all of their unkind words and how it felt to hear them.

One technique to deal with this is to consciously shift focus to another goal, such as developing your career.


Could you create a new website? Looking for new network events?

This step stops ruminating in its tracks.

Practice meditation to clear your mind


Mindfulness and mindful meditation practices are wonderful resources when dealing with habitual rumination.

As you make a habit of doing a mindfulness exercise every day, over time your brain will change and you will get better at self-regulating negative emotions.

You can also do a mindfulness exercise anytime you feel like your thoughts are out of control.

You can learn many exercises, but a simple breathing exercise is a great way to center yourself.

Sit comfortably and quietly for 10 minutes and just focus on your breathing. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. If you are distracted, gently bring your attention back to your breath.

Identify your triggers and learn how to overcome them

After all, most of us have certain types of experiences that trigger our reflections.

Try to figure out and write down your own triggers so that you know when you are likely to need to use any of the strategies above.

Also, keep in mind that you may have different triggers for different issues.

For example, in personal relationships, your ruminant triggers may feel disrespected or undervalued.

Meanwhile, at work, the most common time you may return to work is when you feel like someone is surpassing you. Also, ask yourself about the roots of these triggers.

The better you understand why you think the way you do, the better you can customize it.

Stop thinking about thoughts and start living in the present moment

Hopefully, reading the above techniques has given you some confidence in your ability to stop rumination. We all experience times when we rethink or struggle to let go of the past - you are not alone.

However, there are proactive and healthy things you can do to keep yourself from getting stuck on a negative spiral, and it is important that you do so.

While it takes patience and commitment, time is a great healer, especially when it comes to the urge to ponder old wounds.

The more you work to improve yourself, take care of yourself, and develop your life, the more distance you create between the person who experienced these wounds and who you are now.

The more you develop your confidence and skills, the less you need to think about it. You will trust that you can handle whatever life throws at you, even if you haven't prepared yourself for it.

Through techniques such as meditation and mindfulness, you will also begin to see and enjoy the benefits of real life in the present moment.

However, don't beat yourself up if you can't stop thinking overnight. It takes sustained effort to change a ingrained habit and it will be easier some days than others.

If it helps, you can initially allow yourself a set “daily ruminant period”. For example, set 15 minutes to think about as much on the subject as you want and stick to that limit.

Then work on reducing it every few days. You will be surprised how unattractive rumination becomes when you reserve space for it. After all, the part of your mind that ruminates feeds on your fear and doubts, not your self-compassion.

First Steps: Try Self Hypnosis to Live in the Present Moment

You now have a number of tools to combat the urge to ruminate and understand where that urge is coming from.

But what if you're really having trouble living in the present moment? If you feel you need extra support and motivation, self-hypnosis could give you exactly the kickstarter you need to start your new life with mindful, healthy thinking.

Our Stop Overthinking program can help you relax your mind and slow your thoughts no matter what your focus is on.

If you're concerned, frustrated, and prone to obsessive thought loops, these sessions bypass your conscious defenses and get to the point of the unconscious fears that are holding you back.

Self-hypnosis is completely voluntary - it cannot make you do something you don't want to do. Instead, it gives you that extra boost you need to do something you already want.

Plus, it gives you a deep sense of relaxation that stops rethinking in its tracks. So, if you want to give up the habit of obsessing over your past mistakes and are desperate to predict the future, this self-hypnosis program could be the perfect solution.