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5 Tips to Stop Dwelling on Things and Move Forward in Life

by Ashley

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Key points

  • Dwelling on negatives magnifies problems without benefit, blocking personal growth and positive outlooks.
  • Continuous rumination on issues can lead to depression and anxiety, showing the importance of breaking this cycle.
  • Strategies to stop dwelling include using a timer, journaling, creating action steps, questioning the utility of thoughts, and moving physically.

When something goes wrong in life, how do you respond? Be honest. For most of us, we complain and dwell on the problem. And this is not a recipe for happiness.

When you stop dwelling on things you free yourself from the negativity of your past or present problems. This clears your headspace to make room for healthy growth and an inspiring future.

This article is going to teach you exactly how you can stop dwelling on things. You’ll become aware of your ruminating thought patterns and be able to stop them in their tracks.

Why do we dwell on things?

Letting things go sounds so much more appealing. I’ll be the first to admit that I’d love to be more “chill” and not hold onto stressful situations.

So why is it so hard?

Research theorizes that we may be more likely to dwell on things because of how our brain processes emotions.

And each of our brains processes emotions differently. So some folks may be more likely to dwell on things than others.

Personally, I’m a big dweller. And I think a good bit of it is rooted in my anxiety.

It’s easy for me to hyper-focus on the “bad” because I want to try to control it. I feel like if I dwell on it long enough, it will somehow get better. Yes, I know that logic is odd.

Or I think if I fixate on it repeatedly, I’ll be better able to prevent the same mistake or problem.

But I can attest that nothing good has ever come out of one of my excessive dwelling sessions. In fact, it only seems to unnecessarily blow the issue out of proportion.

What happens when we dwell on things too long?

If you’re someone who dwells on things non-stop, you may think it’s protecting you. Trust me, I get it.

As I said before, I feel like dwelling on things somehow gives me a sense of control. It’s as though somehow this rumination process is going to help me feel better or solve the problem.

But in reality, I never end up feeling better or more in control. I end up feeling hyper-focused on the negative situation.

The research confirms that dwelling on things is not beneficial. A study in 2013 found that individuals who ruminated on stressful life situations were more likely to experience depression and anxiety.

So clearly, dwelling on things is not serving you. No matter how you try to spin it, it’s not beneficial.

While it’s not a mental habit you can break overnight, you can learn how to let things go.

💡 By the way: Do you find it hard to be happy and in control of your life? It may not be your fault. To help you feel better, we’ve condensed the information of 100’s of articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet to help you be more in control. 👇

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5 ways to stop dwelling on things

You don’t have to live in the past or feel trapped in a present problem. You can break free by using the tips from this article to stop dwelling on whatever you are facing.

1. Set a timer

Sometimes we need a physical reminder to stop thinking about something. This is where the timer on your phone comes in handy.

If I find myself focusing on something negative for too long, I set a 3 minute timer. For those 3 minutes, I let myself think about the problem in depth.

But by the end of 3 minutes, I tell myself I have to move on to something else. It may sound silly, but let me tell you it works.

The timer helps you realize how much unnecessary time you’re spending thinking about it.

And if you think only about that issue for 3 minutes, you realize how long 3 minutes is. You can conclude a lot if you dedicate your focus to that issue for 3 minutes.

2. Write everything down in a journal

If after 3 minutes you still can’t get your mind to move on, pull out a pen and paper.

Dump all of your thoughts out without worrying about organizing them. Write until you feel like you have written all your thoughts on the issue.

Seeing your thoughts physically in front of you will help you process them better. And it may also help you see where you’re being illogical in your ruminating process.

Once you’ve dumped it all on paper, you will usually find a solution for how to move on.

I remember I was having issues with forgiving a friend for what I thought was a big offense. I kept dwelling on how wrong that person was for their behavior.

Eventually, I ended up dumping my thoughts on paper. I started to see that maybe the problem was me and my unwillingness to forgive.

I was then able to reach out to the friend and forgive him after months of not talking.

I spent too long dwelling on the issue. And if I had just taken up the pen and paper, I could have repaired that friendship much sooner.

What does our own data show?

Even though journaling is one of the simplest forms of self-help, it is also on of the most powerful. We’ve interviewed 142 people about struggles of mental health, and 22 people have found help in journaling. Here’s what journaling helped them with:

Our most recent stories about journaling:

How The Support of Others Helped Me Heal After a Mental BreakdownJournaling and Therapy Helped Me After Surviving a Car Accident and a Late Pregnancy LossHow Self-Care and My Infrared Sauna Blanket Help Me Navigate CPTSD and Fascia PainHow Journaling and Regulating Emotions Helps Me Deal With Depression and AnxietyDealing With ADHD and Anxiety And Becoming a Happier MeRecovering From Chronic Pain and Long-COVID With Emotional Healing MovementOvercoming Trauma and Depression With Therapy, Journaling and Self-CareHow an ADHD Diagnosis Helped Me Understand My Life and Turn It Around With TherapyTherapy and Medication Helped Me Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Burnout From WorkMy Struggle With Abandonment And Anger Through Resilience and Forgiveness

3. Make clear action steps

Sometimes we dwell on things because we don’t have a clear action plan. We keep thinking about what’s wrong without doing anything about it.

If you don’t figure out a solution or way to let things go, you’re going to keep dwelling on them. That’s just how our brains work.

If it’s a mistake you made or a problem you’re facing, it’s time to figure out the next steps.

Not all that long ago, I was dwelling on the fact that I felt depressed and burnt out in my career. I just kept thinking about how unhappy I was.

It wasn’t until I took proactive action by changing my work hours and developing new skills that I stopped dwelling on the situation.

If you can’t seem to figure out the next steps alone, seek out advice. It could be from a good friend or a therapist. They can help you determine a game plan that gets you out of your negative dwelling cycle.

4. Ask yourself, “How does this thought help me?”

I’m a big fan of asking yourself questions about your thoughts. Because sometimes we blindly accept our own thoughts as truth.

When you find yourself dwelling, stop and ask yourself, “How does this thought help me?”.

You’re probably going to realize that fixating on the negative past or present circumstances is not helping you. In fact, you’ll probably see that it’s harming you.

When you start to bring awareness to the fact that thinking that way isn’t helping, you can begin to change.

Sometimes our brains just need an interruption to the thought spirals with a single question. And when this awareness becomes habitual, you can pull yourself out of the rumination process.

5. Get up and move

One of the simplest ways to stop dwelling on anything is to get up and move.

When you get up and move, you’re forcing yourself to focus on something else. And you’re also reaping the benefits of getting endorphins flowing in your bloodstream.

So you start to feel better. And as a consequence, you can usually think clearer and let go of things.

It could be as simple as going for a walk or dancing to your favorite song. My default choice is lacing up my running shoes and going for an easy jog.

It’s almost inevitable that by the end of a run, I’ll be able to stop fixating on the issue.

When all the brain tricks for stopping a rumination process aren’t working, turn to movement. I can almost 100% guarantee it will help.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Wrapping up

Letting things go is easier said than done. But incessantly dwelling on things will leave you feeling trapped. The tips from this article will release you from the stress and negativity of endless rumination. With a mind that’s been set free, you can start to dwell on the stuff that’s worth focusing on.

Are you currently dwelling on this that happened in your life? What’s your favorite tip from this article? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Ashley Kaiser AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Physical therapist, writer, and outdoor enthusiast from Arizona. Self-proclaimed dark chocolate addict and full-time adrenaline junkie. Obsessed with my dog and depending on the day my husband, too.

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