Mistakes happen, as do the regrets that usually follow them. Worrying about what is to come also happens as a natural response to the unknown. But becoming obsessed with the past or future is a negative thought pattern that is easy to fall into.
When you ruminate obsessively on the past, you are left focusing on who you are now, and who you imagine you could have been had you made a different choice. Worrying about the future has a similar effect in that it takes away from where you are at now. What else do they both have in common? You can neither change the past nor decide the future from where you are right now.
How to Focus on Productive Action
Interestingly, obsessing over the past or future actually decreases your problem solving ability. You become caught up in what you do not have or what you might lose, and emotions that go along with those negative thoughts. You also lose sight of your current reality. All of this puts you at a disadvantage when it comes to being productive now, avoiding what you are worried about, and becoming the person you want to be.
You can break yourself out of this cycle by building productive thought processes that lead to action by:
- Recognizing Rumination – If you find yourself constantly thinking about a past or future event without ever coming to an actionable conclusion, you are likely ruminating.
- Mentally Distancing Yourself – Label the emotions and thoughts going through your head, distract yourself for a moment with another activity, or write down your thoughts so you can look at them from a more neutral perspective.
- Calming Your Mind – Make sure your mind is calm before you begin rationalizing. The emotions that accompany rumination or worrying are what make it difficult to problem solve.
- Problem Solving – With mental distance, you can assess if there is a solution to your mistake or a way to avoid a dreaded future event. A more muted emotional response gives you space to determine what that solution is and create a plan.
When you focus on what you can do now to be productive, you may find that there is no way to fix a mistake or prevent something from happening. That’s okay. The mental distance you established earlier can also help you let worry and rumination go to focus on other challenges that do have productive solutions here and now.