Rumination – One Week Exercise

Get more advice about coping with rumination in The Anxiety Toolkit.

Here’s an idea for a behavioral experiment for people who ruminate (passively & repeatedly think about the causes or consequences of problems without moving to active problem solving. Often involves self-criticism).

Prep: If you have a smart phone, you might find this easiest to do using your phone to record (you could use a basic notetaking app or your calendar app, or whatever suits you).

Or, you could just use a piece of paper/notebook.

Record: each time you notice yourself ruminating (as it happens)

You might do this by noticing
– when you are lost in thought,
– thinking about the past or the future, or
– when you are feeling negative emotions.

Any of these can act as triggers for you to ask yourself “Am I ruminating right now?” Or “Was I just ruminating?”

Record approx how many minutes you were ruminating for.

At the end of each day, record: any incidents of rumination that led to useful problem solving i.e., you took a specific action.

At the end of the week: Calculate your ratio


15 incidents of rumination, taking up approximately 10 hours, 3 incidents of it leading to problem solving = efficiency rating of 20% (3 incidents of problem solving out of 15 incidents of rumination) or 3 hr 20 mins of rumination to 1 problem solving action.

4 topics ruminated about, only 1 topic problem solved.

(Note that even the act of doing the recording is likely to lead to you doing more problem solving so your problem solving number might be higher).

Make an advance prediction:

Before you start, make a prediction of how much time you spend ruminating and your efficiency percentage. The goal of the exercise is to test how realistic your thoughts are about your rumination and perhaps give yourself some objective, personalized evidence that your rumination is not very useful for problem solving and how much time is available for thinking about something else.

Behavioral experiments have been shown to be highly effective in changing both thoughts and behavior.