My three young daughters are in day camp every weekday. They love it and I love it because it gives me the entire day to run my business and work on projects. Last week I had a deadline to meet; I needed to record meditations and podcasts for The Practice by Patricia Moreno and I was excited that I had blocked off an entire day to be able to give all my attention to this project.

Then, as we were getting the girls ready for camp, Stella started crying about an ear ache. We decided not to send her to camp and instead I took her to the doctor and found out she had strep throat. The entire morning I found myself constantly ruminating over how inconvenient this was. I felt my anxiety building because my plans for the entire day had changed… now what was I going to do?

Between waiting at the doctor’s office, waiting at the pharmacy and waiting for lunch, my anxiety continued to grow. I had to figure out a solution to meet my deadline instead of simply complaining about it and adding to the stress. I finally accepted that this was my day and that if I couldn’t get my work done during the day, I would simply stay up after everyone was in bed. After I was able to disengage from fruitless rumination, I began to relax and even get some work done.

When you are ruminating, you are replaying a problem over and over in your mind. Repetitively thinking about the the problem that is upsetting you and replaying the movie in your mind over and over is not productive. It causes you to feel guilt, shame, regret, anger and fear. If you simply ruminate about a problem and never focus on a solution, you keep yourself imprisoned in your own pity party.

When you take charge of your attention and train yourself to interrupt ruminative thought patterns, you will help yourself get out of self-sabotaging behaviors.

So what is the solution? Hit the mental gym.

Train yourself to disengage from ruminating and practice productive reflection: the process of looking at a past situation or experience, drawing lessons from it and creating a plan of action. Productive reflection leads to progress, brings about positive change and helps you build the mental muscle you need to consciously shift your attention away from fruitless rumination.

STEP 1: You notice that you are dwelling on the problem and replaying it over and over. Say “I am engaged in fruitless rumination. I am ready to move on”

STEP 2: Ask yourself:

– What lesson did I learn?

– What can I do differently next time?

– What step can I take now to make progress in that direction?

STEP 3: Take action.

Every time you interrupt fruitless rumination, you are developing the mental muscle to shift your attention. The more you practice moving into productive reflection, the more progress you will make and the less anxiety you will experience. If you endlessly punish yourself for every mistake you make, you will rob yourself of the opportunity to learn, develop and grow.

Where your attention goes, energy flows. Put your attention on the solution and you will continue to make progress and progress feels good.