One Word That Stops Ruminating on the Future

Fear not, there's a way to gain independence from worry and rumination.

Posted Feb 20, 2020

Did you misplace your crystal ball? Maybe you noticed that yours stopped working years ago. And yet humans keep trying in vain to predict and maintain control over situations, our lives, and the future, devoting hours and hours to trying to control and manage a future that has not yet arrived. 

There's just one big problem with trying to get control over things and predict the future: The more that you fear uncertainty and worry over things you can't control, the more constricted, tight, and defensive you feel about those things. If you've ruminated over things that can't be known, then you understand what this feels like. Fortunately, there is another approach that can help you gain independence from future worry and rumination. 

Free Digital Photos
You can lose the crystal ball.
Source: Free Digital Photos

An article from the American Psychological Association summarized one of the key benefits of mindfulness as "reduced rumination." In fact, they found several psychological and interpersonal benefits. 

Two areas where it helped in daily living were "less emotional reactivity" and "more cognitive flexibility." In other words, mindfulness helped individuals get less upset at those things they couldn't change or control. Because of this, they were better able to respond to the present moment more effectively.

This really goes to the heart of mindfulness practice, which is the "one word for stopping rumination" that is mentioned in the headline. That word? Radical acceptance. Okay, maybe that's two words, but it's still acceptance. Let's take a little deeper dive into what mindful acceptance is and how it can quickly wilt thoughts and feelings related to rumination and depression

Spoiler Alert: What I'm about to say next may sound counterintuitive, but here it goes:

Why not consider uncertainty about the future as an unopened gift that awaits you? Unwrap it, without expectation, so as to find the unique, precious, and unfolding moment within.

This is radical acceptance in the sense that most of us are used to fighting with the unknown and uncontrollable aspects of our lives. Acceptance in this context means you stop trying to resist or reject those things that are outside of the ego's control. Basically, this lets us be okay with the knowledge that things aren't necessarily going to go our way. There will always be glitches, or ups and downs, so to speak. 

Bear in mind that this approach isn't saying that you're giving up, submitting, or relinquishing your effort and will power. You can still do what you feel necessary and important, but without the driving emotional charge of needing, demanding, expecting, or forcing things to go your way. That kind of un-acceptance has negative costs, and it can become an abusive way of acting towards others. 

As I wrote in my book 101 Mindful Ways to Build Resilience: "Uncertainty is the keystone of life. The truth is this: No one can purchase or own the future."

Acceptance: A 5-Step Practice

What follows below is a very simple practice for resting your weary mind in acceptance of what is, instead of spinning wearily in the what-if.  Ideally, wait until you are outside in the presence of nature—although you could do this anywhere as long as you are not interrupted for about five minutes. 

  • Step 1.   Take three soothing breathes. Imagine inhaling the fresh moment and exhaling what you cannot control. 
  • Step 2.   Sit with your need for certainty. Notice the future outcome that you are strongly attached to. (This might be the need to know what your life might look like after a divorce or needing to know about a career direction.) Now ask yourself: How strong is my need to know? What would it be like for me to let this go, even for a minute?
  • Step 3.   Gaze into the sky and surrender your worries for one minute. Look up at the horizon, as far as you can. Give up your worries to something wiser and larger than yourself—nature, Goddess, God, the divine, the mystery, or whatever name you would use (or perhaps no name at all). 
  • Step 4.   Rest the weary, controlling mind for one minute. To rest the controlling mind, redirect your awareness to this present moment. Just be at rest, appreciating the gift of here and now. Notice every little, precious ordinary thing that is around you. 
  • Step 5.   Notice if nature speaks to you. Just as there is a season for planting, nurturing, growing, harvesting, and pausing, see how an understanding of your own personal season can bring a sense of peace and acceptance with your situation. Know that it's okay not to know.