If you grew up on a farm, regularly interact with farm animals, or have heard the phrase “chew the cud” you may know what I’m referencing.
Animals such as cows, sheep's, and goats are some animals that commonly do this.
I’ll spare you the exact details about the total process and share partially what takes place. Chewing the cud is a repetitive chewing and swallowing of the same food.
Chew chew chew - swallow - chew chew chew - swallow - chew chew chew...
The food eventually breaks down and the animal allows it to move on and complete the digestive process..
The animal may repeat the process many times over. The good thing is they move on.
What many humans have in common with that process is a similar thinking pattern.
Many individuals find themselves manufacturing a thought and then fixating on the thought over and over and over.
Think think think - sadness - think think think - lonely - think think think...
One of the terms commonly used is “ruminating.”
Ruminating occurs when a thought is repeated over and over. The mind becomes focused on one emerging thought and it can feel like it won’t go away. It can become consuming.
Ruminating is not necessarily “bad.” It can become a concern when it overwhelms our mind and begins to disproportionately interrupt thinking patterns and behavior.
How often do you chew the cud?
We can develop the mental muscle to exacerbate the pattern by repeatedly engaging the thoughts from external/internal sources over and over.
Or, an alternative involves spending some time at the mental gym and developing the ability to flex our mental muscle to allow unproductive thoughts to move on.
Activities and sources that “feed” our mind and lend to chewing the cud involve..
- Search Engines
- Social media
- Chat forums
- News outlets
- Talk radio
As you can see the opportunity to chew the cud is everywhere. It is challenging to navigate the influences we can be exposed to.
Let me offer a few ways you can visit the mental gym and practice building healthy mental muscles. Try these exercises next time you begin to chew the cud:
In the moment, you can do some quick warm up exercises by shifting your thinking from the thought to an object.
- Physically engage with an object. Grab a rock and focus your attention on feeling the contours, the sharp points, the smooth parts, the weight, the smell, squeeze it, taste it, etc.
Another, quick rep, strategy is to incorporate some bands into your workout.
- Rubber bands! While rubber bands may not be stylish aesthetically they can be effective drawing our attention away from an intrusive thought.
- Wear one or two rubber bands on your wrist and next time a thought pops up and you are challenged to shake it off, pull on one or both of the rubber bands to snap your attention away from the thought and shift the focus to your wrist.
Disclaimer - this suggestion isn’t intended to direct “self harm” as a way to distract yourself. Rather a subtle snap is all you need.
If you like a workout partner then use them to your advantage.
- Next time an unhealthy thought crosses your mind, shift your attention to helping them.
- Helping someone else is a foundational exercise that works wonders!
For more challenging mental gym exercises you may consider building your self-talk “challenge” muscles.
- To do that, you will focus your efforts on developing the ability to challenge unfounded thoughts by:
- Identifying fact-based evidence...
- Considering alternatives...
- Analyze implications...
- Asking yourself how useful is this?
These self-talk exercises take time to develop and might even be further developed with a workout partner or trainer.
A partner or trainer can help practice the new moves, spot you when the exercises become challenging, provide feedback, and motivate you to push through when you might want to stop...
While chewing the cud is not an unhealthy thing, it can be unproductive.
If the cud you chew on involves “junk food” thoughts then you’re not going to get the results you want.
Rather, fuel your mental muscle with healthy nutritious thoughts and beliefs!