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Rumination is a chain of thoughts

We perform a lot of behaviors in chains. Anything from putting on a shirt to riding a bicycle, playing the piano or driving are examples of behavioral chains. All major and joint behaviors are behavioral chains where every small, well performed partial behavior leads to reinforcement which triggers the next partial behavior.

Allow me to illustrate a behavioral chain with the vacuum-cleaning example. You vacuum the left corner (R1) and observe with pleasure how the dust bunnies disappear (C1), this proviedes the impulse (S2) for you to move the nozzle to the carpet to vacuum there (R2), and when you hear pebbles rattling in the tube (C2), you are pleased and know that (S3) it is now time to move the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner again.

S1 – R1 – C1/S2 – R2 – C2/S3 – R3 – C3/S4 – R4 – C4/S5 – R5 – C5/S6 – and so on

This formula illustrates how behavior analysis would transcribe such a chain. S is a starter for (R1) which gets is reinforcement (C1). This reinforcement also acts as the trigger (S2) for the next partial behavior (R2) whose reinforcement (C2) acts as the trigger for the next behavior (R3) and so on.

Let us now look at the behavioral chain in ruminating as a chain of behaviors. Ruminating consists of the two parts, the discomforting thoughts (R), and the comforting thoughts (C). The comforting thoughts act both as reinforcements for discomforting thoughts as well as a trigger for thinking the next discomforting thought (R2). Rumination is driven forward by the comforting thoughts.

At the same time that the comforting thought thwarts the discomfort that the discomforting thought brings, which is pleasant, it also triggers the next discomforting thought. The result becomes a behavioral chain, driven by the effort to thwart/ reduce or eliminate discomfort.

We now understand the dynamics of ruminating, but we still do not have an explanation as to why we feel so bad when we ruminate. The answer to this is conditioning.

This is an exerpt from the book Quit Ruminating and Brooding by Olle Wadström. Comments and discussions are encouraged.

The book is available in two similar versions. Please choose the green and black version. AuthorHouse (the white version) keep my legally earned royalty to themselves because of a self-imposed rule.

It Is Nice to Take Off Shoes That Are Too Small

cropped-Bild-23.jpgI had a friend who jokingly used to say: “I always buy shoes that are too small because it is so nice to take them off.” There is something in this joke. It resembles the motivation for ruminating and worrying. If you want to feel comfortable in that way, the only chance to do so is to put on shoes that are too small over and over. If you want to feel eased and comforted, the only chance is to first make sure that you have something that requires comforting. In order to experience a small part of the security that the comforting thoughts entail, you first need to feel discomfort.

The comforting thoughts reinforce the discomforting thoughts and make them return and multiply. It does not matter that the discomforting thoughts are painful and unpleasant when the reinforcement that follows just increases their number and variety.

Ruminations are driven by the shifting between the unpleasant thoughts and the comforting thoughts. The comforting thoughts reinforce the discomforting thoughts, which in turn increase in number.

Yet another piece of the puzzle needs to be added in order for us to understand how ruminations function, and it is about how chains of thoughts work.

This is an exerpt from the book Quit Ruminating and Brooding by Olle Wadström. Comments and discussions are encouraged.

The book is available in two similar versions. Please choose the green and black version. AuthorHouse (the white version) keep my legally earned royalty to themselves, because of a self-imposed rule.

What drives ruminations and broodings?

Why is it so hard to make the hurtful thoughts disappear, even though you really want them to? What is the reason that ruminations go on and on despite our efforts to quit? What mechanism makes it persist even though we do “everything” to rid ourselves of it? Most of us have, at one point or another during our lives, wanted to end our ruminations instantly.

In order to clarify what drives ruminations I have to describe the driving force of human behavior, namely “reinforcement.

Reinforcement

We know from behavioral psychology and behavioral analysis that volitionally/voluntary, controllable behaviors are driven by their reinforcers. Reinforcement is something that is experienced as a positive or pleasant consequence of a behavior, which in turns increases the frequency of the behavior. Reinforcement always follows the behavior which is reinforced and influences what will happen in the future.

This should be written accordingly:

S———————- R —————————- C

Starter        Reaction/Behavior           Consequence which is pleasant (=reinforcing)

The pleasant consequence (C) makes the behavior (R) increase. The behavior will be repeated and more often so due to the fact that it led to a positive or pleasant consequence (C).  If a child skips with a jump rope (R) and finds it amusing (C), the child will skip with a jump rope again. The behavior to skip with a jump rope is reinforced, and what happens is called reinforcement.

Premack’s principle

A researcher named David  Premack made an observation that came to be of major importance for the understanding of human behavior. He claimed that certain behaviors were self-reinforcing.

The activities that we choose to spend time on are the kind that are reinforcing in and of themselves. This means that these behaviors do not need any other reinforcement in order to be repeated or sustained. They are so pleasant and nice that they are their own reinforcements – we do certain things because they are fun.

Premack then thought that these self-reinforcing behaviors must be able to function as reinforcements for other, less pleasant behaviors, if they follow immediately after these. We recognize this as the grandma law, and we often apply it in our child rearing. We tell our children that they have to do their homework before they can play computer games. To play computer games is a self-reinforcing behavior which leads to homework being done faster while making it more fun to do, since doing homework leads to the fun computer gaming. As such, computer gaming reinforces doing homework.

A behavior that leads to a self-reinforcing behavior is reinforced, and is hence repeated and carried out more often. This is Premack’s principle.

starter                         Behavior                              Reinforcement

S ————————-  R ———————————–  C
starter                  cleaning one’s room               is allowed to play football

Pelle will clean his room more often because he knows that immediately afterwards, he will be allowed to play football. To play football reinforces the behavior to clean his room, since he enjoys playing football.

In the same way, a pleasant and comforting thought reinforces a preceding, discomforting thought. A liked behavior reinforces a less liked behavior.

S   —————————-    R      ———————————  C
starter              thinks a discomforting thought             thinks a comforting thought
If Pelle thinks painful, anxiety-provoking and discomforting thoughts (R), and immediately afterwards thinks calming/comforting thought (C), the discomforting thought (R) will be reinforced. The behavior of thinking calming comforting thoughts (C) will hence function as reinforcement for the discomforting thoughts (R), according to Premack’s principle. In behavioral therapeutic theory, this is the reason that makes it hard to quit ruminating.

You want to quit the painful, anxiety-provoking and worrying thoughts, but you do not wish to quit the comforting, calming and reassuring thoughts. This is part of the explanation to why it is so hard to get rid of discomforting thoughts.

This is an exerpt from the book Quit Ruminating and Brooding by Olle Wadström. Comments and discussions are encouraged.

The book is available in two similar versions. Please choose the green and black version. AuthorHouse (the white version) keep my legally earned royalty to themselves, because of a self-imposed rule.

Ruminating is the “tennis” of the brain – the internal argumentation

Ruminations can be likened to a game of tennis, where one side hits a frightening thought, and the calming side returns it with a comforting thought. Each time the “ball” comes over to the other side, it can be returned. The game can go on forever. Since we are intelligent beings, we keep finding new frightening aspects, or we get new irritating ideas, and find new comforting thoughts.

Ruminating is an internal dialogue, or discussion or debate.

Our ability to see new dangers leads to a never ending shift in the contents of ruminations, even if it is about the same subject or field.

Look at this example of how rumination can function. Let the tennis game begin.

Discomforting thoughts                   Comforting thoughts

  • What if the interest rate increases?
                                                        The interest rate has not increased for a 
                                                         year.
  • Sooner or later it is bound to increase. It has always been up and down. If it increases, our living costs will hit the ceiling and we will have to move.
                                                           No expert has talked about increased                                                                     interest rates recently.
  • In the thirties, the stock market crashed and interest rates increased overnight without people knowing about it ahead of time, because if they did, they would have sold their stock shares before the crash.
                                                            Economists are more competent now, so                                                              that could  not happen in such a surprising                                                           way these days.
  • But the monetary system is also more complicated now and, hence, more vulnerable. And if the interest rate increased by 2%, we might not be able to afford food. Then we will be forced to sell our house.                                                                                                We will be alright, one way or another.                                                                 We will get plenty of money for our house                                                             if we sold it now.
  • Then where would we move?
                                                                  There are plenty of apartments in                                                                           Olsberga.
  • In that case, the children will have to change schools, and they will lose all their friends.
                                                                  There are probably many teachers that                                                                  are better  out there, and the children                                                                    would not have as far to school.
  • They might get bullied.
                                                                    Why would they? They have always                                                                       been well liked and popular.

 

  • There are a lot of problems in Olsberga and my children might end up in a bad crowd and start smoking and drinking.
                                                                    Why would they do that all of a                                                                               sudden? That has not happened before.
  • If they do not make new friends, they might start hanging out with kids who do drugs.
                                                                   And so on.
  • And so on.

Ruminations can go on for a long time. There are really no boundaries for how long they might go on. Hereby, the intelligence and imagination of human beings become a burden.

This is an exerpt from the book Quit Ruminating and Brooding by Olle Wadström. Comments and discussions are encouraged.

The book is available in two similar versions. Please choose the green and black version. AuthorHouse (the white version) keep my legally earned royalty to themselves, because of a self-imposed rule.

Calming thoughts – comforting thoughts

The other type, the comforting thoughts calm, reassure, and provide clarity, certainty or comfort. In terms of content and function they are the opposite of discomforting thoughts. They temporarily decrease the amount of discomfort. Rather than frightening, these thoughts are used to find explanations, solutions, remedies, and counteractions to the danger, convincing evidence or ways out of the situation. These thoughts are pleasant and provide comfort.

Comforting thought belong to the category of behaviors referred to as “safety behaviors”. Safety behaviors are the behaviors which make us momentarily feel ease and comfort. Comforting thought are invisible safety behaviors which at least give a temporary pleasant and calming feeling.

A few examples of thoughts that comfort with calm, explanations and assuredness

If I did have cancer, the doctor would have noticed it at my last check-up.

Doctors are good at detecting cancer in people, so I can be calm.

I have passed all the previous exams, so why would I not pass this one?

I am not the biggest idiot in the group. Jocke often screws up.

He probably asked me about that because I knew something similar the last time we talked, not because I looked strange.

She probably likes me.

The boss did not look my way when he was complaining. Was that really a sneer? She was smiling at Kalle as well.

Nobody else gets AIDS from the door handle, so it should be safe for me as well.

Of course he loves me and the children otherwise he would have left us…

But I have never hit anyone with the car before, so why would I do it now?

The meaning of life is to serve God.

If I were going insane I would not be thinking like this. Those who are really insane do not realize it.

If I did hit anyone with my car, other drivers would have noticed the victim and taken them to a hospital.

Of course I am a good mother and worker, but everyone has a hard time making everything work all the time.

I never did anything to him, so why should he be mad at me?

A characteristic of comforting thoughts is that they always provide some comfort and some calm. The calming thoughts can be logical, but they can also be unrealistic fantasies and pure wishful thinking. You think about how things might go or how they could have went. They can be fantasies of sort, or daydreams that give some temporary feelings of well-being in a situation that is perhaps hopeless or unsolvable.

I hope that mean idiot dies.

They will soon find out what type of person he is, and then they will regret not giving that job to me.

If I win a million, then I will…

A characteristic of comforting thoughts is that they at least give some temporary comfort or feel somewhat calming at the moment.

This is an exerpt from the book Quit Ruminating and Brooding by Olle Wadstrom. Comments and discussions are encouraged.

The book is available in two similar versions. Please choose the green and black version. AuthorHouse (the white version) keep my legally earned royalty to themselves, because of a self-imposed rule.

The fight between discomforting and comforting thoughts

Discomforting or intrusive thoughts can have varying appearances and contents. They can evoke discomfort by frightening and worrying us, they can lead to anxiety, irritate, provoke, confound us, make us insecure, and they can make us feel hurt, wronged or insulted. Many people think in terms of images or scenarios, which does not make any difference for our line of reasoning.

The thoughts that evoke discomfort can have many different types of content. Their common denominator is that they evoke uneasiness and discomfort, more or less automatically. In the case of OCD, discomforting thoughts are also referred to as “emotion-thoughts”.

Below are a few examples of discomforting thoughts:

Catastrophic thoughts

What if I fail my exam!

Am I going insane?

Mother might die.

I am surely going to get fired now.

The kids might get hit by a car when they are walking to school.

What was that look that she gave to Nisse when I protested?

What if I have cancer?

Does he mind me speaking, since he looked at me that way?

They can tell that I am nervous.

What if I do not find anyone to share my life with?

Doubt and insecurity thoughts

I wonder what he meant by asking me about this?

Did I hit someone when I was driving in the dark?

Was she sneering at me when I was speaking?

What if I forgot to lock the door?

Did I do the wrong thing when I…?

Does he not love me anymore?

Existential insecurity

What is the meaning of life?

Is there a God?

Has my life been in vain?

Will life never be more than this?

What happens after death?

Am I wasting my life?

Self-accusation thoughts

Maybe I hurt her when I said that I did not want to?

They probably did not understand what I meant. What if something goes wrong because of me, and they get hurt?

Did he really understand what I meant?

What if she thought that I was negative and criticizing when I said…?

I wonder if he resented that?

Is Pelle sad because I said that?

How could I be so stupid that I…?

I am a bad mother and I do not have time for the things I need to do at work either.

Comparing thoughts (along with jealousy thoughts)

Which car is the best, and which one should I choose?

Should I really get a new job?

They probably just think that I am a dork. They despise me.

I am not as good as they are.

She does not love me as much as I love her.

She is always better than me.

I am always the worst.

He is much smarter than me.

Other people always get the best, while I always get the worst.

Why is he just looking at her?

A characteristic of the discomforting thoughts is that they trigger a feeling of worry, uneasiness, doubt, or some other unpleasant feeling.

This is an exerpt from the book Quit Ruminating and Brooding by Olle Wadstrom. Comments and discussions are encouraged.

The book is available in two similar versions. Please choose the green and black version. AuthorHouse (the white version) keep my legally earned royalty to themselves, because of a self-imposed rule.

Rumination is a behavior stream

cropped-Bild-23.jpgRuminating is not really one behavior, but rather a stream of many behaviors. It is a stream of thoughts. The rumination-stream does not consist of the same thoughts repeating themselves, but rather it consists of two types of thoughts. Two types which each have their own different function.

Behavior analysis is the understanding of the function of different behaviors. One behavior can have different functions, depending on different situations. Different behaviors may have the same function, even though they differ starkly. In order to understand a behavior’s function or purpose, it is essential to see it its context. If you do not understand the function of a behavior, you might treat it improperly. Thoughts are also behaviors, which can have different functions.

Our feelings are affected by external and internal factors. We might get upset, angry, and frightened by things that we hear and see, but also by things that we think. In the same manner, we can be calmed by things we see, hear, and think.

Thoughts in ruminations have two different functions. One kind of thoughts leads to anxiety, insecurity, or discomfort and these thoughts function as frighteners or “triggers”. The other type of thoughts functions as calmers, reassurers, or comforters, also called safety-behaviors.

Thoughts that lead to concern, frighten, lead to uneasiness, anxiety or discomfort in general will henceforth be referred to as “discomforting thoughts”. Thoughts that function as safety-behaviors that are used to rid uncertainty, insecurity, concerns, feelings of discomfort and doubt, will henceforth be referred to as “comforting thoughts”.

This is an exerpt from the book Quit Ruminating and Brooding by Olle Wadstrom. Comments and discussions are encouraged.

What are rumination and brooding

Ruminating is thought-behaviors – cognitive behaviors. The typical rumination is a type of internal struggle, an internal discussion where a person in his or her mind considers the possibilities to affect, alter, predict, understand, and prepare for something. Sometimes the problem being ruminated upon is not solvable through either thoughts or actions.

 

It is possible to control and affect thoughts, something that might be hard to believe for someone who suffers from a lot of ruminating. It feels as if you cannot quit ruminating, even if you really want to. Ruminating has a tendency to return, time and again. Yet the fact remains that we can control both our external actions (the motor behavior) as well as our thoughts (the cognitive behavior). The difference between controlling our actions and controlling our thought can be described accordingly.

We can decide between raising our right arm or not moving it at all. We can decide between speaking or being silent. Motor behaviors are under our absolute control, with the exceptions of reflexes and tics.

When it comes to thinking, the situation is slightly different. We can decide on thinking about a certain thing, but we cannot decide on not thinking at all. However hard we try, we will always be thinking about something. Thus, we cannot restrain ourselves from thinking in the same manner that we can restrain ourselves from moving. This is one of the problems with ruminating. We think during all of our waking time. It is also hard to not think about a certain thing, since we are constantly thinking, and it is easy to skip from one thought to another.

It has been proven difficult – indeed impossible – to decide on not thinking on, for example “a blue elephant”. Indeed, as soon as you try to not think about the blue elephant, a blue elephant appears. This is because when you try to keep track of what to not think about, you automatically think about it.

This is an exerpt from the book Quit Ruminating and Brooding by Olle Wadstrom. Comments and discussions are encouraged.

The book is available in two similar versions. Please choose the green and black version. AuthorHouse (the white version) keep my legally earned royalty to themselves, because of a self-imposed rule.

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