Recently I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people who are dwelling on challenges and hardships from their past that they are allowing to taint their current situation.

This got me to thinking about the topic of ruminating, defined, for our purposes, as thinking deeply and repeatedly for an extended period of time about unhealthy topics, such as grudges, resentments, challenging situations, negative thoughts, worries, etc.

If you’re a ruminator on unhealthy topics, it’s time for a healthy change. 

Here’s why.

According to a study in the Alzheimer’s & Dementia journal, researchers determined that not only does ruminating on grudges, resentments and negative thoughts cause a pessimistic mood, it’s been linked to decline in cognition and memory in people over 55 years of age.

This week, I watched Oprah interview Harvard Business School professor, author and one of my new favorite human beings, Dr. Arthur Brooks on the topics of renewal, success, happiness and purpose.

He shared Harvard University’s massive study that tracked 84 years of data stemming from following a diverse group of men and women of different social status, race, religions and stages of life from 18 years of age and older until they died.

The researchers took a close look at the elderly people in the study who were happy and healthy in their later years. Specifically, they looked at the habits the elderly people had in their 20’s and 30’s that contributed to being happy and healthy as they aged.

They distilled the research down to 7 habits that led to being, and aging, happy and healthy.

A Joan Jakel collage art in the background with the 7 habits to live a happy and healthy life: don't smoke, don't drink to excess, don't eat to excess, reasonable exerice learn how to effectively deal with life's problems, lifelong learning and happiness is love - develop real connected relationships

Of of the seven habits, Dr. Brooks most strongly emphasized the number 1 factor:

Happy and healthy people learned how to successfully deal with life’s problems – they did not ruminate on them.

Conversely, he shared that those who ruminated on their worries, anxieties, anger, sadness, etc., were not only unhappy, they died at a younger age.  According to Dr. Brooks, ruminating on life’s problems is the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day!

Ruminating on the negative robs us of a vital life forceit robs us of our peace and happiness.


It quite literally ruins our mood, creates an unhealthy mind and steals years from our life.

On the one hand, this is very bleak news for unhealthy ruminators.   On the other hand, the one I focus on, the good news is you can change your behavior with focused effort and genuine desire. And I want to emphasize “GENUINE desire.”  You cannot pay lip service to this endeavor.

You must have a genuine desire to shift how you process life or you will remain entrenched in habit. In this case, a bad habit that doesn’t serve you or the people in your life.  I’m keeping it real – there’s no sugar coating when it comes to living a fulfilling, happy, healthy life.

So, how do you stop ruminating on unhealthy topics?

First, you make a choice.


You are responsible for your life.  You get to choose what plays in your mind.  You choose to focus on the best things in your life and refuse to go back to the worst. And you make this choice in each and every moment. Think of it as an exercise that you repeat, just like the reps of a workout in the weight room, until it becomes easier and a healthy habit.

Second, examine your life philosophies.


What do I mean by that?  Do you believe life is here to support you or make you suffer and endure hardship?

My life philosophy is life is happening FOR me, not TO me.

Everything that happens in my life is to support me, my highest good and my growth.  When something happens that I don’t like, is uncomfortable or undesirable, I get to lean in, get curious and ask what this lesson is here to teach me.  Without fail, growth is on the other side.

Trust the Mess

Let’s look at some real-world examples. 

Over the 25 years that I’ve been advising entrepreneurs, I’ve lost count of the number of clients who started their business after they were fired from their jobs. 

At the time, the termination was tough, scary and felt like a threat.  It felt like life was happening “to” them and being cruel, unfair and they didn’t deserve it.  

However, because they lost their job, they then took the chance on themselves and set up their own business or transitioned to a new role or career that totally served them.  Some of these individuals have created 7 figure businesses that they would not have started if they weren’t forced out of their jobs.  

In the words of a client, being laid off “kick-started this amazing chapter of life.” 

From this vantage point, losing their jobs was life happening FOR the individuals to push them into creating an opportunity they would not have taken on their own.  It nudged them to step more powerfully into their lives and create their own business, or find a better serving employment position, using all of their skills, gifts and talents. 

Imagine how different the experience of life is when you view life as supporting you regardless of what the circumstances look like.  You can experience the discomfort, but eliminate the fear as you learn to trust life and lean in to learn the lesson and achieve growth on the other side.

Third, look around you for role models who successfully deal with challenges and setbacks and rise above them rather than dwell on them


The reality is every single one of us is going to deal with situations that challenge us because it’s how we grow. 

a blackboard with white chalk writing that says Your Mindset Matters

Learn from those who have mastered overcoming challenges to learn, grow and excel at creating a fulfilling life.

Tyler Perry is one of my favs.  From living in his car to becoming a billionaire following his passion to give form to his art and significantly impacting lives in the process.

There are countless examples.

If you need some help finding inspiration, check out On the Road with Steve Hartman. I guarantee you that he will give you countless sources of inspiration on overcoming adversity from people who could easily succumb to ruminating on the hands they were dealt. Check out his Facebook Page or his YouTube channel 

Fourth – Helpful Blog Posts

Here is a round up of some of my recent popular blog articles filled with education, resources, tips and tools to help you navigate life – click each link to access the article:

Powerful Morning Routines in 60 Seconds

How to Move from Stuck to Thriving with One Exercise

8 Powerful Steps to Navigate Change

The Key Ingredient to Achieving Your Goals & 4 Steps to Implement

5 Steps to Inner Reflection, Reinvention and Recalibration

How Failure, Courage and Kindness Lead to Success

How to Create Victories Worth Celebrating

The Number One Secret to Build a Better Life

The Importance of Serving Your Dream

7 Simple Steps to Snap out of a Bad Day

Fifth, if your struggle is more than you can handle, get help.


  • Find a therapist, a personal development coach, a mentor.
  • Take personal development classes.
  • Read personal development books.
  • Subscribe to supportive newsletters.
  • Join support groups.
  • Reach out to your friends.

Remember – making healthy choices is a daily practice. It takes commitment, discipline, self-compassion, self-acceptance, self-love.

It requires an unrelenting monitoring of your mind to keep it as supportive as possible. 

It’s a marathon and not a sprint.

It’s moment by moment, day by day, week by week…

Cherish your precious brain space!

Choose your thoughts, words and actions in alignment to support your longevity, health and happiness.

You’ve got this!

I believe in you!


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Joan Jakel

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