When it comes to breakups, broken hearts get all the credit. But it’s our minds that wind up going through the most significant torture. Anyone who has ever checked their ex’s social media multiple times a day, wondering why he or she suddenly decided to get in shape after you broke up, knows what I’m talking about. We often end up in a vicious cycle, looking for answers that may not exist while wracking our brains with obsessive thoughts that prevent us from moving forward.
And, as you may know, giving into these negative thoughts only makes things worse. The more you think about an ex, the harder it is to stop thinking about them, thus delaying the time it takes to move on. “We create mental pathways, and like anything, the more you think about it, the more it goes from a footpath to a freeway.” says Susan Winter, a relationship expert and author of Allowing Magnificence. “It becomes established.”
However, the opposite is also true. “The less we think those thoughts, the less we visit that memory and it begins to wither away,” Winter explains. Because of this, the best way to nurse a broken heart isn’t with a box of chocolate or by binge-watching sappy TV, but by refocusing your brain. Experts suggest you catch any negative or ex-related thoughts and channel them into something more positive.
So, here, Winter shares tips on how to retrain your brain after the worst of breakups. Remember, even though it sounds cliché, things really will get better—especially if you’re kind to yourself.
Cut off contact
The “no-contact” rule may suck, but it works. “The external act of no contact is supposed to break the trigger of thinking about them,” says Winter. “If you see their face, or if you look for them, or if you hear their voice, you’ll go back into the loop.” This loop keeps you stuck in the past, obsessing about unresolved issues and looking for answers that may not exist instead of moving forward. Go ahead and delete your ex from your contact list and hit “block” on Instagram—you know your fingers have been hovering over the button for weeks anyway.
Be cognizant of our thoughts
Awareness is key, says Winter: “We have to catch ourselves the moment we think about our ex, because the moment we think about them, we’re reentering the past.” The best way to drive your thoughts away from your ex is to occupy your mind with something that’s rewarding. “You have to be aware and consciously say ‘no’ to negative thinking. You have to reroute your thinking and put it someplace else—any place else,” says Winter. Meditation is a great way to become more aware of what’s going on in your mind, and journaling can help you move on from any thoughts that you’re stuck on. Or, when you catch your thoughts turning dark, blast some music and go for a walk.
If you’re spending all your time thinking about your ex, chances are, you aren’t spending enough time focusing on yourself. “Self-awareness—being gentle and kind and good to yourself—is important,” says Winter. Take the weeks (or months) post-breakup as an excuse to be selfish (ideally with an indulgent spa day or spontaneous girls’ weekend) and give your confidence a chance to reset.
Just do it
Though at first it may feel impossible to get your mind out of the loop, it is ultimately in your control. “It’s like the old Nike slogan” says Winter. “Just do it.” Train yourself to catch the negative or obsessive thoughts as they come, and then do something to distract yourself or shift them to a more positive, forward-thinking track.