What do you call it when your mind starts examining things automatically because of being exposed to these things in the past. This is not intentional thinking nor wandering but rather an automatic response in your mind

John has quiet time at home and wants to just relax, but he can't stop his mind ... the events of the day.

Using Reflect and Review make the thinking seem voluntary when I am trying to convey the involuntary aspect of it.


10 Answers 10


Consider: Ruminate.

"...he can't stop his mind from ruminating over the events of the day."

The definitions I've found ("Think deeply about a subject or question over a period of time") don't capture how this word is usually used. The definitions I've found miss the connotation that rumination is not intentional, and in fact happens in an obsessive way despite attempts to think of something else.

This article gives a better definition, and shows how the word is used in context you describe in your example: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/01/20/why-ruminating-is-unhealthy-and-how-to-stop/

"Ruminants" are a class of animals that chew their cud. The psychological meaning comes from the metaphorical similarity, where you play your thoughts over and over in the same way ruminants chew their cud over and over. See the "Other Uses" section of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruminant.


As others have said, there is no direct match for what you're asking. However, in the specific scenario presented, I would say:

John has some quiet time at home and wants to just relax, but he can't stop his mind from replaying the events of the day.

  • In the context I want to use the mind is also interpreting and trying to rationalize the events not just playing a recording of the past event. That's why I though a word like regurgitate or review (input->output) is better than replaying
    – dfmetro
    Oct 26, 2016 at 12:17
  • @devc2: Replaying works perfectly for that IMO, despite appearances. Anything the brain "does" is interpretation and rationalization so, if it's the brain doing the replaying (which it is), you're covered. Oct 26, 2016 at 14:32

The word you are looking for might be 'reminisce' which means

Indulge in enjoyable recollection of past events. ‘they reminisced about their summers abroad

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

  • Welcome to English Language and Usage. Please try to follow this format with reference and source when you post an answer next time. Good luck.
    – user140086
    Oct 25, 2016 at 6:30
  • 2
    'Reminiscence' is defined as 'enjoyable', but the questioner seems to be thinking of an uncomfortable compulsion to review the events of the day. I can only think of "...he can't stop his mind going over the events..." Oct 25, 2016 at 9:10
  • You are correct Kate. Reminiscence is voluntary reflection. I'm looking for a word that is rather involuntary.
    – dfmetro
    Oct 25, 2016 at 9:41
  • Reminiscing from the very day just past would be strange. The word has a more historical connotation to it, as well as a specifically positive and deliberate one. Oct 25, 2016 at 13:00

This isn't a single word, but I'd probably write that John "can't stop his mind from running over the events of the day." "Going over" also works, though it sounds slightly more voluntary to me than "running over."

Based on the tone of the example, I also thought of "perseverate," a technical term from psychology meaning to get involuntarily stuck on the same compulsive thought pattern or behavior (source: New Oxford American Dictionary and my experience working at a nonprofit for teens and adults on the autism spectrum, where we use the word daily). "Perseverate" probably isn't a good choice for you, however, because a) it's jargon, b) it applies equally to behavior as well as to thoughts, and c) it applies only to repetitive, compulsive thoughts. Also, while perseverative thinking is often associated with anxiety, it doesn't have to be, and anxiety seemed central to what you were looking for.


The word that first came to my mind was:


live through (an experience or feeling, especially an unpleasant one) again in one's imagination or memory. "he broke down sobbing as he relived the attack"


"...can't stop his mind reviewing the events of the day".

Review: (verb) To review means to look back over something for evaluation or memory. (vocabulary.com)


Words that can fit


verb (used with object)

2. to cause to surge or rush back; vomit.

3. to give back or repeat, especially something not fully understood or assimilated:


  1. take in and understand fully (information or ideas). "Marie tried to assimilate the week's events"

  2. (of the body or any biological system) absorb and digest (food or nutrients). "the sugars in the fruit are readily assimilated by the body"


A flashback is an intense example of this. When a person has a flashback, they involuntarily re-experience a moment from their past, sometimes in such great detail that they don't realize it's only in their head.

The experience is typically triggered by a familiar or related sensation, e.g. smelling a peculiar odor that was present at the time the memory was formed.

A true flashback is normally only symptomatic of disorders like PTSD, or facilitated by psychoactive substances like LSD. However, if you interrupt someone who appears lost in thought, they might make the casual excuse that they were "flashing back" in response to a familiar song or some other nostalgic stimulus. Their exaggeration alludes to the tendency for a flashback to remove a person's attention from reality, as theirs appeared to have been.


There is not a single word in existence that describes this action of the mind. Automatic reflection may be a useful description.


John has quiet time at home and wants to just relax, but he can't stop his mind recalling the events of the day.

  • recalling: remembering, recollecting

John has quiet time at home and wants to just relax, but he can't stop his mind recapitulating the events of the day.

  • recapitulating: repeating, summarizing

John has quiet time at home and wants to just relax, but he can't stop his mind replaying the events of the day.

  • replaying: repeating (something, especially an event or sequence of events).

she replayed in her mind every detail of the night before

The closest thing to an involuntary memory that I can think of is deja vu, which although I think of it as a noun, oddly has no classification as any part of speech, in either my home dictionary or anything I've seen online.

  1. Webster's New 20th Century Dictionary, unabridged, c1959; 2. online google dictionary

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.