Have you ever got stuck in your head, wondering ‘what if’, and ‘if only?’ Blaming yourself - or someone else - for what happened. Endlessly replaying the situation and unable to move on.
It’s called rumination, for a reason. A cow is known as a ruminant because of the four chambers in its stomach that allow it to digest grass. Derived from the Latin word, ruminare, meaning ‘to chew over again’, that cud-chewing process means cow breath often smells of moist grass that is starting to decompose. Human ruminating stinks just as much.
Rumination and reflection are two sides of the same coin. Whereas rumination is an anxious process of doubt, uncertainty and fear that goes round in endless circles, reflection builds insight and awareness generating forward momentum. Rumination leads to procrastination, while reflection propels into action. Reflection is useful. Rumination is not.
Reflection is open and curious, motivated by desire to improve self-awareness, and to learn from experience.
We are often advised to journal when life goes awry. Dumping thoughts on paper is a therapeutic purge, but rumination can happen there just as easily as in your head. If you do want to journal heartbreak or regret, then buy yourself a boring-looking book just for that. And buy a beautiful journal with gorgeous paper in which you only write looking forward.
A reader who says she’s not into journaling, asked about alternatives, so here are a few options.
Make snowballs: Write each regret on a piece of paper, screw it up and throw in bin, then write another, until they are all out. Burn or have a ceremonial shredding! Another version is writing squares of loo paper and flushing them…
Ask for couch time: Ask a friend or partner to just listen for a set time, with no questions or comments made. The only condition is that if you start wallowing in the past, they are to sound a loud buzzer to bring your focus back to the future.
List your lessons: On post-it notes or a wall chart, list what have you learned about yourself. Write only in the affirmative.
Ask and answer questions: Challenge yourself to come up with as many as possible. Quantity will breed quality here. You are looking for questions that will move you forward, such as, ‘What am I grateful for?’ ‘What would I do if I was brave?’ ‘What’s the best step I could take next?’ Or, my favourite, the Dan Sullivan question. ‘If I was writing this three years from today, and I was to look back over those three years, what has to have happened, both personally and professionally, for me to feel happy about my progress?’
Reflection is active, while rumination is stuck, and often the best way to get out of your head, can be to get into your body, so go for a run, a swim or a walk.
So, what’s your next step?
(HT to SM for this question)