- Rumination: the art of going round in circles, replaying events, ‘mis-remembering’ or imagining yourself responding in the way that you wish you had, making yourself a victim or a hero (or a smart Alec). Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
o Value: Great vehicle for beating yourself up or for constantly seeking to over- justify your own behaviour.
o Risk: Can be addictive.
o Impact: Loss of sleep, good humour and mental well-being.
- Reflection: the practice of thinking deeply about something that’s happened and seeking to learn from it through curiosity, honesty, empathy towards others and oneself.
o Value: Compassion and understanding for self and others.
o Risk: Can be addictive.
o Impact: Learning, behavioural adjustment and relative peace.
No, these aren’t dictionary definitions as they’re both defined as ‘thinking deeply about something’ (Oxford Dictionary). Be that as it may, our practice of them is very different. More importantly, the impact of each is a polar opposite of the other.
I frequently hear clients using the word ‘reflection’ when they’re actually practising ‘rumination’ and experiencing the consequences of the latter. The practice of reflecting is constructive, rumination is destructive. To move from rumination to reflection:
- Catch yourself in the act of rumination and stop it. Right there. It almost doesn’t matter how you stop it, just stop it. Do some mindfulness, read a book, watch a film, pick up the phone and ask someone how they’re doing and listen to them. Stop. It. It might help to witness the comedy classic of Bob Newhart on the same theme – it might make you smile ‘in the moment’ too! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw
- Instead, choose to practise reflection. There are plenty of ways to do this and one that – thanks to Belinda Kiely – I use is as follows:
o Divide a sheet of blank paper into three columns.
o In column one, note down whatever you recall of what was said and done.
o In column two, note your own responses.
o In column three, note the questions or insights that occur to you as you write or you were aware of during the session. Keep going until you have worked through the whole event – don’t stop to think about what any of it means.
o Once completed, go back over it, taking time to reflect on what you’ve noted. Maybe use a different colour pen to add comments, extra insights and more questions for you to think about.
o Finally, go through your notes again and consider what actions you want to take as a result of your reflections.
I’m as prone to rumination as the next person and can tell myself that I haven’t the time to reflect….even whilst I’m finding enormous amounts of time to ruminate! And when I choose reflection over rumination I feel energised. Which will you choose?