What happens after you have a fight with your partner, a friend or family member, or a not-so-great interaction at work?
Do you find yourself thinking about it over and over again?
If you’re nodding your head yes, know you are not alone.
Replaying difficult or painful situations is a very human thing to do and we have all done this at some point in our lives.
That said, endlessly ruminating about what you should have said or done differently and re-living the negative experiences and emotions can be a real energy drain. It can also compromise your ability to learn, grow and heal.
Without the right focus or intention, keeping these kinds of thoughts on repeat in your mind is not productive. Rumination is a stress and negativity amplifier and can lend itself to depression, anxiety, insecurity, and even contribute to memory bias over time.
In this week’s episode, I’m sharing 3 steps to help you replace rumination with mindful self-reflection so you can learn from your past experiences and stop beating yourself up!
First, let’s establish the difference between rumination and self-reflection.
When you have ruminating thoughts, you are stuck in a circular thought pattern about past negative or painful experiences. For example: re-living a breakup conversation repeatedly and feeling all those crappy feelings repeatedly.
Rumination has a compulsive quality. The memories can be intrusive and at times it can feel like your mind won’t stop replaying what happened. It can also be characterized by an obsessive longing to have made different choices and berating yourself for the choices you did make or blaming the other person.
In contrast, emotional or mental self-reflection is reviewing an experience as a non-judgmental observer to seek information and gain self-knowledge and learn something that can empower you to make better choices next time. Self-reflection is purpose-oriented. When you are able to process your experiences with purpose, you gain a deeper understanding of self as well as valuable insight into how you can continue to improve in the future.
The capacity for self-reflection is one of our superpowers as human beings and is one of the keys to living an awakened, empowered life. Years ago, when I began studying with Deepak Chopra, he talked about becoming an observer of your thoughts without judgment. In his estimation, this kind of self-reflection is the highest level of self-evolution.
Becoming an observer with a goal to understand is almost like looking at yourself, your experiences, and your thoughts from a third-person perspective with the express desire for a deeper understanding of why you responded or reacted the way you did, but without self-judgment.
This is definitely different than thinking, “Oh, what a jerk Bob was,” or, “I’m such an idiot, I should have said something,” as you review past problematic interactions. Observing yourself in this way allows you to gather data to give you the power to change the repeated patterns that are causing pain in your life.
What the studies¹ on rumination vs self-reflection reveals is people who practice reviewing past negative experiences while “self-distancing” (or taking an observer’s perspective) experience less anger, less sadness, gain more insight, and a greater sense of closure.
Awareness is the first step to changing anything and non-judgmental observation is really about you having loving compassion for yourself.
If ruminating is something that’s happening in your life more often than you’d like it to, know that it is possible for you to begin to shift into self-reflection instead.
When you can practice coming from your observational mind as you reflect, you stop reliving and re-experiencing humiliation, embarrassment, and shame (which all, by the way, blocks our ability to problem-solve effectively).
Over time, your resilience will build and you come into a place of self-acceptance. We all make mistakes in life, but if we’re stuck in an endless cycle of blame and shame internally, we’re missing one of the biggest opportunities for personal transformation and growth!
What can you do to stop the endless rumination? These 3 steps are a good place to start:
Step 1. Take Inventory
The first step is to identify the most common situations in which, after the fact, you are most vulnerable to ruminating behavior. What circumstances in your life tend to kick it up the most?
Step 2. Identify Ruminating in the Moment
Just like any ingrained behavior, we might not realize how often we are repeating patterns until we are down the rabbit hole. When you can raise your awareness in the moment, you can interrupt that interrupt and choose to take a different action.
If you can dial in to how you are feeling physically, you can learn to recognize the physical sensations of ruminating.
It could be a tightness or heaviness in your chest, a constriction in your throat, or heat flooding your face. In that moment, do a scan of your thoughts. If you’ve been thinking the same thing in the exact same way for the last 10 or more minutes, without problem-solving or observing, it’s time to take a different action.
Step 3. Process Your Experiences as an Observer
An easy way to think about processing as an observer is to imagine you are watching a movie of your negative interaction. See yourself and anyone else in the memory with an express desire to understand yourself and your own reactions and responses.
Problem-solving with the aid of self-reflection takes time, but the more you mindfully choose the way in which you process your experiences, the more effective your problem-solving skillset will be!
Inside the guide, I’ve included some questions to boost your processing and problem-solving skills, so be sure to grab it right here.
We are all human and we all make mistakes. Positive growth is a journey and it doesn’t mean we have to be perfect all the time. Try to give yourself some grace and look at your experiences and choices from the point of view of good, better, best as opposed to striving for perfection.
Making changes to an ingrained mindset like rumination will require your attention and your intention, but I promise you, you can do it! Let me know how this process works for you. I would love to hear about your experience. Drop me a comment here or you can always tag me on Instagram @terricole .
Thank you for caring about your mental health, your wellness, and your personal evolution, and as always take care of you.