Do you ever feel like you just can't let go? Can't let go of that feeling of betrayal, that dream that has eluded you, the job you didn't get, the friend who turned out to be less than (the list goes on).
We don't often think about the word "rumination" or its difference from "reflection," but there IS a big difference! And how we choose to view, process, and move beyond emotional challenges (or not) that cross our path sets the tone for how we handle future challenges and decision making.
At its best, rumination is a compulsion, and at its worse an addiction. When we repetitively think about the causes, decisions and potential consequences of an experience that's creating anxiety, pain, or distress in our life, we can find ourselves in a spiral of negativity and angst.
Don't get me wrong. Self-reflection is healthy, and helps us make more conscious choices in the future. But the reason we stay stuck in the past is often because we haven't given ourselves permission to let go of the self-blame involved in the situation. But if we truly are sorry AND would make a different choice, a more conscious choice, then it's time to forgive ourselves. And in that forgiving, we free ourselves from the tether to the quicksand of the past.
Moving from Rumination to Reflection
We can break free from the toxic rumination cycle by introducing a pattern interrupt - essentially, a break in the negative, learned behavior. Use these steps:
- Realize that you are ruminating. This naturally comes with the development of our emotional intelligence - recognizing the emotions we are feeling and those that others may be feeling as well.
- Change your vocabulary. So when you are sad, for example, reflect on the spectrum of emotions. Start by saying, "I am not my emotions. I have emotions." And then place your hand on your heart, close your eyes, and ask, "What am I feeling right now?" Let answers flow and allow the sensation to go deep. As you begin the process nothing may come. That's OK. Continue to sit with it and ask the question. At a certain point, you will realize: "I feel disappointed, or discouraged, or desperate, or panicked, or angry, or resigned, or helpless, or regret, or grief, or blame."
- Don't block or suppress what comes. Allow yourself to be human and truly feel your emotions. Don't judge them. Simply realize it for what it is... an emotion. Tears may flow. Sadness may envelope you. But the key is giving it a name. This is a healthy part of self-reflection and truly understanding yourself at a deeper level.
- Come up with a phrase that helps you during these moments of reflection. Try: "I am not my feelings" or "Name it and tame it!"
- Take a 16-Second Time-in! I've taught this technique to world-class athletes, members of the military, high pressured business people, and law enforcement. It was even featured in the season finale of "Blue Bloods" with Tom Selleck and Danny Wahlberg! Here's how it works:
The moment you realize you're ruminating, say your phrase, close your eyes and watch your breath as you take a long, slow, deep breath in to the count of four. Release it to the count of four; and hold it out to the count of four. All the while watching your breath, witnessing it, observing it. Then open your eyes, breathe normally and move on.
In those 16 seconds you were not in the past; you were not in the future. You were in the present moment, and in the present moment there is no fear, no regret, no grievance, no anger, no woulda - coulda - shoulda.
Introducing a 16-second Time-in is the break your mind needs to loosen its grip on the past. Practice this every few hours or every time you notice you are having a rumination moment and within days, you will break your compulsion to live in the past. We can break the cycle of rumination as well as other destructive emotional patterns by simply giving ourselves a 16-second Time-in. And reminding ourselves that the best is yet to come!
For more tips, tools and techniques for relieving stress and increasing mindfulness, visit davidji.com.