Rumination can be the ruination of even the most effective leaders. Leaders who dwell too much on the mistakes they make or on events that set them back are ruminating.
Let’s make sure we understand what I mean by rumination. Cows ruminate. Their complex digestive systems require them to regurgitate partially digested food and re-chew it. Over and over again. For cows, rumination or chewing their cud is a tedious, repetitive process necessary for their health and survival.
Some people ruminate. In our case rumination is a psychological activity in which a person engages in a cycle of repetitive negative brooding. Ruminators get stuck in a rut of negative thinking, dwelling on only the downside of events and conditions in their life and work.
Like chewing cud, rumination is repetitive and tedious. But for people it’s also self-defeating and unhealthy. Worst of all, it inhibits creative thinking, which can serve to lift one out of the rumination rut.
Reflection, on the other hand, consists of productive, positive thinking. It can motivate one to solve problems and improve conditions.
How to stop ruminating
I’ve developed four steps for finding one’s way out of the rut of rumination and into the productive habit of reflection:
Admit to yourself that there is a problem, whether you have caused it or you are the victim of a wrong. Tell yourself, it’s over, it’s done, it’s history. But most important make yourself aware of the fact that you have been ruminating — beating yourself up over what happened rather than doing something to improve the situation.
Put on your creative-thinking cap and start brainstorming on what to do. Paint a picture of what the corrected situation will look like and make that situation your goal.Then list steps to reach that goal.
Take the first step or two that you’ve defined for yourself. If you can’t take your first step immediately, get busy with a rewarding activity such as exercise. Move, whether it’s down to the water cooler or outside for a walk or run.
You allowed yourself to ruminate, right? Now it’s time to balance your account. Give yourself credit for moving on. Pat yourself on the back for acting. And finally, take time to reflect on this process and your place in it. Thoughtfully put matters into a positive perspective.
For more about reflection, see 4 Ways to Make Reflection More Powerful. If you’re ready to help your leaders reflect rather than ruminate, let’s talk.
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