The time spent listening to yourself, and getting into your thoughts is helpful – it’s an excellent approach for personal growth and creativity.
However, getting “in our head” can sometimes be hazardous; this happens if we follow negative thoughts.
We must be aware of the critical difference between introspection and rumination.
Introspection is a useful process of self-reflection and exploration, which is good for our well-being and our brain.
Rumination, on the other hand, can spiral us into a vicious circle of negative thinking that holds us back and hurts us severely.
What Is The Rumination?
Physically, it is a characteristic function of Ruminants, for which the food, after brief chewing, is conveyed into the first gastric compartment (rumen) and then rejected into the mouth where it undergoes a second, more accurate chewing.
Psychologically, rumination is a cognitive process characterised by a dysfunctional and maladaptive style of thinking that focuses primarily on internal emotional states and their negative consequences.
Thus, we take back our negative thoughts and turn them over and over in our heads, without advancing in any direction, but remaining stuck in negativity.
Our Constructive Self vs Our Destructive Self
Each of us often has two attitudes: a constructive one, which is our desire to achieving a goal and positive self-assertion, and a destructive one, which is our self-critical, self-destructive, paranoid and suspicious side.
This inner criticism sometimes takes over our thinking and leads us to rumination. Rumination is dangerous because it leads to depression, anxiety and unhappiness.
When we find ourselves in this downward spiral, we absolutely must strive to avoid ruminating. We can use various tools to make us stop as soon as possible. First of all, we must be able to understand that we are entering into rumination. How? By analysing three factors:
1- If my thought is abstract and does not lead to action but leads me into other thoughts, then that thought is negative;
2- If the content of my thought is purely verbal, I do not visualise images but I “see” only words in my mind, then that thought is negative.
3- If my thought is repetitive and focuses only on adverse events that have happened or may happen, then that thought is negative.
It is not easy to understand when we are slipping into the spiral, but we can ask ourselves simple questions:
- What is this thought bringing me?
- Do I need it?
- Does it help me get out of this problem?
- Does this thought correspond to reality?
Mindfulness is another healthy practice that we can adopt and which not only improves our quality of life but also extends its duration. Practically an elixir of life! When we learn to meditate, we learn to choose our thoughts. Therefore, we can move away from our destructive side better.
At first, this can be quite a challenge, because our inner critical voice enters our thoughts without us realising it. We can, for example, sit in meditation and start thinking, “You don’t have time for this. “It won’t help.” “You won’t make it.” Our inner critical voice may also attack our efforts to meditate or control our thoughts. “You’re terrible at this.” “You can’t stand still for even a minute.” “You’ll never be able to relax.”
Faced with this situation, we must persevere and practice. A few minutes every day, until we learn to be aware and to recognise our thoughts.
As my mentor says, we can even give these thoughts a nickname. Here it comes Miss I Know Everything, here it comes Mrs I’m Not Good Enough, here it comes Mrs I’m Cracking Everything, etc. This is fun!
When we recognise these thoughts, we can welcome them and let them pass: imagine we are in a room, we welcome our guests and let them move in the garden. Then, if we want, we decide to chat with our best guests, the charismatic and inspiring ones.
When we dedicate ourselves and meditate, we must always look for an attitude that is called COAL by Dr Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA. COAL means curious, open, accepting and loving.
In this way, we give meaning and direction to our lives without falling victim to the inner criticism that holds us back and prevents us from achieving balance, fulfilment and, in the end, happiness.
The Cat And The Mouse
Tarthang Tulku, a Buddhist expert, claims that when we reflect internally on ourselves, we react similarly to that of a hungry cat watching mice. Just like the hungry cat, we end up “swooping in” on any information that comes into our heads without questioning its validity”.
Asking the right questions is another tool that helps us get closer to introspection and move away from rumination.
- To develop self-awareness, one must build a habit of asking what and not why.
When we ask ourselves “why”, we put ourselves in the position of “victim” and focus on our limits. When we ask ourselves “what”, instead we stimulate our curiosity and focus on the aspects that we can modify to achieve a more functional result.
Example: Instead of asking myself, “Why am I feeling stressed today?”, I’ll ask myself, “What am I feeling right now?” What can I do to feel better?”
I’ve always asked myself a lot of questions, too many probably, and I was for years prey to unhappiness because there were things in my life that I didn’t like and I didn’t know how to change them. I lacked the courage and the energy to do it.
Everything changed when I started asking the right questions and patiently searching for the answers. Still, now I fall into rumination, especially at night, but now I know how to recognise my “negative guests”, and I know how to find the strength to let them out into the garden.
Discover how I changed my life.