When we see opportunity in the workplace, we all know we should be making it a priority to give real time feedback. This should be done in a helpful and positive way, and in a private setting. And we typically close out the discussion by encouraging the other person to reflect on the feedback, welcoming additional conversation or questions. Most of the time, these engagements are highly productive and result in growth and development. But once in a while, they may catalyze a downward spiral. That’s because there’s a fine line between reflecting vs. ruminating.

Reflecting is a healthy activity.

Emily Chang blog | leadership | reflecting vs. ruminating | holly reflecting
Holly reflects
  • We look back on the moment or experience in question, and scrutinizing our behavior. 
  • We pause to consider what we might have done differently to elicit a more desirable outcome. 
  • As we rewind, we gauge the reactions of others, some of which may have gone unnoticed in the moment. 
  • Closing out the reflection, we identify insights that will help us become more effective moving forward. And then, we shift our focus to the future.

Ruminating can become toxic.

Emily Chang blog | leadership | reflecting vs. ruminating | holly ruminating
Holly ruminates
  • We do more than scrutinize our behavior, we obsess over what we wish we could have done differently. 
  • Instead of focusing on what we could have done better, we start beating ourselves up. 
  • Rather than identifying ways to become more effective, we get caught up in what feels like past failures, which can become debilitating. 
  • Because we become fixated on the past, we struggle to pivot toward the future.

Are you reflecting or ruminating?

The best way to quickly identify if you’ve left the healthy world of Reflection and plunged into the murky depths of Rumination, is to ask those closest to you. I’ll bet you get an instant reaction: “I’m so glad you asked! Yes, I was trying to find a nice way to tell you.”

Alternatively, if you don’t feel like talking to others, ask yourself when the actual event occurred. Has it been more than a week? A month? Years? You see where I’m going with this.

Can’t stop ruminating?

Some of us can’t help but kick ourselves when we’re down. So how do we get back up?

1. Find closure. It’s possible you owe an apology to someone else, in which case, give it. But most likely, the one you need to forgive is yourself. So, write the memory down on a piece of paper and light it on fire. As the paper chars and begins to burn, let the moment go in your mind.

Emily Chang blog | leadership | reflecting vs. ruminating | find closure

2. Visualize a friend. Go back to that moment and instead of seeing your own face, imagine a loved one’s face in its place. Now let the moment unfold again. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, right? Consider this: if your friend came to you, distressed about their behavior, wouldn’t you gently suggest they let it go? Wouldn’t you reassure them it wasn’t a big deal? Then, you deserve to tell yourself the same thing.

Emily Chang blog | leadership | reflecting vs. ruminating | visualize friend

Do you have any other tips? I’d love to hear them!

Here’s a related article where I reflect on Action vs. Vision: https://social-legacy.com/vision-without-action-is-just-a-dream-but-action-without-vision-is-a-nightmare/

Photo cred: faceonastick