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Do you ruminate or reflect?
I wrote the new word of the week on the whiteboard. Then, waited for those pre-teen faces to look at me with excitement, eager to expand their vocabulary.
That rarely, if ever, happened.
Despite the lack of enthusiasm, I proceeded with my clever mnemonic for remembering the definition. I shared the drawing of a boy sitting in his room eating a snack with a speech bubble where he was thinking, “Hmm. Chocolate chip is definitely better than oatmeal.”
In my teacherly fashion, I explained the meaning and the various forms, asked several willing achievers to use it in a sentence, and challenged them to find a way to incorporate the word during dinner.
I left that lesson behind and rarely use the word in everyday conversation. Until this week, when I discovered the dark side of ruminating.
My first encounter with rumination from a different perspective came from Dr. Kristen Neff's writing about resilience and negative emotions. I double-underlined this passage.
Once our minds latch on to negative thoughts, they tend to repeat over and over again like a broken record player. This process is called ‘rumination’ (the same word that’s used for a cow chewing the cud).
That’s when I had to check out the dictionary definition because this was news to me and not how I understood the meaning. Merriam-Webster defines ruminate as “to think carefully and deeply about something.” But if you read further in the entry, you find this.
When you ruminate, you chew something over, either literally or figuratively. Literal rumination may seem a little gross to humans, but to cows, chewing your cud (that's partially digested food brought up from the stomach for another chew) is just a natural part of life.
To top it off, a few days later, ruminate reared its negative head again.
In Brené Brown’s newest book, Atlas of the Heart, she discusses the research of Sandra Garrido, who found “that many of us struggle with rumination…an involuntary focus on negative and pessimistic thoughts.” Rumination is not the same as reflection, which can help us make decisions and move forward positively.
Brown tells us that “researchers believe that rumination is a strong predictor of depression, makes us more likely to pay attention to negative things, and zaps our motivation to do the things that would improve how we feel.”
This insight forced me to pause and consider whether my constant inner chatter amounted to reflection, a positive act, or rumination that often left me dwelling on a past I could not change and would be better left forgotten.
With my new knowledge, I’m going to reflect on what will serve me and leave ruminating in the past.
So I ask you, do you ruminate or reflect?
I reflected on winter this week in “How Do You Capture Shivers? Feeling and Seeing the Seasons.”
Brian Johnson offers a micro class (first 3 minutes) describing the difference between rumination and reflection.
Like Ed Sheeran, I reflect on how “I’m thinking out loud, maybe we found love right where we are.”
“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”
― Mary Oliver, Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays
Be and become your best today and every day.
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