INTROSPECTION IS A TRICKY B*TCH
Introspection is the examination of your own conscious thoughts and feelings.1
You might look “inwardly” after a bad breakup or an altercation with a coworker to figure out what the heck went wrong.
Sometimes, you hate what you see on the inside so much that you’d rather look away.
This is called “denial,” by the way, which is a common defense mechanism.
On the flip side, you might acknowledge your flaws and realize that you have the potential to learn and grow from your experiences.
This ability to see yourself from an outsider’s perspective and take note of areas that can be improved is called “self-awareness.”
And like most benign things, self-awareness has its antithesis.
It goes by the name of “rumination.”
WHAT IS RUMINATION?
Rumination is the tendency to linger in your insecurities, weaknesses, bad breakups, etc., without gaining a sense of clarity or “rising above” your circumstances.2
That’s to say, you feed on negativity like the Cookie Monster, binging on anxiety, depression, and so forth, without focusing on the solutions to your problems.
Thus, the more you give in to rumination, the worse you feel about yourself.
Think of it as a zero-sum game where an advantage that is won by one side is lost by the other.
In rumination, you lose mental health cookies to the Monster. In turn, he gets to control your fears and insecurities.
And this is no bueno.
LETTING IT OUT
Picture this: you’ve broken up with your longtime sweetheart (or vice versa). Suddenly, you feel as though your whole world is crumbling faster than a tower of Jenga blocks.
You lock yourself in your room for 48 hours straight, listening to Radiohead and Coldplay albums that exude misery.
You wallow in the pain of your breakup because you think it’ll make you feel better.
What’s more, you feel that failing to mourn your dead relationship is a surefire way to prevent your wounds from healing.
As a result, you’re inclined to withhold the slightest dose of positivity from your life because you feel as though you don’t deserve it.
Look, a good cry can be as cathartic as squeezing the shit out of stress balls or punching pillows on your mattress.
There’s nothing wrong with “letting it out.”
But this isn’t the same as ruminating. And you should know that.
GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS OF YOUR EMOTIONS
Letting it out means that you’ve shed the last necessary tear to get the f*ck back into the groove.
It’s healthily processing your emotions.
You let the teardrops flow “like a waterfall” (lyrics brought to you by Coldplay) and come out on the other side of your despair feeling much stronger and more secure about your emotions.
In other words, dwelling on things that have broken you can be useful insomuch as they unlock a new pathway towards recovery.
By contrast, dwelling too much on the issue without looking at the reasons behind your despair can lead to a major roadblock in your recovery.
More to the point: ruminating over what went wrong, or what could’ve been done differently, doesn’t change what went wrong. It doesn’t rewrite the history books.
So, stop trying to cast black magic on your problems, dear reader. You won’t make them go POOF! by riding the train to Rumination Station.
3 MINDFULNESS TECHNIQUES TO END RUMINATION
To break free from rumination, you’ll need a flexible mindset.
You can achieve this by practicing mindfulness techniques that’ll help you master the elusive art of introspection.
Below are three of them that you can practice to avoid unhealthy rumination and fine-tune your sense of self-awareness.
In her book, “Insight,” author Tasha Eurich calls the first mindfulness technique “reframing.”
To better understand this concept, imagine looking at a landscape through a camera lens.
When you zoom in or out, you might notice new elements decorating the landscape.
But when you shift the perspective drastically by pointing the camera elsewhere, a whole new picture comes into view.
And while reframing allows you to view the bigger picture of your experiences, a flexible mindset can help you interpret the different elements in the newly-framed picture.
For example, you might think of a global pandemic as the end of the world (cue ominous “dun dun dunnn!”)
Or, you could think of it as another challenging milestone in your life that you must conquer.
In other words, rumination can lead to cognitive distortions of the “all is lost” or “end of world” varieties, including all-or-nothing thinking and “discounting the positive” that’ll trap you in a thick mire of self-doubt.
It can also lead to a Woe-Is-Me mentality that declares, either consciously or subconsciously, that you are the victim of your circumstances, which means that others are the perpetrators.
This is why it’s crucial to keep a flexible mindset while reframing your experiences.
By doing so, you might find that others can be victims, too.
2. Comparing & Contrasting
Eurich’s second technique is called “comparing and contrasting.”
This technique entails a more nuanced approach to introspection.
In it, you pay mind to how your emotions, thoughts and behaviors have changed over time.
To use one of our readers as an example, this person (let’s call her Sara) took a solo trip to Mumbai, India a few years ago. More than exhilarating, she found Mumbai to be quite overwhelming.
After all, its 13-million residents were crammed into a peninsula filled with developing world problems, including poor infrastructure.
A few years later, Sara went on an equally challenging trip, this time with a group of friends: a Namibian Safari in Southern Africa.
Her friends were constantly complaining about the unglamorous accommodations, scorching heat and other inconveniences indicative of a grueling safari in sub-Saharan Africa.
Granted, there were blood-thirsty mosquitoes to consider in Namibia. And hopefully, a stampede of elephants would bypass the campgrounds where she and her friends spent their evenings.
That said, Sara had survived plenty of rickshaw rides whisking through heavy traffic in Mumbai, not to mention food poisoning from a Saag Paneer dish at a local restaurant.
Was she really going to succumb to hordes of mosquitoes and elephants? She thought.
Comparing India to Namibia, Sara realized how much she had grown into a capable and more independent person due to her unique experiences.
3. The Daily Check-In
The last technique is called “the daily check-in.”
It consists of taking a few minutes each day to reflect on your experiences.
For instance, would you say that you had a good day, or was it lousy AF?
Why was it good or lousy? What went right and what went wrong? Could you have done anything differently to improve the outcome?
To boost this practice, try keeping a daily journal.
Jot down your experiences without justifying why you did what you did (for whatever reason.)
Be careful not to judge yourself while checking in. This can get you out of the self-awareness and mindfulness practice and back into the downward spiral of rumination.
Instead, write down the facts objectively as if you’re a witness to the events unfolding in your life. If you can swing it, try writing in the third person POV and then read it back to yourself.
Are there any sentences that stand out to you?
Does the person you wrote about in the journal feel like you? Or do they feel like someone else?
Rumination (or “dwelling”) can harm your mental health, especially if you choose to focus on your problems exclusively rather than the solutions to your problems.
It takes a deep level of self-awareness to truly understand this and break free from the senseless practice of rumination.
What’s more, sticking to the three mindfulness techniques above won’t only help you drop-kick rumination in the face. It’ll help you become a pro in the art of introspection.
And once you’ve mastered these techniques, feel free to book your Namibian safari or your Indian escapade.
You’ve earned it, my friend. 😎