“Rumination vs Reflection” with Military Mentors

Wonderful email from Military Mentors this morning on the difference between rumination and reflection. (Read the whole thing here)

“Where self-reflection is purposefully thinking about and processing our experiences with the intent of learning, rumination is when we think over and over and over about something in the past (or even something from the future) with an associative set of negative emotions and overly critical self-talk.”

I have often found that high-stakes, high-stress environments like the campaign trail, start-up space, and defense contracting world make it easier for rumination to creep in.

“Rumination often manifests itself as “what ifs” as a form of what really amounts to exploration without action. Appropriately reflecting can be about solutions, with a bent toward self-compassion, self-care, and having a plan of action, actively engaging in a positive process. Ruminating involves a much more vicious cycle of re-rehearsing, rehashing, replaying, and getting stuck in frustration and thinking traps, as well as potential depression and self-harm.”

There are lots of things you can do to keep rumination at bay, and the authors offer ways to maximize your reflection time and minimize the rumination.

“Leaders should analyze, recognize, and resolve issues through reflection, fostering growth, rather than just analyzing and repeating whatever happened through rumination. We should also be mindful to be aware of what our teammates and subordinates have a tendency to do (i.e., ruminate or reflect), but also help coach and teach them on how to reflect. Part of it may be just sharing how you approach it.”

I would also add a few more things that you can do to escape a rumination spiral:

  • Deep, slow, full breathing
  • At least 45 minutes of exercise
  • Write down what you’re feeling (use a pen and paper, people!)
  • Give yourself permission to feel the underlying emotion fully
  • Call up your therapist or make an appointment

I really appreciate how Military Mentors incorporates mental health into conversations about mentorship and leadership. Good mental and physical health are at the core of being a good leader!


Leave a Reply