Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rumination


I am a ruminator. In fact, I have been called the “Queen of Rumination.” For those of us who grew up on a farm, we all know that cows ruminate their cud, over and over and over. No, I am not sitting here chewing; I am sitting here thinking, over and over and over.

I ran across an article in the Huffington Post by Robert Leahy, PhD., which explained a lot about thought processes. He discussed the problem of rumination. It seems that some of us (mostly females) keep going over and over a problem trying to figure it out. Most of the problems are negative thoughts, i.e. a past conversation, a slight, something that is bothering us. Instead of saying that it is in the past and there is nothing I can do about it, we ruminators tend to go over and over it, applying different angles and trying to solve the problem in another way than the way it was handled. I have been accused of taking a situation and turning it inside out, upside down and sideways in order to figure out exactly how it went wrong.

According to Leahy, that is okay if you actually have a problem to be solved. If there is not a problem to be solved (it’s pointless and you can’t change it) and you are constantly going over it, then YOU have a problem. He suggested that you look at the subject of your rumination and see if there is a solution and if there isn’t then you need to let it go. Going over and over the same thing with no solution can lead to depression. Rumination is focusing on goals that you cannot achieve, like changing the past. You should instead focus on the here and now. Live in the present.

Being a ruminator did me a great service when I was practicing law. I could take a problem, examine it, go over it and keep going over it until I had an answer. So maybe if I didn’t have an answer, I was at least prepared for whatever Red Herring (legal term – means SURPRISE) I was going to get sideswiped with in court. It gave me all the options and I could anticipate the way I would react. Not so true as a writer.

As writers, we are all subject to rejection (I’ve had quite a few of those – lol). I think that as a group we are all driven individuals – we have a need to get those stories out there and we work furiously doing just that. When we are rejected, we tend to ruminate: what was wrong with the story?; what did I do that didn’t sell it?; and how can I make it better? We take the thing apart, examine it and go over it and over it in our heads. Sometimes there isn’t a problem to be solved – the editor or agent just didn’t like it (you can’t make someone like something). Sometimes there is a problem with the story and by ruminating you can fix it. Sometimes I just feel like taking a gun out and shooting the problem. At any rate, the moral of the story for all of us is quite simple – we need to learn to let go if there is nothing we can do to fix the problem. Sitting and thinking about it over and over is not going forward. Going forward is when you get that fresh new page and you start to fill it with your next masterpiece.

Do you ruminate? Over your work? Over a social slight? Over anything? Have you caught yourself doing this? What do you do to distract yourself from sitting and mulling the would-ofs and could-ofs over and over? Have you learned to let go?

23 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I deleted my own comment because of a typo. I guess I ruminated about it.

    No surprise. I do have that tendency. I think it can serve a purpose or it can ruin your day, if not your life. It's the difference in "working the angles" and "beating a dead horse". The trick is knowing the difference and it's not always easy to tell. So I ruminate on that. And I pray about it.

    I am way too perceptive for my own good sometimes. But that, too, can be useful.

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    1. I agree - the trick is know the difference. Sometimes I can't see the forest for the trees when I get on a subject. I have to stop myself and say "Really? Is this actually worth my time?" And I pray about it too. Only God must be sitting in Heaven, shaking his head and saying "There she goes again."

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    2. okay, typo here - "KNOWING THE DIFFERENCE."

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  3. Rumination? Is that what they call it? ;)

    I do this. Reading your post I realized I don't have to. It's a small world and time is precious. The only one you can change is yourself. So... If I don't want to wallow in rumination, I need to give myself permission to make decisions that are in my best interest. That's hard for me. Like a duntz, I beat my head against a wall and expend too much energy trying to understand why people do what they do. That energy can be better put to use on other things like my family or my writing or My friends.

    God gave us discernment and gave the cud chewing to cows. ;)

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    1. Right Kathy! We don't have to do this over and over again. Leahy said that if you must do it then set aside a time, write it down and then really look at what you are doing. I have found that works for me. Once you see it on paper you realize what a waste of time!

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  4. Taking a situation and turning it inside out, upside down and sideways in order to figure out exactly how it went wrong--that's what most women do. And we don't always want an answer from our husbands or significant others...we just want them to listen, not really solve the problem. lol Great post!

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    1. Pat, I did find that I did that with my husband or my son. I had to figure out the whys and the whats. Useless because men really are from Mars or some other planet. Women need for them to listen and understand. We can solve our own problems (because I think we are smarter - lol). Thanks for visiting!

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  5. Yes, I agree, we all do it.

    I had a professor in college call me on it once while working on a painting for his class. He said something to the effect of....Learn when to stop and step away. If you keep going after that stopping point, all you do is ruin everything. That's turned out to be some of the best advice I've ever had....and it applies across all categories of life.

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    1. Lesia, so you think it's because we are all creative? I have often wondered about that when I see others who say "so what who cares?" and mean it. We tend to see all angles of things because we have such a need to understand and create.

      Your professor was brilliant! That is such a good analogy. I too paint and I can understand what he was saying- one more brush stroke and it's ruined. I will hold this saying to my heart and will apply it the next time I start chewing the cud.

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    2. Well Cheryl, I think it's just human nature, maybe. I know plenty of people who aren't necessarily creative that are excellent ruminators.

      I love how my youngest called her dad on it once. She said, "If you're looking backwards you cannot move forward." She comes out with these profound oneliners regularly. I'm not sure where she gets them. She was 7 when that one came out. Huh. I scratch my head. It's like she has a wise old Kung Fu Master inside her head. She speaks cat, too.

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  6. Guilty of much rumination. I HATE it when going over and over a problem keeps me from going to sleep at night. When that happens I'm hurting no one but myself -- but figuring out how to STOP isn't easy. -- LJ

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    1. I have the same problem, LJ. It's when everything is quiet and the mind starts to run away with me. Leahy's suggestion of setting a time to ruminate and then telling yourself that you have to wait sometimes works with me. I have to keep saying I can't do this now; I have an appointment later to do it. I know it's sounds crazy but it does work to keep delaying it. Plus, now I can see the problems that are not solvable and tell myself that I am spinning my wheels.

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  7. Lately, the wreck has been ruminating on me. I've started dreaming about it and wake up at the point of impact. Not good, especially since I have to function the next day at work.

    And this may seem silly, but next Tuesday is Valentine's Day, and I just get sad at this time of year. Instead of focusing on the blessings in my life, I hone in on the fact I won't get anything for Valentine's Day. I even thought of sending myself flowers. How pathetic is that???

    Marilyn

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    1. Oh Marilyn, it's not pathetic! I understand! But just remember we all love you! You can be our Valentine here under the Tulip Tree!

      As for the wreck, I think that sounds more like post-traumatic stress syndrome. Such a horrible event can do that to you. Your mind is still trying to process it and it keeps coming through in your dreams. Things through the day trigger the thoughts and your minds suppresses them until you go to sleep. Check out PTSD. There are some exercises on line that would help you. You're in our prayers!

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    2. Marilyn, I sure hope you get relief from your fears soon. I can't imagine how shaken up your dreams must leave you after experiencing the real thing. Hang in there! Hugs!!!

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    3. Dreaming about the wreck is good, Marilyn. That's your subconscious coming to terms with it and beginning the process of kicking it out. Don't send flowers to yourself; instead, make a donation to St. Jude's Children's Hospital. Now THAT'S a Valentine's gift!

      I'm a ponderer more than a ruminator (don't know exactly what the difference is, maybe in focus; I don't chew things over, I dissect). And I'm both logical and instinctive about it. If something went wrong I'll go down the list of things that the problem logically could be, and when I hit the right one, my instinct shouts, 'YES!"

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    4. Good idea Maven Linda. St. Jude's is a very deserving Valentine.

      I think there is difference in pondering and ruminating. You seem more efficient in getting to the meat of the problem and if there isn't a problem you probably dismiss it. I really wish I could do that. I just have to learn when to quit.

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    5. St. Jude's is my favorite charity. I have never known anyone who had utilize St. Judes, but I am humbled by the work the do.

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  8. I am definitely a ruminator, but I try to let it go if there's no point in going over and over it. Sometimes it's hard and takes me a while. Ruminating on a story is good, though, and helps me to work out my plot and make my characters more in-depth. My problem is, when I should be ruminating about my story, I'm ruminating about something else! I think God was thinking of us ruminators when he said, "Cast your cares on the Lord." At some point we have to give it to God, and some of us have to THROW (cast) it to him!

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    1. You already have the gist of it, Melanie. Letting go of fruitless thoughts is very good. I agree about the rumination on a story; it does help to get things in line and fleshed out. I try to let go and let God but sometimes I have a hard time doing it. He knows and steps in any way.

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  9. No surprise that I am a ruminator as well. I think many women are. It is often helpful for me to think back on how I could have taken different actions to achieve a different outcome.

    I agree that going back over and over things isn't productive especially when the ruminating is really about other's actions!

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    1. I kind of figured you were, Stephanie. You are a lot like me - we tend to think and think about things (kind of like Winnie the Pooh - think, think, think...). But it does us a service to understand things. And you are right: trying to ruminate about other people's actions is a waste of time (you just can't change people no matter how hard you try). Social slights and barbs are the ones that drive me crazy. I keep thinking about them, trying to understand exactly what I did to make the other person treat me so badly. I have recently become the honey badger - I don't give a $h@t.

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