Balance Rumination


When we experience rejection and failure it is NATURAL to think about it. We are going to want to process it and as you have seen from my other principles I am a big fan of this. We need to process and we need to think. But what many of us experience post rejection and failure is actually rumination and THIS can be tough. 

What is rumination? Rumination is when our thinking becomes a bit more obsessive, persistent and repetitive. Generally rumination has a negative tone and it creates anxiety for us. For me, it evokes physiological symptoms like an increase in my heart rate and feeling on edge. Rumination can be exhausting. But what differentiates rumination from processing is that it’s not really processing. You’re getting stuck. I love this description from Elizabeth Scott PhD (2020)  “What distinguishes rumination from productive emotional processing or searching for solutions is that rumination doesn’t generate new ways of thinking, new behaviors, or new possibilities.”  I SO resonate with this, because when I fail or get rejected I SIT in my thinking patterns and these thinking patterns are generally not helpful. 

So. What do we do? 

Notice that I didn’t use the word “eliminate” rumination. Part of the equation here is realizing that rumination is human. Rumination is going to be what our mind does when we fail or get rejected. This is normal. There is nothing wrong with you. I say this because I think the message we often get in times like this is: 

“Don’t think about it.” 

“Don’t let yourself go there.” 

“Think differently” 

“Just distract yourself”

“You control your thoughts.” 

“Think good thoughts”

“You’re not helping yourself out.” 

“You’ve got to be positive.” 

I have heard all of these and I walk away feeling inept, deficient and like there is something wrong with my brain because I can’t always do this. 

{Huge side note but i think its relevant: I think in general we are a society (especially in sport psychology and the mental performance space that tells people to “Think differently” more often than not. We need to STOP telling people to just think differently when we have NO idea what their history of attachment or trauma is or what their upbringing, familial structure or environment is like. It is rarely about simply thinking differently and I believe this is a detrimental message we sell athletes.} 

Let’s say I’m in a room with you and I’d like you to sit with me without thinking about Pink Elephant. I explicitly tell you “Don’t think about a Pink Elephant.”  What do you think is going to happen? Chances are you’re going to think about a Pink Elephant. This is the “Ironic Process Theory” developed by Psychologist Daniel Wegner. This theory states that when we try to suppress thoughts it actually will make them more likely to surface. I use this example because this is exactly what happens when people say something like “don’t think about it.” 

Rumination is hard. Rumination is human. You are going to ruminate. I am not here to tell you STOP RUMINATING. If you are looking for an answer to stop or end it, nip it in the bud or “solve” it you won’t find it here. 

I’m here to help you balance it out. 

Can we simply move in and out of rumination with a little more flexibility and ease. If you are anything like me when rumination gets going it’s like a freight train. It has a lot of power and it has a lot of speed. Can we learn tools and skills to simply slow this down at times and give ourselves just a little more breathing room.  Shoot for balance, not making it go away. 

Skill One: Catch yourself ruminating 

This requires some mindfulness and awareness. It can be helpful to know when ruminating generally arrives for you. For me, it comes knocking at night. I’m tired and my brain power is low. Sometimes simply acknowledging that you are ruminating can be massively helpful. This can be enough to give you a little space and can be enough to slow it down or quiet it. Sometimes I talk to it and say something like “Hi brain, I know you’re ruminating. I know this is rumination.” 

Skill Two: Allow Yourself to Go there. 

Yep. I said. Go there. Let yourself ruminate. Go to all the worst places you want to with your failure and rejection. Let your stories run wild. This comes from a skill in RO-DBT (Radically Open Dialectical Behavior) called PIIP (Put It In Perspective). There is a part of this skill that has someone imagine the worst case scenario with regards to their anxiety. I like it and have used it for my own rumination with a caveat: I write it all down. So you can write it, type it or speak it (using a voice note). When you do this your rumination gets out of your head and onto paper. For me this is usually accompanied but some crying and some feels. That’s ok. In doing this, you are creating some space from your thinking. This is what we’re looking for. Sometimes it takes more energy to fight it. Don’t fight it. I think it's counter- productive. Sometimes you just have to let yourself go there. If this seems hard or scary to you thats ok. Do it with your therapist or mental health provider or maybe a safe friend or family member. 

Skill Three: Use Curiosity

Get curious. This is a skill coming from Mindfulness. Mindfulness asks us to remove all judgment. This is what I like to call “can we get less critical and more curious.” Can you learn to adapt curiosity with regards to your rumination. Can you learn to say “Huh, interesting. I’m ruminating again.” This starts to change the relationship you HAVE with your rumination. 

Skill Four: Can you work with it? 

There absolutely is a time and place to WORK with our rumination. I generally start with 2 foundational questions that come from CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Start by asking is this thought or are these thoughts 100% accurate? Do I have all the evidence to support my thought process here, wherever I am taking this?  Then follow up by asking Is this thought useful to me? Is this thought process helping me? Generally when it comes to rumination the answer is No for both. I am NOT claiming that these will STOP your rumination. Again.. Not the goal. The goal is to create a little bit of breathing room and I find that asking myself these 2 questions can help me do that. 

Skill Five: Get Present. 

When we are ruminating we’re not present. Rumination is generally replaying the past or projecting to future scenarios that haven’t occurred. Can you notice this and find presence. This is no easy task. 40-50% of our every day were on autopilot. Being present is actually a hard thing to do for humans. So what can you do in the moment to bring your attention to the here and now. Generally you’re going to do this by way of feeling the breath, feeling the body or using the five senses. One of my favorite ways to do this is to shift the position of my body. If I am sitting I change how I am sitting or stand up and FEEL my body. Another great skill to use is your eyes. Look around your immediate surroundings and take in the colors and objects you see.  Even if this only “snaps” you out of it for a second or two, you did it. Thats the goal. Keep doing it.  Little moments of balance is what we’re looking for to slow that rumination process down. 

Skill Six: Use Distraction Strategically 

If you didn’t catch the Principle on Resistance and Acceptance you might want to read that. I am not a fan of distracting yourself from processing or feeling. But when it comes to rumination we can absolutely use distraction. Sometimes what we need is to simply think about something else. Go do something. Call your friends and get out of the house. Go watch a movie or read a book. Actively engage your brain in something to shift yourself out of rumination. This is ok and I have been doing this a lot lately to help with my own rumination. 

Skill Seven: Self Compassion 

I am always going to come back to Self Compassion. At the end of the day we have to remember we are human and I believe that we are all doing the best we can. When it comes to rumination, rejection and failure it's hard. It's all hard and it's a process. The kinder you are to yourself the better. I believe that Self Compassion can be the BEST buffer with rumination. Check out my entire Self Compassion Series on my blog or go back and read Principle 6 for some ideas. 



Scott, E. (2020). Repetitive Thoughts. Emotional Processing or Rumination.

50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.