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Rumination vs. Introspection

How many times a day do you think a person looks into their own past?

This person uses their mental energy, robs themselves of the present moment, to focus on their past. So over the course of one day. 24 hours. Usually 16 to 18 hours of that day that you are actually awake. How much of this time, how many times, do you intentionally focus on the past? Whether it’s 15 years, 10 years, 1 year, 6 months, 1 month, or even yesterday; even one day removed from the present. How many times a day do you a person shifts their attention on the past? From my own experience, I’m going to take a wild guess and say it’s at least 10 times a day that we focus our energy on the past, that we dwell on the past, that we are consumed by the past.

Why is that? Why do we use the present moment to shift our energy, shift our focus, shift our mind to the past? To what has already happened, to what is already done, to something that we cannot bring back to this present moment and change. Why? Why do we allow ourselves, why do we allow our minds to go from the here and now in this moment to back then, the past, which is over and done with?

In my opinion, there are two paths. There are two directions that you can take when we shift our mental focus, our mental energy from the present moment to the past. That first path is rumination, which is pretty much considered wasted time. What is wasted time? Well, if you think about it, rumination just means that you are looking at the past in the form of regrets. You’re looking into the past and thinking about what you could have done differently, how you could have acted differently, how you could have spoken differently in certain situations. And that’s a very problem centered outlook and mindset because you’re just focusing on all these negative aspects surrounding your past. Asking yourself things like: “Why did I say that?”, “Why did I do that?”, “I should done this, it would’ve afforded me a better opportunity and I’d be at a different place in life and not where I am at the moment.”

This way of thinking creates dissonance within yourself because your constantly harping on your past with a negative attitude. You’re literally taking things that happened in your past, that are no longer here, and allowing them to enter back into the present moment via your thoughts. You allow them to seep in so much that it produces all these feelings of frustration, all these feelings of anger, and all of these feelings of misery. This mentality does not help you, it does not serve you. But, you can get so caught up in these “what ifs” that you forget about the gift of the present moment. You forget that you have the ability to change your life, to create a new reality, but it has to start with your thoughts. You have to understand that thinking, dwelling, constantly focusing your energy on the past in a negative light will never help you. It will keep you stuck. It will keep you down, in a cycle of self-pity, feeling sorry for yourself. It will hinder your ability to grow, to evolve, and to become a better version of yourself.

And that’s where the second path comes into play. This is the path of introspection. Introspection is when you look at your past, when you reflect on your past with a level of curiosity, with a level of wonderment. You dissect what has happened in your past almost from the perspective of someone on the sidelines watching who has no opinion on what is happening and what has already transpired. Therefore, you don’t try to label events from your past as negative or positive, but just as something that happened. That’s it. From there, you try to become a better person because you are actively trying to learn from your past. You try to understand why you did certain things, why you acted a certain way, why you spoke a certain to someone. If you feel like the way you acted or spoke doesn’t serve you today, then you can learn how to act differently and how to speak differently moving forward. This affords you the opportunity to grow and become a better version of yourself.

Introspection focuses more on what can be done. It focuses more on being able to evolve and to grow. It doesn’t look at your past in the form of regrets or in a negative live, but more so as teachable moments and lessons that can be learned. And this is very important because if we don’t learn from our past mistakes, our past transgressions, then we are doomed to repeat them.

So, if we look to our past. If we take time to be introspective of our past, then we will allow ourselves the ability to grow. We will afford ourselves the possibility of evolving on a daily basis. Even on a moment to moment basis. Because by taking time to look into your past through the lense of introspection, you can learn and literally grow and evolve in that moment. You can look back at something that may have happened in your past, see it for what it is, and not view it as a positive or negative. You can truly grasp what happened in that situation, understand the knowledge you’ve gained, and use it moving forward. Using it as a building block to build upon your foundation that you have already started to create.

Be mindful. Be consciously aware of which path you’re prone to go down. If you know during certain situations you usually choose the path of rumination, then you need to literally (and I mean literally) say STOP in your brain and in your mind. You know that if you continue down that path of rumination you’re going to spiral out of control. You’re going to spiral down a deep, dark hole of misery because that type of response and thought process is one of your habits. Your brain is habit-forming and if it’s been doing it for quite some time, then that’s what it’s used to. That’s where it’s used to going.

Therefore, you need to change how you think. You need to change your thought processes. You need to mentally stay stop, and quite possibly physically stop what you’re doing, if you feel like you are starting to go down this path of rumination. And then really try to go down that path of introspection. Try not to look at a past situation or event with regret or how you could’ve done it differently. Instead, look at it with a level of curiosity and wonderment. Take the time to analyze and dissect your past in a nonjudgmental fashion. In a way that gives you the chance to gain a better understanding of the person you want to be and how you want to carry yourself from here on out.

But, it’s up to you, the individual to be responsible for your own growth. To really be honest and true to yourself in those moments. To really recognize which path you are going down, whether it’s rumination or introspection. There is never a time, there is never an instance, where you should go down the path of rumination, where you should focus and dwell and spend all of this time and mental energy on regrets. Because regrets do nothing for you. Ruminating does nothing for you, it does not serve you. But, being introspective does. Regardless if a past situation was positive or negative, you can remove those labels and just understand what happened. If it was negative, you can learn not to do that again. If it was positive, you can learn how to build upon those productive behaviors.

The past is the past. You cannot change what happened, it’s physically impossible. So what will define you is how you overcome these obstacles and challenges in the past. How you persevere. How you become so dedicated and motivated to become a better person. To become the person that you know you can be. That is what’s possible. No longer allow your past to define you anymore. It is a part of your life story, yes, but it should not define you. So, if anyone tries to put you in a category or label you based on your past, tell them “Good Luck”, because you should not subscribe to that. Never allow anybody to define you by your past.

You should know that you are not your past. Focus on the present and what you want to become. Focus on the moment and how you want to evolve and grow. Do not focus on the past, especially if you’re going to dwell on your regrets, which is a waste of your time. Devote your time, devote your energy to be introspective. To learn from your past, to gain knowledge from your past. Which will allow you to use it in the present and help yourself become a better person one day at a time.

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