If you think blaming ourselves or others is terrible, let me assure you that deflecting blame onto events and people from the past is just as bad. I’m a highly context-driven person, so history is essential to my day-to-day and future decisions. The trait also allows me to think and reflect deeper.
However, as a coach, I’ve come across several clients who thought they were being reflective but were ruminating. While the former is geared towards drawing insights from events, conversations, and the experiences behind us, the latter is routinely mulling over the mistakes, regrets, and negative experiences. See the difference.
The challenge with people who routinely meditate is that they cling to their pasts for far too long than necessary. They think they’re figuring things out because all they do is wear themselves out by all that reviewing and reliving the past. Only to end up undermining themselves and hindering their ability to be successful or rise to the top if they work for an organization.
Here’s what Marshall Goldsmith has to say about this:
Both men and women derail themselves by focusing on the past. But they often do so in different ways. Men who cling to the past tend to blame others for what they believe has gone wrong in their own lives or careers, making excuses for themselves and turning their regret outward. The result is anger. As research confirms, this is not surprising, as anger is the emotion men are usually most comfortable feeling.
Women, by contrast, are more likely to turn regret inward, blaming themselves and dissecting their own mistakes. You may stress over minor faux pas and micro-misunderstandings in which you perceive yourself to have been at fault. Or you may agonize over miscalculations that did set you back but are long overdue for being let go.
I don’t think gender matters as much as realizing that you will be wasting a ton of energy feeling bad about yourself than being confident and decisive in your role or even working on your core competency gaps as a leader.
How do you cope with all this rumination and clinging to the past? Push back when you catch yourself running that negative script. Remind yourself that ruminating keeps you from being productive and deliver your best. This new set of reminders, if kept consistent, will help you redirect your energies into becoming the high-performing leader that you so much deserve to be.
Of course, this isn’t immediate. No change is immediate. It’s gradual and takes time, effort, and a whole lot of patience. But if you were able to identify the difference between reflection and rumination, you’re halfway out of the hole. The other half is up to you.