We all do it from time to time, replaying scenarios or events over and over in an attempt to try and solve some kind of problem or make ourselves feel better. It’s called rumination and while everyone does it from time to time, some of us tend to ruminate more than others! The problem with rumination is that usually it makes us feel worse. People who ruminate more have also been shown to be more prone to depression than others.
There is some good news for those worry warts out there! Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; http://contextualpsychology.org/act) appears to be of some assistance in helping people to overcome their ruminative tendencies. Essentially, ACT helps worriers become a lot more conscious of their own thoughts and feelings in each given moment. It also empowers people to be less bothered by their thoughts and learn to choose behaviour in a more productive fashion. Such a profound change is never going to be an easy quick fix. However, it is encouraging to note that ACT is making some real progress in this area.
As an Organisational Psychologist, why would I be writing about rumination? Ruminative tendencies are not just isolated to a person’s home or personal life, they also occur when you’re at work. Anyone that has found themselves replaying a past meeting at work over and over again has experienced this. “So what?” I hear you ask. A number of recent studies out of the Australian National University (ANU) have begun to demonstrate that rumination significantly impairs our ability to solve complex problems at work. So essentially being too much of a”worrier”can impair your ability to do your job well.
As a people manager, this insight is directly applicable in your practice because it is likely that you initiate at least some of your employees’ ruminative thoughts. How do you manage challenges as they arise? Do you have a well structured conversation with your staff to get to the bottom of the issue, determine the appropriate course of action and move on or do you sometimes find yourself stuck ranting and raving about the same issue over and over again… sometimes days later? As leaders of people, we all have a responsibility to be aware of human nature and to use that knowledge to set up our staff and our organisations for success.
Are you doing your best to set up a rumination free environment at work?
For further information on rumination please check out this great summary of recent research by Jay Brinkler: https://theconversation.edu.au/listen-up-worry-warts-ruminating-wont-solve-your-problems-9967