This essay was written by me, Brandon Nolet, in the context that I need to mull things over more often, let’s talk about it.
Contemplation and Rumination
People tell you not to ruminate, to think about the same thing over and over again, and I’d agree with them. There is a difference, however, between contemplation and rumination.
Rumination, in psychology circles, focuses on the definition wherein one will obsessively think about the the various facets involved in a negative experience. Thinking will be cyclicle and repetitive, won’t make much progress, and often results in further negative experience.
Contemplation, on the other hand, focuses on the definition wherein profound thinking is employed about a given subject or topic, not necessarily one that one is personally attached to, negatively or otherwise.
As mentioned, rumination revolves around the negative experiences that you’ve had. An example of this would involve someone obsessively thinking over a breakup and what someone could have done leading up to, during, and after the breakup. It would involve someone going over certain sequences of events over and over again trying to remember something they may have missed the last time they thought about that sequence of events. And so on.
Usually what results from this type of thinking is…almost nothing. You leave the situation (the rumination) having felt more negative emotions, furthering the existing trauma and bringing it towards the present. It would be more advantageous to refrain from thinking about the negative experience beyond this point in time. Sure, it’s nice to work through problems, but if you find yourself making little to no progress then it might be that you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns.
The triggers for rumination usually involve re-experiencing various aspects of the negative experience. Rumination over a breakup could, for example, be triggered by seeing another couple kissing, or it could be triggered by a memento that symbolized your relationship with the other person.
Surely you, the reader, can see by now that rumination is detrimental to one’s mental state. Easy enough to say “stop that” but not easy enough to do. I wish luck in rumination elimination, should that be your situation.
Starting with the triggers this time, they are aplenty, though it can be boiled down to boredom, even if it’s intentional boredom. By intentional boredom I mean restricting yourself to that single activity of contemplation where otherwise, you’d be bored! You can begin contemplating by accident even!
The greatest of contemplators cite their contemplation time consisting of being in the shower, mowing the grass, and even while they’re doing the dishes. The beauty of contemplation is that it can be done while doing something menial. It makes menial tasks feel less boring.
Contemplation, as mentioned before, involves profound thinking on a given subject or topic, for the purpose of objective progress. The objective progress is the important part. It involves no emotion, no judgement, and perhaps some bashfulness, if you please.
In a conversation with @firstname.lastname@example.org the concept of mental mindmapping popped into my head. This was in reference to thinking about all the possible side-effects of implementing a given scene into my novel. By contemplating, I try to bring my thoughts to the branches of the various facets of that scene. What effects will the scene have on my novel? Who will be involved in the scene? What objects are involved in the scene? Where does the scene take place? Do my characters' motivations correlate with their role within the scene? This is all involved in contemplation.
It doesn’t matter how I feel about the outcome, and it doesn’t matter if I want the outcome to be as it will be, but arriving at the finality of that contemplation session, I will find the objective truth of the scene. From that conclusion, I’ll be comfortable in making a decision on whether to implement that scene in my novel, knowing I made an honest effort to consider the various aspects involved.
Try not to ruminate. If you have to ruminate, try to turn it into contemplation by removing any of the emotion involved and consider only the objective truths about a situation. If you have trouble removing the emotion involved, try to remove yourself from the situation and put someone else there with the same actions. Otherwise, don’t think about that situation at all, if you find that will be beneficial to your mental state.
Try to contemplate. With contemplation, there is a finality to it. There is an objective penultimate conclusion to be made and you acknowledge that by participating. Find something to contemplate and look at the example I provided. Do the questions you pose to yourself at least resemble the nature of the questions I posed to myself?
Rumination and contemplation are not as similar as they may seem.