Toeing the Line: The Art of Trapeze in the Workplace (Rumination vs. Reflection)

The trapeze artist walks the line, carefully navigating her way across the thin cord. A moment of lost concentration, a misplaced foot, and it’s over; the artist drops to the ground and starts back at the beginning. It happens time and time again, but she knows practice makes perfect. She must keep trying, and one day she will make it across the line without falling.

We can all learn a lesson from the trapeze artists. We toe the line between positive and negative thinking everyday, with the ability to fall into obsessive, negative thoughts much more prevalent than the learned ability to continue positive reflection. It all starts with mindful thinking and self-awareness. Being a mindful individual entails a sense of in-the-moment awareness of feelings, thoughts, and sensations. Mindfulness training has been shown to help improve mental health, overall well-being, and even physical health. A growing area of mindfulness practices uses techniques in the workplace to improve job performance and work satisfaction. This includes the use of reflection, an aspect of mindfulness that involves positive, thoughtful contemplation. However, reflection can easily turn into the negative process of rumination, with a person obsessively focusing on negative components and consequences of distress rather than positive solutions. We are always toeing the line.

This concept directly influences our job performance. Studies have shown that individuals who reflect versus ruminate on job-related tasks have the ability to improve their performance the next time around, because they focus on solutions to the problem instead of the problem itself (Kross, Ayduk, & Mischel, 2005). This is especially important with situations where the outcome was less than desired. We have the tendency to immediately focus on what we did wrong and beat ourselves up for it, rather than focusing on what aspects we did right and how we could improve that to produce a better solution next time. However, by engaging in this kind of thinking, we have to train our brain to follow these positive lines of reflection instead of falling back into the natural pattern of rumination. So what can we do to improve our ability to reflect instead of ruminate?

  • Try to pretend you are viewing the scene at a distance. Do not immerse yourself in the situation but rather watch the situation as an outsider. In your minds eye move away from the situation to a point where you can now watch the event unfold from a distance and watch the situation unfold as if it were happening to the distant you all over again and then analyze your feelings.
  • Schedule a time that you allow yourself to ruminate and worry. Set a timer for a period of time, I like to limit it to 20 minutes. Use that time to ruminate all you wish until the timer goes off. Once the timer goes off it is time to move on.
  • Focus on the lesson you learned and express gratitude for learning how not to make the same mistake twice. There is no need to continue to beat your self up. Think about how far you have come and the benefits lessons bring.

And just like the trapeze artist, with practice, you’ll be able to make it to the end of the task without falling.

Author: Kelly McGill, Ph. D.

As a coach and talent strategist, Kelly McGill has spent over 20 years working with teams at fortune 500 companies to tie golden thread around talent strategy and business strategy. With an inspirational and inclusive approach, Kelly helps leadership teams create an environment of inclusivity and partnership to drive custom talent solutions.

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