The Trouble with Thinking

Finding the line between introspection and rumination can be tricky.

Posted Feb 04, 2013

I’ve been thinking about that old Socrates saw, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

I’ve always subscribed to that philosophy. I do a lot of life examining. 

Introspection/navel gazing is one of my favorite hobbies. After all, as an introvert, I spend a lot of time in my own head. As long as I’m there, I might as well keep it tidied up. Self-analysis is always a good way to kill some time, and there’s nothing wrong with self-improvement as a goal.

But have you ever been accused of thinking too much? Yeah, me too. That's always annoyed me, but I'm starting to wonder if there might be some truth to it. Do you think it's possible to think too much?

For one thing, I wonder where the line is between introspection and rumination. Rumination, we know, is not a good thing; it leads to depression. But how do you know when you’re on the road to depression rather than personal growth?

I went to Webster’s to see if definitions might help me out, but they didn’t really.

Introspection is “a reflective looking inward : an examination of one's own thoughts and feelings.”

Rumination is “to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly” and “to chew repeatedly for an extended period.”

So it seems that you can start with introspection but if you get bogged down in repetitive thoughts, you end up ruminating.

But what if you're chewing on a problem that requires a lot of thought? Is that ruminating? Does ruminating preclude any forward motion?

And is there a point when rumination turns to introspection? Is there ever an aha! moment, where rumination leads you somewhere? Or does it just dig you into a hole? When we have something on our mind, do we move between introspection and rumination until we reach some sort of conclusion? Or is rumination quicksand that just sucks us down?

And recently I’ve been wondering if all this life-examining just keeps my emotions and life churned up. Is there a point where one should say, “OK, this is my life, this is who I am, I’m satisfied.” Is personal growth always forward motion, or is it sometimes just change for the sake of change? How do you tell the difference? 

This is what I’ve been thinking about recently. I’m either ruminating or self examining. I’m not sure which.


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