How to stop ruminating on points not made?
June 12, 2020 3:14 PM   Subscribe

I’ve been having trouble recently with ruminating to the point of difficulty sleeping after I have a debate with someone about politics. I think of all the points I could have/should have made that I didn’t think of at the time.

I did not used to have this problem. I used to actually consider myself very good at keeping track of winding arguments, thinking fast, and holding points in my head. I think part of it is my anger at the person due to politics now literally being fascism yay or nay so I feel on some level what we are really debating is my right to exist. I think because I’m so emotional I’m expending a great deal of energy managing my emotions which takes away from my quick thinking. These debates are also happening at work so I need to remain “professional.” These debates cannot be avoided as they are prompted by workplace policy issues. I also don’t feel right avoiding them or agreeing to disagree because silence is complicity. I’ve also been trying the strategy of offering empathy and appealing to the person’s values rather than just using facts and logic which is a new style for me. All the people in question have also been my superiors which is a factor. I think my question is how do I stop ruminating and let it be enough that I did my best. But maybe my question is also how to get better at this.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity to Human Relations (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For ruminating I find it very useful to write everything down in a list and when it comes back up in my head I can say 'Okay, that's #4 on the list.' Basically by letting my brain know that the information is stored somewhere it doesn't seem as apt to go over it again and again.

As a bonus for arguments it provides a way to remember what I want to say the next time the argument comes up.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:20 PM on June 12, 2020 [6 favorites]

is all this debating happening online?

because where I live, as far as I can tell, people have been going batshit crazy from having all their interactions be online rather than in person. Conversation loses all nuance; it's impossible to gauge the effect one is having on the other party...

I am seeing real-life friendships of decades being flushed down the toilet all around me because of the mismatch between the potential importance and sensitivity of conversations; and the crude tools available to have them with.

What I'm saying is, it's ok to leave some points unmade. Better by far to leave them unmade for now - at least until you can have real conversations in person - than to feel like you trounced your "opponent" especially when your opponent is your superior at work.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:27 PM on June 12, 2020

Response by poster: is all this debating happening online?

It’s in person. I’m an essential worker.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 3:31 PM on June 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Maybe this article might help?????

It puts forward the idea that arguing about diametrically opposed positions is flawed, because people don't believe what they believe because of facts, they believe what they believe because of emotions and their life experience, they then create facades of facts to use when challenged. If those facts don't satisfy, new ones will be found. You can defeat the facts but you'll seldom if ever defeat the true belief. I'm not saying it's right, but it might be worth considering.
posted by forthright at 4:01 PM on June 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Are you familiar with the phrase "esprit de l'escalier"? "Wit of the staircase". The idea is that the witty come-backs happen after you've left and are heading down the stairs. I find that comforting to think about that, even before the argument/debate/discussion begins.

Also, during the exchange, I try to slow things down, sometimes I count to 10 silently, some really good points come to mind sometimes, helps me remain detached and therefore more analytical.
Sometimes I ask them a question to give myself more time to think.
posted by at at 4:51 PM on June 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Something that I sometimes find helpful is to reorient from "what I should have said was..." and instead reframe it as "if a similar conversation happens, next time what I'll say is..."

It helps shift it away from being a self-beating for something I can't change and toward helping my future self respond in a way I'll feel better about.
posted by Lexica at 5:07 PM on June 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think because I’m so emotional I’m expending a great deal of energy managing my emotions which takes away from my quick thinking. ... All the people in question have also been my superiors which is a factor.

This is a perceptive understanding. Cut yourself some slack. The emotional labour of managing your own emotions, as well as those of others in a power relationship as a dependent, is a big drain on energy. You are not at your best intellectually because you are dealing with so much other stuff with people-shaped shit who debate your right to exist.

As others have said, you are not debating facts with these people, and you will not change their beliefs, especially as a subordinate. Forgive yourself.

Lately, I've been using imagery to stop ruminations. When I ruminate over something about my crap boss, I imagine their head is a bunch of magician flowers popping open. A family member is a lidded wicker basket. An ex-colleague is a basketball. It's an imaginary visual prompt to distract my thoughts onto something else, plus it's harmlessly spiteful and I'm still childish.
posted by Thella at 5:58 PM on June 12, 2020

All the people in question have also been my superiors which is a factor. I think my question is how do I stop ruminating and let it be enough that I did my best. But maybe my question is also how to get better at this.

The fact that your adversaries have been your superiors is the key to this.

Say you had acquitted yourself to your own satisfaction. I guarantee you that your bosses would have been upset and felt threatened — and if these exchanges had happened in the presence of other employees, they would have been right to feel that way, because losing a contentious argument (about anything – but most especially about the desirability of authoritarian government!) to you, a subordinate, would have compromised their authority in the eyes of the other employees, whether their equals, inferiors or superiors.

That just seems to go along with being part of an extremely hierarchical culture, in my opinion.

I've known plenty of bosses who would have wanted to fire you in that circumstance, and more than a few who would have, though they might have waited for a convenient excuse.

Your level of emotion about this bespeaks a subliminal awareness of the high stakes in this kind of situation, and that is a good thing.

If you're determined to change the way you feel, you either have to structure your life so you can land on your feet no matter what happens, or not care so much — which is very difficult and even unwise if you have a family.
posted by jamjam at 6:18 PM on June 12, 2020

Best answer: The problem is, I always imagine it as if, had I only thought fast enough, I'd have said the perfect thing and the person I said it to would have had a scales-fallen-from-their-eyes epiphany. Whereas IRL had I had the idea and had I tried to say the thing, it likely would have come out wonky or croaky. And even had I said it perfectly, the scales wouldn't necessarily have fallen. The epiphany wouldn't necessarily have happened. Because I don't have the capacity to make them listen. I'm not responsible for the hierarchy that makes them convinced that they shouldn't listen to me, and I cannot, merely by being brilliant, remove that hierarchy that prevents them from hearing me.

The interaction is not in my control--even if I'm perfect. So I might as well skip "perfect" and just try whatever comes to mind. You are not responsible for convincing them "fascism: nay." They already know that, anyway: if they're insistent on being obdurate donkeys and claiming not to know what they know, that's on them, not you. It is enough that you're there at all, trying to do your essential work. If in addition to that you want to try to stick up for yourself and others, in whatever way you're capable at the time? That is all laudable pro bono work on the part of you, and it should be celebrated by you independent of its effects on your "superiors." Whatever makes it easier for you, in the moment and in the moment remembered, is what you should do and feel great about.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:28 PM on June 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Change your goal. You can never WIN an argument. Just plant a small seed where they will start to shift. Try to change their opinion by just one teeny increment, not by 100%. Opinions only change gradually. Thanks for speaking up! It really does make a difference over time.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:02 PM on June 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

You are experiencing l'esprit de l'escalier, also known in English as "escalator wit" or "staircase wit".
posted by intermod at 9:33 PM on June 12, 2020

Blogs are the perfect answer to those who have esprit de l'escalier moments: you can write them at your leisure and use them to refine what you are going to say. They might be read by many, or few, or just you - but in any case I'd suggest that taking time to properly articulate your thoughts and to put them out to the world on a public forum - is a great way to being ale to stop ruminating about them.
posted by rongorongo at 7:25 AM on June 13, 2020

Best answer: Can’t be true in all cases of things-you-wish-you-said, but sometimes it’s helpful for me to think that regardless of if I had said x, the outcome would have been the same.

Even more so at work. There’s so often another subtext to discussions at work, which may be completely hidden to one of the participants, that your perfect response to what was actually said, may have still been useless towards what the other person is thinking.

I am also essential and also involved in policy making and also feeling stymied by others and my inability to convince them. Keeping those things in mind has at least helped me to turn off the frustration when I’m not at work.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:39 AM on June 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

If your question is "how do I stop ruminating and let it be enough that I did my best," I think there are two parts to this: letting it be enough, and stopping.

For me (I have been known to do this A LOT), the stopping is the more important part. What works best for me is to replace the rumination with something I'd rather have in my brain. That can be anything: poetry I want to memorize, remembering the cool flowers or birds I saw today, playing a favorite album in my head. A conversation I'd LIKE to have with someone I like and admire.

For trying to get to sleep, I'll try cognitive shuffling, which gives my brain just enough to think about to distract me from the rumination. Listening to calm, scholarly podcasts helps me with this, too - In Our Time from the BBC is perfect for this, for me.

For the letting it be enough, I would ask myself whether I wanted to continue this discussion with this person. If I don't think the person is genuinely open to my views, or if just the prospect of having the discussion is so unpleasant that I don't want to take it on, I acknowledge that that's my decision, and move on. If I actually want to continue discussing this topic with this person, I might want to spend some time rehearsing what I want to say (at an appropriate time, which is not when I'm trying to get to sleep); but if I DON'T, having that discussion in my head is letting that person occupy my brain when I'd rather they didn't. It feels good, to me, to choose to take back my brain and occupy my thoughts with something more productive or pleasant.
posted by kristi at 10:28 PM on June 17, 2020

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