Last week’s post on neuroplasticity highlighted your ability to move your life in a new direction based on the individual choices you make every single day. The total effect of these choices creates new default patterns of thought and behavior. Creating a habit of self-regulation allows you to move into a more functional, fluid, stress-free existence.
It's simple in theory, but far more difficult to practice.
The following anecdote is a story that Meredith Sagan, founder of the MindAlign Institute, shared with the team a while back to illustrate a real life example of how she used practical mindfulness to choose function, as opposed to dysfunction. We think you’ll be able to relate to this story -- maybe you’ve found yourself in a similar situation -- and we hope that you walk away with some practical mindfulness tools for the next stressful situation you encounter.
This interpretation has been slightly edited for clarity and teaching purposes, but is written in first person to retain the same feeling as the original version.
Today when I was at work, several things happened that made me feel really irritated.
When the time came for me to leave work, I had budgeted JUST enough time to make it to my son’s preschool event. But when I came out of the office, my car was blocked in by someone else.
As you can imagine, I felt very irritated. Now I was going to be late, despite all of my careful planning.
What happened next?
Thankfully, word got to the person who needed to move the car. So the driver moved it… to a new spot that basically blocked me from leaving the lot. Now I was left to still figure out how to navigate out of my parking space, get around the car, and back down the driveway. This was made more difficult by the fact that the driver was already gone, not having stayed to offer any help.
At this point I was feeling even more irritated.
Not only had I been blocked in my spot in the first place, but the person had now parked in such a way that was really inconvenient for me as I was trying to get to my son’s preschool event. I was definitely going to be late, if I was going to make it at all.
As they say in the Buddhist tradition, I felt my irritation rising. I could physically feel the emotions and feelings growing inside of me. As I felt this happening within, I paused to consider the consequences that would follow if I chose to vent that irritation.
If I allow my irritation to be seen by others, what are the consequences I am going to face? What will happen as a result of my venting?
I could see right away that venting my feelings wouldn’t get me anywhere. It wouldn’t get my car moved, it wouldn’t get my car out any faster, it wouldn’t create friendships, and it wouldn’t create any good feelings for myself or anyone else. I would get nothing positive out of venting my irritation.
So even though I was still caught up in the midst of growing irritation, I made the decision right then and there to balance and neutralize my feelings and emotions.
I took a deep breath in...
I exhaled all the way...
And I began to let go and shift out of the desire to vent.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel irritated -- because I did. But I began to shift away from the being on the verge of outwardly expressing my irritation, which would have only created more problems.
The moment I took the edge off of my irritation by breathing and doing my best to relax, I became safe again. Not only was I safe with myself, but other people around me became safe as well now that they were no longer potential targets of my venting.
Now that I had neutralized my feelings of irritation, I was ready to move into action. How am I going to respond to the situation constructively?
I looked around to see who was available to help me and I found a coworker who was free. I asked if he could help me navigate around the other car, and he was happy to assist. With his support, I got out of the situation unscathed!
No one got hurt by my irritation, and in turn, no one got upset with me for venting at them. I avoided making the situation worse and instead turned it into a win for everyone involved.
How to Respond Instead of React
At another point in my life, I would have automatically gone into Feel and React: I would have felt my irritation, then immediately reacted by venting my frustration at the person who was blocking me in. However, that would not have been constructive. In fact, that would have made the entire situation worse for me, that person, and other people in the facility who would have been disturbed by the outburst. I may have ended up even more late to my son's event.
I’ve learned from years of experience that Feel and React just leads to more problems and future unpleasant consequences. It never works, so I learned an alternative approach to unwanted situations that allow me to actively create better outcomes.
I learned how to use everyday mindfulness to Feel, Think and Respond. Using this technique, I was able to find an effective solution for the situation at work.
Here’s the framework:
Feel your feelings in the moment.
Think about the consequences, think about what you want, and take the steps to balance.
Respond to the situation with the appropriate action step that you’ve landed into. Taking this step will benefit you and those around you.
This skill can almost always turn a "bad" situation around into something that works. But it does not come naturally. I’ve worked on developing the ability to self-regulate through daily practice over the course of many years. Every moment that I practice mindfulness, I rewire my brain and body (thanks to neuroplasticity), creating a habit of mindfulness as I move through daily life: at home, in traffic, at work, in my personal business, and more.
Is it worth the effort? Absolutely.
If you want to avoid the consequences of an impulsive reaction, take the time to Feel, Think and Respond in your own life.
Take a deep breath, inhaling all the way.
Hold at the top of your breath for five seconds.
As you exhale, turn your attention toward yourself.
Feel yourself just as you are, in your body.
Take a moment to feel your legs, feel your hands, feel your breath moving through your lungs.
As you take this pause, reflect on any time in your life that you can remember having become irritated and taking it out on someone else. Think about the consequences of that action.
Did you get what you wanted in that moment? Did it ultimately work out well for you, even if you did get what you wanted? What were the consequences of venting your irritation and frustration into the space and onto someone else?
Notice any feelings of commitment rising inside of you, or any feelings of desire rising inside of you, to prevent that from happening in the future. As you feel that desire to avoid the consequences of venting, allow yourself to fully feel the commitment to doing your best in the moment to balance and neutralize, to Feel, Think, and Respond, as opposed to Feel and React.
Turning your attention toward your body, allow yourself to take one more breath, feeling the commitment to stay in charge of yourself throughout any circumstances that may arise internally or externally.
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