For most people, IMPULSES AND RATIONAL THOUGHTS are sometimes, perhaps far too often, in conflict. And in my experience it’s safe to say “that’s not a good thing!”…To navigate life effectively, it’s pretty important to be THINKING CLEARLY! Consequently when that’s not the case — and perhaps when it’s not the case far too often — it’s important to reflect on what’s going on.
The bottom line is we have biological and historical programming (since the days of cave men and women) making it more necessary for us to BE AWARE and think carefully about how to slow down, reflect, and make measured decisions when handling ANY kind of choice, let alone one that feels critical or pressured, OR especially based on angry or hurt feelings.
What about the programming? What does that actually mean? Dr.Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis created a great visual image of a “Rider on an Elephant” to help understand how our brains are wired. The ELEPHANT, obviously much larger and powerful, is the “automatic processing” part of our brains — the QUICK and powerful urge to act — and to do so before thinking. The RIDER is the rational controlled processing part of our brain. The visual speaks for itself. The elephant is bigger stronger and hard to “control,” and gives us a helpful understanding of the challenge – from the elephant – to “over ride” rational thinking and decision making. Regardless, learning to do so is essential.
AND from a Buddhist or spiritual perspective, the statement YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS can also be helpful. Meaning? Just because you THINK IT, does NOT MAKE IT TRUE. And that “belief” can help us to once again, slow down and examine the thoughts before considering acting. Any of us can feel angry and hurt and want to retaliate….and most of us know that examination of “what we THINK happened” can tell us we simply MISUNDERSTOOD the intent of the other person, negating the ‘NEED TO ACT.”
We are experiencing far more cultural, political, emotional tensions than any time I can recall.. creating an “us-them” tribal mentality — triggering the more regular “trap” of negative thinking that has far too little rational basis. And because I hear, almost on a daily basis, stories of a misguided conversation or decision, I’m motivated to say, most of us need to get a grip! Slow down, pay attention to what drives you to say or do what you “just did” or are thinking of doing.
- Tell yourself to slow down.
- Count to 10 or 20 or 30 before speaking/acting
- Tell yourself you need TIME to think before acting and then EXAMINE your thoughts before you conclude they are REAL, RATIONAL, JUSTIFIED.
- WRITE your thoughts down.
- THEN examine your thoughts for distortions — exaggerations, inflammatory words, misinformation
- NEXT identify several different things you might say or do to manage the situation that is troubling you
- Write a statement that is as close to total TRUTH as you can
- Reflect on what you feel now. And even if you are still convinced your original reaction is justified, consider running your thoughts by a trusted friend or colleague or family member.
Typically, slowing down helps without additional examination. But if not, pay attention! What’s the worst thing that could happen if you alter your original plan of action? And what’s the worst thing that could happen if you just back off, relax and reflect?
My hope, as always, is for you to feel better — more relaxed, less tense, less stressed, and just GOING SLOWER. If all this does is upset you, see my book: YOUR PERSONAL STRESS ANALYSIS…and talk to someone. Just verbalizing what you feel can help. And you do deserve to feel as good as possible.