Welcome to part twelve in this series of Practical Tools for Improving Your Mental and Emotional Well-Being.
Building on the last article (Maintaining Motivation), it is important to have short, medium, and long-range goals to propel you towards your vision, which in the case of this series is to focus on your desired authentic and emotional state(s).
It is also essential is to have a set of tools that can help you override fight, flight, or freeze subconscious reactions in any situation (which can derail you from your goals and deflate motivation), and instead allow you to consciously respond in a manner aligned with your desired state of being.
Back in Part 8 of this series (Rational Living), we reviewed rational versus irrational thinking. Irrational thinking and emotionally reacting are how most people function, especially when confronted with in-the-moment situations involving conflict, stress, anxiousness, or frustration. Subverting conditioned irrational reactions is key to implementing rational responsiveness.
Now for some action-oriented tools to help you diffuse irrational reactions in-the-moment and instead, respond rationally.
Irrational words said, or actions taken, are difficult to take back. So, it is best to respond rationally when confronted with an emotionally triggering situation.
Example: Terry had a rough day at the office. His project was canceled, and his rival (Ed) got the promotion he wanted. At the end of the day, Terry storms into his house, slams the door and heads to the kitchen to get a beer from the fridge. His wife glances up from her laptop, says hi, and asks if he remembered to pick up the dry cleaning. Terry snapped at her. “Why is it always up to me to get the dry cleaning?” As Terry heads up the stairs he glances back at his wife and sees she is beginning to tear up.
Terry let his agitation become irrational and took it out on his wife. He was unaware that his wife also had a challenging day (a falling out with her best friend and losing her biggest client). Terry is going to have to deal with the consequences of his irrational behavior. It would have helped is if he had diffused his anger before he got home, or before he let his emotions get the best of him and snapped at his wife.
You’ll respond more rationally when you keep yourself closer to the tabletop (neutrality) on the emotional scale (Part 1 – Your Thoughts are Powerful). Here are some tools to help you, in-the-moment, diffuse challenging emotional states.
When you are not at your best and/or immersed in a challenging situation, do yourself a favor and take some time to do something else to disengage from what is happening. Do something that is more beneficial for you and that elevates your emotional state. With children, it is sometimes referred to as having a ‘time out’.
- Take a walk.
- Call a friend.
- Get a coffee.
- Read a book.
- Play some music.
Take time to quiet your irrational mind and re-engage the rational and authentic you.
Take a deep breath, let it out. Do it six times. This simple technique disengages the irrational ‘monkey-mind’ (fight, flight, or freeze – which is a good thing in a life or death situation, but not so much in everyday circumstances). Six deep breaths will engage your rational mind. Through a simple act of focused breathing, you calm your nervous system and become more relaxed.
I came across this acronym at SMART Recovery©. It stands for: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Thirsty. The concept goes like this . . . when you are in one of these states you are not at your best, and are more likely to be triggered into irrational behaviors. If you are experiencing more than one, the risk increases. The technique involves being aware when you are in these states and then to address them: Hungry – eat something, Angry – distract yourself or breathe, Lonely – call a friend, spend time with your pet, volunteer, Tired – rest/sleep, Thirsty – drink something nourishing to quench your thirst (water works best).
- STOP Thought
Another tool from SMART Recovery© . . . Imagine you are in a situation where you notice your level of anger rising. Interrupt this emotional state by imagining a large red STOP sign. Maybe it is a flashing neon sign. Make it as large as you want. If you are alone you can yell out, “STOP!”. If you are with others, yell it to yourself in your head. Some folks keep an elastic band on their wrist and snap it against their skin. You will notice whatever triggered emotional state you had has dissipated. You can use this to derail any undesirable thought process, emotional reaction, or behavior.
- Kinesthetic Anchoring
This is a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) technique. Here is how it works. You anchor a desirable emotional state through a kinesthetic experience. Example: When you are experiencing joy or peace (e.g. endorphins after exercise), take a moment to close your eyes and notice the feeling. Now, ‘anchor’ a physical sensation to the feeling. (e.g. Tap a finger to your leg, pinch two fingers together, take a deep breath, and relax your shoulders.) Do this action multiple times. Each time repeating the word that best represents your emotional state as you apply the physical anchor (e.g. peaceful, joyful, happy, relaxed, etc.). When an undesirable emotional state is threatening to run away with your mind, simply say the word and use the anchoring action. Adjust as you like by using songs, mantras, phrases, carry small crystals in your pocket to hold/squeeze, or think of an appealing place/photo/picture, etc. Decide which anchoring technique works best for you to interrupt irrational emotional states.
- Play the Tape Forward
This tool works in conjunction with the other five. Before reacting, take a moment to ‘play the tape forward’ as if you were to continue with the automatic reaction you are used to. What have been the consequences in the past when your emotions triggered unwanted behaviors in yourself? You are likely to have the same outcome again (playing the tape forward). Take a moment to understand the undesirable outcomes (usually with long-term consequences) before reacting. Are you willing to go down that road again, or will you choose a more beneficial response?
Six easy-to-use tools to help you in-the-moment to diffuse irrational thoughts and undesirable emotional reactions.
Here is an excerpt from my novel, The Shift Squad, where the teacher (Neil) and students have been working through examples of these in-the-moment tools.
“. . . Taking a few deeps breaths can help disrupt the irrational emotional reaction you are experiencing. You can cycle downwards if you don’t disrupt it.” Neil said while drawing a spiraling circle that looked like a tornado on the board. “We fall downward into frustration, anger, jealousy, hatred, guilt, and victimhood. The further down we go, and the longer we stay there, the tougher it is to climb back up to rational thinking.”
“So, downward into the tornado feeds our negative emotions and irrational thoughts,” Kat said with a smile that dimpled her cheeks.
“Yes, Kat,” said Neil. “And the more attention we give to an irrational thought—which creates the unwanted emotion—the greater that thought becomes a default way of thinking. This leads to default emotional reactions.”
“And default behaviors!” said Eddie.
Tim chortled and said, “Still an enthusiastic little bugger . . .”
“Well done,” said Neil. “We create neural pathways, or synapses, in our brain as we learn something new. The more we engage in a certain behavior—including thoughts—the more those specific synaptic pathways fire.”
“Like the path outside that leads into the trees?” asked Kat, pointing out the window. “The more it gets used the easier it is to see.”
“That’s a great analogy,” Neil replied.
A wider smile burst from Kat’s face and her cheeks blossomed to dusty pink.
Neil said, “It takes time to create synaptic pathways as it does a trail. Creating a new behavior or habit works the same. Six different easy-to-use tools for you to choose from to interrupt/diffuse an unwanted and irrational emotional state . . .”
Simple, yet powerful tools in helping you to engage your rational mind and disengage the irrational. Have them in your ‘toolbox’ and bring them out in-the-moment when needed.
Use these tools with practice, patience, and persistence, remembering the vow of moving towards your desired authenticity and emotional state(s) – your long-term vision of improving your mental and emotional well-being, one choice at a time.
Be on the lookout for Part 13 in this series, One Tool to Rule Them All.
For a free copy of a comprehensive PDF workbook on these tools and concepts, send me an email at [email protected].
I look forward to your comments and feedback.
For more techniques and tools for your mental and emotional well-being, check out my unique and engaging self-improvement novel, The Shift Squad
I write to inspire others to greater self-empowerment, authenticity, and improved emotional and mental well-being.
I am the author of the unique personal development novel The Shift Squad.
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