Today I will start from the end:
2. Be curious about its’ function, why it is coming up right now (curiosity)
3. Be actively engaged in choosing how you want to respond to the people, thoughts, feelings or situation you are in (hopefully in a way that is in line with our values) (choose)
What thoughts or feelings do you have that get in the way of you leading the kind of life you want? What are your top 3? We all have them, it is part of being human.
Take a moment to reflect on what you usually do, how you react, when these thoughts or feelings come up? Many of us distract ourselves with worrying about things that are out of our control, over-analysing and retreating into our heads, gossip, work, exercise, cleaning, alcohol sex, drugs, etc. Some of us distract ourselves by beating ourselves up, being unkind to ourselves either in our actions (ie. overeating) or through our thoughts (saying not nice things to ourselves). Whatever it is, just notice, without any judgement, how you react when these thoughts or feelings come up.
We react the way we do largely because somewhere along the way, we connected those thoughts or feelings to a sense of danger, or that they are bad or not allowed in some way. It is because of this automatic bit of survival programming, that happens unconsciously through implicit learning, that we seek to avoid the thoughts and feelings that get in the way. Unfortunately, sometimes the ways we avoid can be more dangerous and damaging than the thoughts or feelings themselves. The most obvious examples of this that come to mind are those of us who have affairs, are self destructive or who use addiction.
1. If you are willing, let’s do an experiment. Right now, instead of trying to run away from these thoughts or feelings, let’s consciously invite them in, focus on them and allow them to be there. We can CHOOSE to consciously over-ride that bit of automatic survival programming that taught us they were bad, and allow ourselves to BE PRESENT with our experience of these thoughts and/or feelings? As we sit with whatever thoughts or feelings come up for us, notice what shape they are, where they are in our bodies, how big, if they have a temperature associated with them or a color? Now imagine breathing air and space all around it? Focusing on the fact that we don’t have to like that these thoughts or feelings are there, but they can be there AND we can be ok. This is part of an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy exercise call physicalizing. Most of us feel a sense of anxiety as we start to do this exercise and a sense of calm as we progress through it.
2. Once we are present with these thoughts or feelings, we can consciously be curious about why these they are coming up now? Noticing that perhaps we often become unkind to ourselves when we say yes to things we really didn’t want to do, or when we talk to a particular friend. What role are these thoughts or feelings playing and what happens when we follow them down the same road they have taken us down hundreds of times before? We do need to be careful not to get stuck trying to “figure this out” however, as this is just another distraction. This step is more about noticing patterns.
3. Finally, as we begin to see the picture of how these thoughts/ feelings are experienced by us, what pattern it follows and where that usually goes, we can CHOOSE to consciously and actively RESPOND to them, rather than react to them. Ideally, we do this in a way that is in line with our values.
We can’t always change our circumstances, but one of our innate abilities as humans that contributes to resilience, is the ability to live a meaningful life in the face of great difficulty and hardship. We can only live a meaningful life by living our values, standing for who we want to be and what really matters to us in the face of whatever situation we find ourselves in.
Please note that this post was inspired by a book called the Reality Gap by Russ Harris (I recommend it) and in it he quotes Henry Drummond:
” You will find, as you look back upon your life, that the moments when you have really lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.”
As always, we would love to hear from you, either by email, or @DrAdrianaWilson or @kryanwilson through twitter!