“In the business of life and the flurry of everyday activity, we expose ourselves to the possibility of developing a chaotic mindset with the net result of neurochemical and electromagnetic chaos in the brain……so we need to stop to reboot our brain so we can reconnect”
– Caroline Leaf (“Who Switched Off Your Brain”)
We live in chaotic times. Our days and weeks are taken up by mad rushing to get everything done, crazy stories about crime, stories about people with dread diseases, our educational system, and the list goes on and on. And who knows what next week will be like?
This is life.
Susan Phillips figured it out.
“I finally figured out that not every crisis can be managed. As much as we want to keep ourselves safe, we can’t protect ourselves from everything. If we want to embrace life, we also have to embrace chaos.”
I would like to give you a tool on how to understand and handle the beautiful chaos around us. It is simple: SOS – stop, observe and strategize.
Be present. Be mindful. See the flowers in your neighbour’s garden, hear the birds in the early morning, feel the warmth of the sun on you while you are driving. Stop being in another place in your mind all the time. Stop cluttering your brain with what happened yesterday and the discussion you are going to have with your partner because of his/her misbehaviour, and what you are going to cook for supper.
Be present – really BE where you are, stop being somewhere else.
What am I feeling? What is the emotion underlying this feeling?
So often we can’t name the emotion we are feeling. We just know that we are not comfortable with what we feel. And we dwell in that feeling of discomfort – whether it is sadness, jealousy, anger, fear. It is just easier to really settle intothe comfort of your discontent.
Attempt to be your own observer and explore your emotions. What triggered this emotion? Why did it trigger this emotion?
Thinking about your thinking. How can I change this? What can I do differently next time? How can I handle this situation NOW? Responsibility really means “the ability to respond”, to make an active choice. You can make an active choice in terms of how you interpret things and how you act on them.
David Rock in his book, “Your Brain at Work” is calling this process “reappraisal”. How to interpret what things mean to you differently. If you can shift your interpretation, your emotional response will shift too.
There are four kinds of reappraisal:
- Reinterpreting: You decide that a threatening event is no longer a threat. For example, when I am at an airport walking toward a gate I can’t see, I get anxious about missing my flight. Once the gate is in sight, and I can see the queue of people, my anxiety drops. I have decided that I am not in danger and immediately feel better. We use this technique all the time, mostly subconsciously.
- Normalizing: You know that this is how it is, you are not the exception, so your acceptance of the situation is better. For example, it is “normal” to feel overwhelmed in the first few weeks of your new job and you know that raising teenage kids is often a challenge and an ungrateful task. Normalizing is a widely useful tool.
- Reordering: The brain keeps information in nested hierarchies. All information is positioned relative to other ideas, for example family is more important than work. Reordering means that you relook this order of importance, based on your circumstances. Reordering how you value the world changes these hierarchical structures in your brain, and this takes up a lot of energy and will power.
- Repositioning: You are finding a new position from which to look at an event. It could be from another person’s perspective, from another culture’s perspective, or even from a perspective of yourself at another time.
If you can begin to reappraise more often, and more quickly, it can significantly increase your ability to stay calm under pressure.
Do this 3-step exercise:
Step 1: Awareness. Think of an example last week you responded in a “less favourable” way; in other words you had a strong emotional reaction to this situation. For example when you were stuck in traffic for hours, someone said something very negative about you, or perhaps a business meeting that was cancelled on short notice. Think of such an example now.
Step 2: Label it; give this emotion a name.
Step 3: See if there is maybe another way of thinking about what happened to you. Try to reinterpret, normalise, reorder, and to reposition.
Next time you become aware of the fact that you are experiencing discomfort in terms of your emotions, apply these 3 steps. It will create a greater awareness of your emotions and your reactions.
Be brave enough to explore alternative ways of thinking and be bold enough to embrace whatever insights come your way.
“In the space between chaos and shape there was another chance.”