This topic has been building in my mind for quite some time and, after a couple days of time with family and moments of silence, I find myself in a good spot to put it into words! These lessons have helped me regain control of my life, reactions, fatherhood, relationship, work, the list goes on and on. I hope you find them useful:
Humans are animals. What sets us apart from every other animal on the planet is our ability to be rational. We are rational beings. As rational beings we have the ability to use logic to analyze situations, feelings, and expressions.
For example: A dog can get angry if it is struck or bitten by another dog it feels anger and attacks. A dog is driven by instinct and has no rational mind. As a result, the dog can’t control what happens next. It isn’t able to work through the physiological response and the anger controls it from that point forward (it barks, growls, bites, etc).
Like dogs, we also have physiological responses that we have no control over. If we stand in front of an audience we may sweat. If we watch a sad commercial we may cry. These physiological responses are uncontrollable (we can’t ‘will’ ourselves to stop sweating or crying). However, as rational human beings we cancontrol what happens next.
The Stoics refer to these physiological responses as “Pre-Emotion.” These are a part of our animal nature. These responses…just happen. What I have learned is: These ‘automatic’ responses can serve as a queue. When you notice that your heart rate increasing, that you are sweating, that your voice cracks, that your eyes are watering, that your hands are shaking – stop and analyze yourself. What are you feeling? Why are you feeling this? How can you stop any further reactions (mental, emotional, and physical) from taking place? Do you need to pause before you act, speak, or move? Do you need to remove yourself from the situation that is causing this physiological response?
In my youth I thought that the surge of energy that resulted from a physiological response (increased heart rate) was there for me to use. However, every time I used it – the results were terrible! Later that day or the next day I would look back on what I said or did and wonder, “What was I thinking?” The answer: I wasn’t thinking, I was reacting. My life changed forever when I realized that the physiological responses were warning signs. They were giant, red flashing sirens that I should pay attention to. They were queues that should trigger a ‘Woah, hold on’ (Rational) response inside of me instead of “pedal to the metal” (uncontrolled) reaction!
Warren Buffet wisely says, “You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is observing things with logic. True power is restraint. If words control you that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass.”
Dr. Caroline Leaf furthers this thought by stating, “If you choose to give people power over you by continually ruminating over what they said or did, you will to continue to suffer, damaging your brain and mental health in the process…… you aren’t under someone’s power unless you allow it. Indeed, you can’t be offended unless you take offense!”
Once you recognize the physiological responses and start to use your rational mind to figure out what to do next, you can use a tactic shared by Seth Godin: “Picture the situation as a Mustard. If you ask for Mustard at a French Bistro you get a strong Dijon handmade in a little village three hundred kilometers away. If you ask for mustard at a baseball game you get the standard yellow mustard from a giant pump. If you ask for mustard at a Resort you get a little sealed bottle of fake Dijon from Heinz. None of these people are really offering you mustard – they’re sending you a signal of what they think is fancy. Is one mustard really better than the other? The answer is a matter of taste and context. We all have a favorite (or hatred for) mustard. But favorite is different than ‘right.’ There is no absolute scale. How can a mustard be a yuppie? Pretentious? Down to earth? It’s simply a condiment.” This hilarious mental exercise gives not only gives you objectivity in your response – it also gives you control of what happens next!
One last bit of change and knowledge I’d love to share comes from Jim Rohn. Mr. Rohn talks about how we have to weed the garden of our mind. If we don’t weed the garden while we stand in it, how far up will the weeds grow? ALL THE WAY! If we weed the garden how far can we push the weeds back? As far as we want. Negative thoughts – ruminating over what’s said or done – are examples of these weeds. If you find yourself wallowing in negativity – picture the negativity as weeds in your mind, overtaking your beautiful rose garden (insert whatever flower here) you don’t want that. Pull them out. Leave only the beautiful thoughts – the roses – and admire them. Picture positive words on each flower petal. Draw the words yourself in your mind if you need to. Weeding the garden of your mind ensures that any response you have to a physiological response is positive.
Pay attention to your body’s physiological queues. Use them to learn about yourself and your reactions to situations. Remember, the situation you’re in is a mustard. Your situation (aka the mustard) isn’t pretentious or a yuppie or right or wrong. It simply “is.” Weed the garden of your mind so that your outlook is eternally positive