Choosing how to respond in challenging situations
Recently I had the opportunity to spend a whole day reflecting on 5 things that limit me.
Now, I consider myself to be very open-minded; I am committed to my growth and my evolution, I do my inner work, and I pride myself in being OK with my beliefs being challenged - by myself or others.
I really didn’t think there would be much for me to come up with for this exercise.
That night though, thanks to a mistake I thought I had made, I noticed I was beating myself up, and I was spiralling down - quickly - into negativity about myself.
It was such an ‘aha’ moment that it took me a couple more days to process that this was a habit of mine - a program - I’ve had for years and that I was not even aware of…
By being aware of it now, I can literally choose to tackle a situation differently when I have the opportunity to talk to myself about a mistake again (and I have no doubt, they’d be lots of opportunities to practice that one!)
What does this have to do with riding a challenging situation, you may ask?
In my experience, challenging times give us the opportunity to witness our subconscious - our patterns - in action.
The way we handle, react or respond to these situations is, a lot of the times, a knee-jerk reaction. We don't even know that this is how we've been handling, reacting or responding.
We often hear about self-awareness but, how does self-awareness look like when we are clouded by our own biases? It could be tricky to see where - in what areas of our lives - we’ve been stuck or unaware of.
So here’s a little exercise to help you identify parts of your subconscious, and suggestions on how to use that knowledge to your advantage, for present and future situations - whether they are global, family or personal matters and issues.
Once we have identified - becoming aware of - these parts of our subconscious, it is ‘easier’ to tackle situations in a different way, if that is our choice.
I understand though, that sometimes it is not as easy to simply choose to behave or think in a different way when we have been habituated to think and behave in certain manner for 20, 30 or 40 years of our lives.
It takes practice, there's not doubt about it, and willingness and commitment to want to change, and it is indeed a choice. And it is worth it.
Note: If you notice the exercise below brings up upset or deep seated emotions/feelings, I suggest you seek the help of a professional.
1. Without spiralling into negativity or pain, recall a challenging situation you have had to face in your life.
An example could be:
- a friend’s illness, or your own
- an accident,
- a loved one passing away,
- being let go at work,
- financial hardship,
- household problems,
- a big transition,
- a global pandemic
2. Recall and note 2-5 of the first emotions/feelings* that came up for you.
For example: feeling disillusioned, grateful, sad, hateful, pissed off, positive, quiet, removed, resigned, serene, angry, full of hope…
3. Without judgement, write down / note what was your immediate next step after those feelings came up.
- did you feel you needed to make a call straightway? or the opposite,
- went into in-action, unable to physically move?
- did you over-analyse the situation?
- did you want to find out all there was to know about the situation, right that second?
- did you take a deep breath?
- did you check in with how you were feeling before making any rushed decisions?
4. Now recall a situation in which you felt content, joyous and everything seemed to be going OK in your life.
For example, maybe you landed your dream job, or you became a parent after trying for years, or you graduated from a degree you’ve been putting off, or you had an incredibly peaceful meditation, or you took a walk and felt one with Mother Nature, or your realised the unconditional love you feel for your child.
5. Recall and note 2-5 of the first emotions/feelings that came up for you during that time.
For example, feeling amazing, peaceful, buoyant, connected, rejoiced, grateful, sunny…
6. Now go back to the challenging situation scenario and write down / note how you would have liked to have responded in that situation - if you had been aware of how you habitually react to/in similar scenarios.
7. In a piece of paper write:
*HOW I RESPOND TO CHALLENGING SITUATIONS* (in the present tense)
And list some of those ways in which you would like to respond in future circumstances (in the present tense)
I am not suggesting that we are to feel buoyant when a loved one passes away in the future for instance, but
- by noticing the contrast (yes, sometimes devastation and joy can be felt in the one breath),
- by tapping into how we feel in extreme situations,
- by having the time and space to do this exercise when not in major stress,
You will be able to access your ‘middle ground’.
That ‘middle ground’ will support you in thinking as clearly as you can when facing tough times; and maintaining as calm as you can when feeling tested.
8. Keep the piece of paper taped to a mirror or your dresser, or closet, computer or somewhere in your office. Somewhere where you can read it clearly.
Take a few seconds - for a few days/weeks/months - to not only read the words but actually feel those emotions / feelings.
This is a very simple way to choose to respond differently.
Then one day you will realise that your ‘new knee-jerk reaction’ is in fact the one you have chosen consciously.
The one that serves you - and you family - better.
That is exactly what happened to me when I first heard about the coronavirus global pandemic and what has followed since. That is exactly what happened to me when I found out about the passing of a dear, dear friend.
I realised that, because I had been training myself so well during the last two years - on how I actually want to respond to situations - that calmness, connection, celebration and gratitude came to me naturally when there was so much anger, sadness, and fear around me.
The difference this has made in my life - and our family life - has been really helpful.
Here's to self-awareness and living in the present moment.
* Psychologists identify twenty-seven categories of emotion: admiration, adoration, aesthetic appreciation, amusement, anger, anxiety, awe, awkwardness, boredom, calmness, confusion, contempt, craving, disappointment, disgust, empathic pain, entrancement, envy, excitement, fear, guilt, horror, interest, joy, nostalgia, pride, relief, romance, sadness, satisfaction, sexual desire, surprise, sympathy and triumph.
'Emotions are chemicals released in response to our interpretation of a specific trigger. It takes our brains about 1/4 second to identify the trigger, and about another 1/4 second to produce the chemicals. By the way, emotion chemicals are released throughout our bodies, not just in our brains, and they form a kind of feedback loop between our brains & bodies. They last for about six seconds.
Feelings happen as we begin to integrate the emotion, to think about it, to “let it soak in.” In English, we use “feel” for both physical and emotional sensation — we can say we physically feel cold, but we can also emotionally feel cold. This is a clue to the meaning of “feeling,” it’s something we sense. Feelings are more “cognitively saturated” as the emotion chemicals are processed in our brains & bodies. Feelings are often fuelled by a mix of emotions, and last for longer than emotions'.