My favorite phrase to help me get into the moment is Stop, Look, and Listen.
It’s simple, directive, and unambiguous. Perfect. When you want to get into the moment to increase mindfulness this phrase works like a charm. Stop – multitasking, Look – pay attention, Listen – to your inner voice and what’s happening. Focusing in on the situation in this way allows for the process of interchange to slow down so that you can make a choice about the best action. It increases your chance to get into a mindful frame of mind.
This is especially helpful with anger. Anger has the ability to really take us out of our body, mind, spirit connection and move us into a fight or flight reactive position. Anger is like our emotional/sensing alarm system. A distinctive element to surviving dangerous situations is to have an early warning system that allows you more time to respond. This is built in to our instinctive patterns of survival.
Like an alarm system in a home that gets triggered and sets off blaring, the human early warning system is loud and gets the individual’s attention. That’s the purpose of intense fear/anger reaction, the adrenaline mediated fight, flight, or freeze system. It works well. It helps us avoid car accidents, catch our child as she falls out of a high chair, and determine our best defense when attacked. The problem happens when it gets stuck on. This can occur due to the type of danger or the time it first gets tripped in our lives, or some combination.
Fear is the original driver, and anger is the secondary maintenance. These get intermixed and hypervigilance, wariness, or increased awareness develop, almost as a second nature in the individual. And over time this increased awareness may lead to increased subjectivity and increased personalization. This keeps the warning system going. Much like the blaring alarm of a home intrusion when no one is there to turn off the alarm, the noise and hyperawareness of the intrusion heightens the response so the police have to come and check on the home to determine safety issues. At some point someone determines the home is again safe and turns off the alarm.
The way that triggers affect the human psyche is that the alarm doesn’t really get turned off, so the individual is charged to react to attack. We get angry when we feel some boundary has been crossed, spiritual, physical and/or emotional. This is what our emotional/sensing alarm system is supposed to be responding to – a breach in our boundary system. But triggers are not always actual breaches but left over from an original breach that was never cleared on our software.
Anger is like fire, fast and intense. A way to turn off that alarm is to use stop, look, and listen – much like checking our a house alarm. First stop, stop going on with the fight, or the situation as it is; then Look at the situation to assess what is causing the alarm – the anger – did that person mean to do/say that….is my child acting like this on purpose to get back at me…really look at the situation to see the focus of the anger. Then listen – what could be going on here, this is where you might assess some of the basic needs issues – am I, or my child, hungry/sleep deprived…. and listen to your own voice – often we don’t know when we’re yelling just when the other person is. We can use this technique to get into the moment to assess the situation and manage the control system to our emotional/sensing alarm system.
Stop, look and listen brings one right into the moment; better for parenting, negotiating, communicating, creating goals, and addressing our habitual reaction patterns. Try using this over the next week whenever you feel anger come up or frustration and see what you learn.
See you tomorrow.
January 19, 2010 at 8:40 pm
Beth, I was wondering if you are familiar with Somatic Experiencing. It’s all about turning off those alarms that never turned off the way they were supposed to after a trauma (which you are so right about).
The person who came up with SE had observed that animals like, say, antelopes will quietly go back to grazing after their herd is attacked by predators, but with humans, it’s like the lions never go away.
January 20, 2010 at 3:04 am
Yes Elene, I am aware of this work by Levine. His book WAKING THE TIGER(?), came out right when I was actually observing this in my patients who were dealing with debilitating trauma histories. It was one of those synchronous moments. I was trained as a Gestalt practitioner. Fritz Perls, the developer of Gestalt Therapy, would use similar methods to help people get in touch with how they were feeling or how they were denying their feelings. I love any work that helps us get more in the moment and be mindful. There are so many ways to get there. Thanks so much for your comment! Beth
January 20, 2010 at 2:03 am
Just what I needed to read tonight, I am feeling both. Thanks Beth!
I realize I am exhausted and can’t rest properly, I am still working on that balance and one of these days I will figure it out.