(by Susan David – psychologist)
Living in a busy modern lifestyle we all go through niggling thoughts about how we handle life and our families lives…
We become hooked on things and situations, we have the same stressors and setbacks as everyone else, but the difference is some people have learned to unhook themselves from unhelpful patterns of thought and behaviour, and some people haven’t…
As we enter a new decade, it’s time to work on our mental health and behavioural habits that no longer serve us, and find out why we do this, but more importantly how to move on from this…
Excellent read, and again I have highlighted some great sections of the book paraphrasing from Susan David..
And here’s a clue to why this progression from neutral thought to fish on a line is so easy:
‘Mary had a little _______.’
‘Lamb’, right? Not too tough. The word popped into your head automatically.
What makes getting hooked almost inevitable is that so many of our responses are just as reflexive.
The hook is usually a situation you encounter in your day today life.
It might be a tough conversation with our boss, an interaction with a relative that you’ve been dreading, an upcoming presentation, a discussion with your significant other about money, a child’s disappointing report card or maybe just ordinary rush-hour traffic.
Then there is your autopilot response to that situation.
You might say something sarcastic, or shut down and avoid your feelings, or procrastinate, or walk away, or brood, or have a screaming fit.
When you automatically respond in whatever unhelpful way you do, you’re hooked. The result is just as predictable as the word ‘lamb’ that popped into your head after ‘Mary had a little …’ The bait hook is dangling right there in front of you, and you snap at it without a moment’s hesitation.
Getting yourself hooked begins when you accept thoughts as facts.
‘I’m not good at this. I always screw it up.’
Often, you then start avoiding situations that evoke those thoughts.
‘I’m not even going to try.’
Or you may endlessly replay the thought.
‘The last time I tried it was so humiliating.’
Sometimes, perhaps following the well-meaning advice of a friend or family member, you try to will these thoughts away.
‘I shouldn’t have thoughts like this. It’s counter productive.’
Or, soldering on, you force yourself to do what you dread, even when it’s the hook itself, not anything you genuinely value, that’s driving the ation.
‘I’ve got to try. I’ve got to learn to like this, even if it kills me.’
All this internal chatter is not only misleading, it’s exhausting, sapping important mental resources you could put to much better use.
Emotional agility means being aware and accepting of all your emotions, even learning from the most difficult ones.
It also means getting beyond conditioned or pre-programmed cognitive and emotional responses (your hooks), to live in the moment with a clear reading of present circumstances, respond appropriately and then at in alignment with your deepest values.
Trying to Unhook
Another aspect of bottling behaviour is trying to think positively, to push the negative thoughts out of your head.
Unfortunately, trying not to do something takes a surprising amount of mental bandwidth. And research shows that attempting to minimize or ignore thoughts and emotions only serves to amplify them.
This is the irony of bottling.
It feels like it gives us control, but it actually denies us control.
First, it’s your emotions that are calling the shots.
Second, the suppressed emotions inevitably surface in unintended ways, a process that psychologists call emotional leakage.
Perhaps you’re angry with your brother… You try to suppress it.
Then, after a glass of wine at a family reunion dinner a snarky comment slips out of your mouth.
Now you have a major family drama on your hands. Or you ignore your disappointment over a failed promotion at work, and then a few days later find yourself bawling like a body while watching Armageddon for the tenth time.
This is the risky business of bottling.
In one study, researchers found that bottling increases other people’s blood pressure, even if those people don’t know that the bottler is bottling.
Brooding is a cousin of worry.
Both are intensely self-focused and both involve trying to inhabit a moment that’s not now. But while worry looks forward, brooding looks back – an even more pointless exercise.
Brooders lose perspective as molehills become mountains and slights become capital crimes.
But brooders are ahead of bottlers in one respect: in their attempt to solve their problems, brooders are at least ‘feeling their feelings’ – that is, aware of their emotions.
Brooders may not be in danger of emotional leakage, but they might drown in a flood.
When you brood, your emotions don’t gain strength by being pressurized in a bottle, but they do gain strength. For brooders, emotions become more powerful in the same way a hurricane does, circling and circling and picking up more energy with each pass.
Like bottlers, brooders usually have the best of intentions. Ruminating on troubling feelings offers a comforting illusion of conscientious effort. We want to deal with our unhappiness or to learn how to cope with a difficult situation, so we think it through – then think and think and think some more. At the end, we are no closer to resolving the issue at the core of our distress.
Brooding also makes you more likely to blame yourself with questions like ‘Why do I always react like this?’ and ‘Why can’t I handle this better?’
Like bottling, it takes up massive amounts of intellectual energy. It’s exhausting and unproductive.
Whatever we may think we’re accomplishing by bottling or brooding, neither strategy seres our health or our happiness.
It’s much like taking an aspirin for a headache: the medicine relieves your pain for a few hours, but the source of the headache is lack of sleep, a knot in your neck, or a horrendous cold, that headache will return with full force as soon as the analgesic wears off.
Bottling and brooding are short-term emotional aspirin we reach for with the best of intentions.
But when we don’t go directly to the source of our difficult emotions, we miss the ability to really deal once and for all with what’s causing our distress.
If I held a stack of books away from my body, with my arms straight out in front of me, I’d be okay for a few minutes.
But after two minutes … three minutes … ten minutes … my muscles would begin to shake. This is what happens when we bottle. Trying to keep things at a stiff arm’s length can be exhausting. So exhausting, in fact, that we often drop the load.
But when I hold the books tight to my body, hugging them as if to crush them, my arm muscles will also begin to shake. In this position, my arms and hands are clenched, closed and unable to do anything else.
This is what happens to us when we brood.
So true: the comment to our boys vs our girls…
For example, we’re much more likely to ask boys about tasks (‘What did you do at school today?’, ‘How was the game?’, ‘Did you win?’) whereas we tend to ask girls about emotions “How did your feel?’, ‘Did you have fun?’). Children quickly internalize these rules, which don’t always serve them.
One study showed that students who expressed being envy toward a more successful student showed more motivation than those who expressed admiration.
Compassion gives us the freedom to redefine ourselves, as well as the all-important freedom to fail, which contains within it the freedom to take the risks that allow us to be truly creative.
There’s a misconception that you need to be tough on yourself to maintain your edge. But people who are more accepting of their own failures may actually be more motivated to improve.
Self-compassionate people aim just as high as self-critical people do.
The difference is that self-compassionate people don’t fall apart when, as sometimes happens, they don’t meet their goals.
It could be that self-compassion actually sharpens your edge. After all, it’s associated with healthy behaviours such as eating right, exercising, sleeping well and managing stress during tough times, which is when you need to care for yourself the most. It even strengthens your immune system, helping to ward off illness, while encouraging social connection and positive emotion. All of this helps you keep on truckin’ and be your best self.
Unfortunately, the postmodern consumption-driven environment in which we live is much more interested in selling us smartphones and junk food than it is in advancing our physical or emotional health.
Walking Your Way
Identifying and acting on the values that are truly your own – not those imposed on you by others, not what you think you ‘would’ care about, but what you genuinely do care about – is the crucial next step of achieving emotional agility.
When we make choices based on what we know to be true for ourselves, rather than being led by others telling us what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, important or cool, we have the power to face almost any circumstances in a constructive way.
Rather than being caught up in pretending or social comparison, we can stride forward with confidence.
You should aim to walk directly into your fears, with your values as your guide, toward what matters to you.
Courage is not an absence of fear; courage is fear walking.
The more you choose moves toward your values, the more vital, effective and meaningful your life is likely to become. Unfortunately, when we’re hooken by difficult thoughts, feelings and situations we often start making moves away from our values.
If you hope to be healthier, you can start by changing what you eat or by going to the gym, or even just by taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
But it can’t be just an intellectual commitment.
You have to actually walk the talk, or perhaps we should say ‘walk your why’. After all, when you ride a bicycle, you can stay balanced and upright only when you’re in motion. It’s the same with values.
Moving On: The Tiny Tweaks Principle
Teddy Roosevelt – “By doing what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
You can tweak your beliefs, or what psychologists call your mindset; you can tweak your motivations; and you can tweak your habits.
Moving On: The See-Saw Principle
Emotional agility is about getting on with life.
It involves moving toward clear, challenging, yet achievable goals that you pursue, not because you think you have to, or because you’ve been told to, but because you want to, because they’re important to you.
When you continue to pursue new knowledge and richer experiences, when you follow your heart and your honest answers to the questions that matter to you, you’ll find that you aren’t stuck on a see-saw. Instead you’ll be soaring, opening up not just your mind, but also your world.
Raising Emotionally Agile Children
A child who feels free to experience the full range of emotions without fear of punishment, or the need for self-censorship, learns some key lessons:
- Emotions pass. They are transient. There is nothing in mental experience that demands an action.
- Emotions are not scary. No matter how big or bad any particular feeling seems in the moment, I am bigger than it is.
- Emotions are teachers. They contain information that can help me figure out what matters to me – and to others.
Conclusion: Becoming Real
Emotional agility allows us to be our authentic selves for everyone, every day.
Emotional agility is the absence of pretence and performance: it gives your actions greater power because they emanate from your core values and core strength, something solid and genuine and real.
As I work with people about their health, more often it turns to their mental health and stressors of juggling life as well as trying to get a balance with their time and work time.
We may be away from ‘work’ but we carry a lot of emotional concerns with us from other aspects of our lives, and therefore our bodies are trying to deal with so much all the time…
This leads to ill health, and in some cases chronic illness.
If you struggle with modern world situations, I highly recommend this book, this was only some highlights from the book, so it might be worth it for you to dive in deeper to help you move through the next years in a better state of mind, with many tools to use from within this book…
If you do purchase or borrow please let me know your thoughts..
To your health and happiness.