I was inspired to write this article by an experience which lead to gaining a new and different perspective. Once a week, I facilitate The Work of Byron Katie for 90 minutes. This is a free coaching group for anyone who wants to participate. During this week’s session, I got a little stuck and caught myself trying to convince a participant to view a circumstance from a different perspective. Participants use The Work to investigate their own thinking and often discover a new perspective. My job as facilitator is to ask questions to help them make that discovery on their own.
A Different Perspective
When reflecting about where I got stuck, I thought of a new question to ask. “Would anyone in the circumstance that triggered the thought you are now investigating, feel and react the same way you did?” As I considered the thought that my client was investigating, I saw that others would only feel and react the same way if they had the same context – if they had the same beliefs, thoughts and view of the circumstance.
Our Emotional Roller-Coaster Rides
According to Dr. C. George Boeree, the emotional nervous system, made up of the limbic and autonomic nervous systems provides a built-in feedback system to help us respond if we perceive that our survival is in jeopardy. Getting upset may be a response to this system which is highly effective in signaling us when our sense of security is threatened.
Our sense of security can be threatened if we lose our balance while riding a bicycle, when we get too near the edge of a tall building, when being attacked or when we imagine a potential threat such as a low balance in our checking account or strange behavior by our spouse. For most of us, the survival response in the emotional nervous system is triggered most often when we imagine a threat. Once we know how to recognize these false alarms, we can learn ways to turn off the false signals and return to a sense of peace and security.
Emotional Signals: True or False
Typically, a true signal from the emotional nervous system will pass quickly. The signal should get our attention and send resources to the parts of our bodies that are needed to react to the threat. Once the threat is mediated, the signal passes and we can return to a calm state. Think of the deer who gets startled and runs away. The deer soon returns to grazing or resting, once the perceived danger has passed.
A false signal occurs when our thinking convinces our bodies that we are in danger. Like the deer, we become alarmed and react with one of the three basic survival responses: fight, flight or freeze. But unlike a real threat which rarely persists, false threats cannot be mediated because they don’t actually exist. Unless the thinking that raised the alarm is changed, the bell keeps ringing.
Those of us who have experienced addiction, who are from dysfunctional families, in abusive relationships, and in any other emotionally unhealthy environment may experience a constant barrage of false survival signals. Response to these conditions drains our resources and trains the brain to create and expect more of the same. In this diminishing and disempowering cycle, positive change and growth is stunted if not stopped.
Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster
To break this cycle, you must recognize it. With awareness, the grip of the cycle loosens, making it possible to interrupt and override the false signals that get the disempowering cycle started.
What starts a false signal? It often appears that a particular circumstance causes the disempowering cycle. But if that were true, then everyone who found themselves in this circumstance would be upset. Why is it that two people can be faced with the same circumstance and react differently? This is answered when playing out the director/actor exercise described in my article, “Acting the Part”.
Taking Your Power Back
While the circumstance can serve as a trigger, it is our perception of the circumstance that gets the cycle started. Focus your conscious attention on your perception of the circumstance. Notice that your beliefs, judgments and intentions determine your reaction to the circumstance. If you aren’t happy with your reaction, challenge your thoughts and beliefs and reset your intention. This will enable you to get off the roller coaster and get a new perspective where you will be able to see and access power, inspiration, peace, motivation and wisdom.
Challenging your thoughts and beliefs can be, well, challenging. The Work of Byron Katie offers an efficient process for doing just that. To learn more about The Work, go to www.TheWork.com where you will find free resources to help you.
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