When was the last time you just lost your cool?
Think back for a moment and bring that experience to mind. It may not look or feel pretty, but I bet we all have a few of those memories somewhere in a dark and dusty mental closet.
When you think about it now, does it still bring up a certain feeling? Do you feel anger and frustration, a feeling of red-hot-firey-ness behind your eyes or in your belly? How did it feel to let that hot stream of emotion run its course?
Sometimes, it can feel pretty satisfying, but for a lot of us, when we think about the fallout, the consequences of “losing it” can be pretty negative for ourselves and those around us. They are not usually times when we feel good about ourselves afterward.
When was the last time you felt really proud of how you behaved? Think back to that time, was there a sense of anger, frustration, or fire then? For most of us, no. The times we feel proud are often when we exhibit kindness, helpfulness, patience, and a degree of measure and control in our behavior.
The part of our brain that helps us respond in this measured or considered way (cerebral cortex) is different from the part of the brain that governs our knee-jerk reactions and our emotions (our reptilian, limbic brain). The reptilian brain reaction is the fastest of the two, and rightly so, as it keeps us safe by making quick-fire reactions (you may have heard of it as fight-or-flight).
So, thinking about this sequence of events, it stands to reason that if we can learn to pause in our daily interactions rather than acting on knee-jerk reactions, our life may take a significantly different path. Taking an extra split second before acting or speaking can literally change our life and the quality of our relationships.
It gives our body time to process what has happened and make a choice to respond in a more aligned way with our values; it will be more constructive for us and those around us. When we can identify the feeling of anger or frustration coming up and start making considered choices in our behavior, it is priceless.
It really doesn’t take much either—it’s about getting to know our emotions, how they feel and show up in our unique bodies, and then developing the skill to pause and select a suitable response. Some people may call this developing higher emotional intelligence, or simply being mindful.
Meditation practices are simple and incredibly effective ways to develop skills in this area. You can start with something as simple as a “Leaves on a Stream” or “Meditation on the Breath.” They can develop our skills as a responsive observer rather than a reactive participant in our whirlwind of emotions and thoughts. In short, it helps us to defuse them.
However, you can work with this technique in daily life by merely being highly attuned to sensation and observant of your reactions to that sensation. Something as simple as washing the dishes or walking around the block can easily be turned into a mindfulness practice. Even during exercise, you can apply this methodically.
Notice a sensation and then name it; notice your feelings and accompanying thoughts and name those too.
You can try it for yourself.
The benefits of this more measured responsiveness can play out for us in our professional lives and our personal lives. Keeping cool and measured in a heated and charged work environment can not just allow us to perform better but also contribute to a safer work environment for those around us.
If you feel yourself running hot, a good way to deal with it is by grounding or anchoring. Try the below steps a few times and notice which parts work best for you. With a little practice, you can even ground yourself in the middle of a conversation without the other person noticing you are doing it.
We can practice this now, together:
1. Press your feet firmly into the ground and take a deep, lower-belly breath.
2. Stretch your body tall; give whatever needs a wiggle a little wiggle, and then pause for a moment.
3. Take a quick scan to notice what is present for you. How are you feeling? And also notice the prevalence of any thoughts.
4. Come back to your body. Stretch however much feels good in your body. Lengthen your arms wide and wiggle your fingers. Notice that you have control over the moments you choose; you have control of your body.
5. Finally, notice three things you can see and three things you can hear to bring yourself into present moment awareness.
Today is your day, and you can control how you interact in it.