There are 3 things that you need to understand about your brain.
- It is skewed toward the negative. Think about this- as a caveman, life was challenging as they lived in survival mode- fight or flight. Over time, they learned to recognized sounds as either good, bad or unknown, which was also considered bad until proven otherwise. Your brain has taken all of those responses and stored them in its database- it’s objective is to keep you safe. So as you move through life, your brain checks its database, determines good or bad, and acts appropriately. So new experiences are considered bad, when there is no reference point. And it’s important to note that the brain embeds the negative memories, not the positive ones because of its need to stay safe.
- It will always try to prove itself right. Your brain constantly searches for that proof. It will interpret actions or lack thereof as proof that what you believe is true. Have you ever thought that someone must be mad at you because you texted them and they didn’t respond for hours or days only to find out later that they lost their phone or they didn’t get the message? Or that a partner was cheating on you because their phone rings and they don’t answer it when you are there? All because you didn’t realize that they are making you the priority, not the person on the call.
- It loves patterns. Have you ever noticed that it’s hard to break a pattern? Our brain searches the database for the memories and creates a pattern. And to keep this pattern going, it creates a story about it. Or if you have to start something new that it takes at least 21 days to establish it as a routine? It’s no different than a well worn dirt road. Our tires will go where all of the tires have gone before, hitting every rut as it does. When a situation comes into play, your brain will scan the data base to see what the established pattern was and act accordingly. It’s like driving a car- if you stop driving a car for a while, when you start again, you will pick up just as you left off.
So knowing what you now know about your brain, you can understand why you may need to slow down and pause before you react if you want to make changes in your life. And if you want to establish new patterns and new routines that you must make a concerted effort of daily practice or mindfulness in order to be successful. The more you like your new routine, the easier it is to change, and the less you like it, the harder it can become.
Your reality is shaped by its mental chatter. It’s like a wild horse- it takes you where “it” wants to go. Like any horse, if you want to tame it, you must be the one in charge, you need to be in control of the reins. So how do you tame your mind so that you are in charge?
You need to be aware of where it goes and change the course when it goes astray. Through this process of being in charge, you can control and ease your mental chatter. Remember- your brain wants to keep you safe, and in order to play safe, it must keep you small and out of the scary unknown. Think back to the caveman exploring his unknown. Being careless could cost you your life so your brain will tell you that you can’t do certain things because it deems them unsafe.
And on top of your brain being skewed negatively, should you listen to the news, it too is skewed toward the negative. So you are constantly being barraged with negativity, adding to our mental chatter. This also includes information from those around you- more often you will hear about what you did wrong more than what you did right. This is all conditioning.
Take a moment, make yourself comfortable and sit for 5 minutes, observing your negative mental chatter. Just be a witness to what comes up. How many times did you compare yourself to someone else? How may times did you berate or judge yourself? Identify the negative thoughts that came up.
Let’s repeat the above exercise, this time focusing on the positive mental chatter. Make yourself comfortable and sit for 5 minutes, observing your what comes up. How many times did you think of good memories? How may times did you think of the good things you had done? Identify the positive thoughts that came up.
When you start focusing on the positive, you create new neuro-pathways in our brain. And the more that you keep focusing on the same thoughts and beliefs over and over, you solidify those pathways, and the old pathways died out and a new pattern is created. This is key to making a long lasting change.
Creating a Shift in Conversations
So imagine that you need to have a conversation with someone that could be challenging, regardless as to whether you are the giver or the receiver. Let’s face it- the conversation could go badly. So how do control the conversation or at least minimize risk?
- Have an intention as to what you want as your outcome- best case scenario. Think it through, devising possible scenarios. Also have your baseline outcome- what would be the minimum that you would accept as your outcome. You always want a backup if you need to negotiate. When you are in stressful situations, you lose access to your logical mind and therefore don’t think clearly which is why after the conversation you often come up with things you should have said. Figure them out before you have the conversation.
- Be the driver of the conversation- stay out of fear. Imagine that you are riding a horse, what would you do to stay on the horse and make it go where you wanted? The first thing you would do is not spook the horse or you will find yourself flying in the air, out of control. When you find yourself in difficult situations, breathe to calm yourself so you can stay out of fight or flight. Assume positive intent and realize that the other person’s intention will always be protect themself or something or someone they hold dear. It’s not about trying to hurt you.
- Be mindful of how they are feeling. Don’t spook their horse. If you see that they are becoming defensive, calm their horse- assure them. Acknowledge how they are feeling. I can see how you would feel or I hear how excited you are. Even if you don’t agree with them. You want to get them out of fight or flight.
- Sticks to the facts, not the stories. Listen before you react. Allow yourself to see opportunity- don’t be closed off by being so focused on yourself that you can’t hear the other person. Our brains like to go to the past or the future but the key is to stay present. Listen to their facts. What are their facts? Fact: I’m scared Story: My spouse will be mad.
- Clarify what was said. We often listen through our filters. Repeat what you heard. Add- What else did you want to say? That will not only make the conversation easier but it will validate that you genuinely care. Keep to the topic- avoid going off into a tangent. Pull the conversation back in as necessary.
- Close with agreement- get the win-win. Acknowledge and validate. For me, to be acceptable, it has to be this way. Pull out your bottom line. Create the win where people feel at least acknowledged and validated. A win-win can be that we disagree.
The above steps can also be used to getting unstuck.
- Clarify what you want. If you don’t know, list what you don’t want and work it backward.
- How do you feel about taking action? If is creates an emotion, release it using the Energy Accelerator Technique©.
- Separate the facts from the stories- don’t let your fears paralyze you and write the outcome.
- Take action and re-calculate your actions as necessary. Taking imperfect action is often better than taking no action. You may find out what you do want when you recognize what you don’t want.