The mind-body system for regulating emotions is a paradox!You know how it goes. Whether you are just starting a diet, or trying not to think about ‘that guy!’ The more important you make it to not think about something, the more you think about it!
In the last two blogs the mind-body-vehicle and passengers metaphors helped explain why despite our best intentions, we can get off track, stuck at an impasse, or simply lost on the road of life. Our natural and auto-pilot instinct is to reduce our discomfort and move towards what feels good.
The big secret, that nobody ever teaches you, is that over time, what once ‘worked’ to make you feel better short-term, can make you feel worse long-term. The strategies we develop to minimize discomfort and hold to pleasure are not always so obvious and can lead to insidious forms of avoidance!
Obviously, this can cause problems because the passengers take over and start making decisions about the direction we take. But why is it that, what once worked to help you feel good, or reduce discomfort, now only works sometimes, or stops working entirely?
The Paradox of Auto-Pilot
The answer rests in the focus of what you are trying to change. Here’s the glitch in the mind-body system. Our emotion and motivation system is basically a paradoxical struggle between immediate gratification (appeasing passengers) and long-term goals (where you really want to go in life).
Outside Problems Versus Inside Problems
When tackling difficulties we encounter in the outside world, the effective thing to do is to problem solve, fix or get rid of the subject of difficulty. But for difficulties with internal experiences, this same approach can make it worse. When it comes to passengers, those vulnerable uncomfortable ones, there is a different rule. “The more unwilling you are to have it, the more you will be stuck in it” (Hayes, 2006).
When we over apply the problem solving agenda to the experience of internal events (thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations), it backfires. The solution to the problem, can become the problem. The more we struggle in a tug of war with the passengers, the more stuck we become!
The Paradox in a Digital Age
In our digital age we can now solve problems more quickly and efficiently than ever before in history. If we are uncertain about something, we can quickly and easily solve the problem with a Google search. If you need reassurance on a decision, you can text a friend, or your parents, or pose the question on social media. Don’t know how to get somewhere, there’s an app for that! Answers to uncertainty are usually at your fingertips.
So, as a generation of “Digital Natives,” the natural, possibly unconscious belief, might be “If I don’t feel certain, or know how to solve something, something is wrong.” Or “I ‘should’ be able to solve this” and “answers should be readily available.” Why wouldn’t you believe this to be true? Your experience has shown you that it is.
But there is one big problem with this belief, which can hold Millennials hostage, and can get you bound up in the struggle to move forward. The BIG questions in life can only be answered from the inside (click here to read more about this). There is no Google search for your life direction. While you can certainly get advice, reassurance, research, and ideas from the outside, what you want your life to be about, can only come from inside you.
Uncertainty, and all the passengers (thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations) that come with it are a natural, and perhaps even necessary part of this stage in your development.
Mindful-Mastery: The Real Solution to the Paradox
The skill needed for working with experiences on the inside is Mindfulness practice: the non-judgmental awareness of your experience, in the present moment. This means developing a new kind of relationship with the passengers.
The big player passengers that tend to come with uncertainty on the road of life are emotions of anxiety, nervousness, agitation, frustration, and irritability. Because there is a belief that “answers should come easily,” popular thought passengers include, “this shouldn’t be so hard,” “why me?” “unfair!”
The impulse is to find someone or something to blame. Ultimately, if you get caught in this struggle too long, or too often, “there must be something wrong with me,” sadness and depression can manifest.
While the effective thing to do for problems on the outside is to fix, problem solve, and make changes. The trick to working effectively with passengers is completely counter-intuitive because of the paradox. The effective skill for discomfort and uncertainty on the inside is to practice non-judgmental awareness, attention, and non-reactivity.
HOW do I do That?
Many blogs, experts, and self-help resources will tell you what you need to do to live a more fulfilled life and build well-being. The aim of this blog is to give you the all essential HOW to better manage the stress and uncertainty on the road of life.
Step by step, we will add skills each week for your self exploration, knowledge, and skillfulness. As you know, to be skillful at anything requires practice, practice, and more practice. Some skills might feel effective right away – others will take more time. The key is to stick with it because it takes time to override your auto-pilot!
Skill of the Week: Using a Mantra to Practice
The very first step in developing a more effective interaction with your passengers is to interrupt auto-pilot reactivity. This week, we begin with a very simple practice for slowing down and practicing non-reactivity. Like a good friend of mine once said, “Sometimes, you need to slow down to speed up!” Sometimes, the best thing to do to be effective is to take a moment to pause.
- Notice when you begin feeling tense, keyed up, agitated, or overwhelmed
- Take a deep breadth, so that your belly expands on the in breadth, and contracts on the out breadth.
- As you continue breathing in this way, say in your mind “I am inhaling with AWARENESS” On the in breadth, “I am exhaling with ACCEPTANCE” on the out breadth.
- Repeat 3-5 times until you feel yourself slow down.
In upcoming blogs, you will learn how to identify your passengers and more skills to combat your unhelpful auto-pilot strategies. If you would like to receive updates to guide your self-exploration, knowledge, and skills, subscribe to the Mindful-Mastery blog RSS feed. Or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!