What did you participate in #today and for how long?

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“A #mistake should be your #teacher, not your attacker. A mistake is a lesson, not a loss…” – Curiano.com
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Your #emotional #mind will control you if you allow it. #Learn to #manage it.
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“#Worrying won’t stop bad stuff from happening. It #stops you moving on from the bad stuff. Let go of the #worries.” – S Long. Tomorrow has enough of its own. – Matt 6:34

So:
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and…
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Want to #change one thing about another person? Start with #yourself, and end there.

Change

“It’s obvious!”

Remember: What’s obvious to you is just that. Obvious to you. – Adapted from J. medina.

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All of us have #triggers to unwanted #behaviours. Don’t allow yourself or others to pull them.

There are some quotes, but certainly not all, that I agree with from the brilliant-minded scientist, Steven Hawkins. Here’s one for starters:

Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.

I think that the quote above is a fabulous quote. Being curious about what makes people, as well as the universe, ‘tick’ sets you on a voyage of discovery. I believe we are made to explore, to wonder and to discover. Our brains thrive on these any many more curiosities. So I echo again, Hawkins’s last sentence, “Be curious.”

Why the title of this post then? The words that are the title of this post are taken from Jane Hawkins quoting what her husband, Steven had said to her. In other words, Steven Hawkins was reported as saying to Jayne that her emotions were her fatal, irrational flaw in her character.

What makes this even more sad is that fact that Jane bore the brunt of her husband’s anger and frustration. She was his nurse and constant support, self-sacrificing her life in full support of his. Steven could devote his extraordinary mind to exploring the wonders of the universe and not the wonders of his wife.

It wasn’t just Hawkins who was frustrated with his wife’s ‘flaw’. Jane’s parents-in-law are quoted as saying:

We don’t really like you, Jane. You do not fit into our family.

 

Hawkins’s family would sit around the dinner table and not talk. It seems that it was a cold, emotionless family. A ‘Mr Spock’ family that saw emotions in a negative way and had to be repressed. Repression is a very dangerous, damaging practice and it will eat you away from the inside the more you are unwilling to deal with it or denying it’s happened.

The irony of Hawkins expressing that Jane’s emotion was a flaw in her character (remember, that emotional ‘flaw’ meant that she was his nurse and constant carer both at home and when he toured the world, as a much sought after speaker) is that he often demonstrated uncontrolled anger in his awful treatment of Jane. He couldn’t manage his emotions because he’d never learnt to helpfully manage his emotions. He’d never learnt to helpfully manage his emotions because his family had never learnt to effectively manage their emotions. He had no effective role model, as a child and when growing up. He was ‘taught’ to repress his emotions. Repression isn’t effective management: it’s destructive and it invariably leads to explosive expression in teenage or adult life.

I am writing a book that explains that you must learn to mange your emotions, otherwise they will control you. You can’t control your emotions because they are vastly more powerful. They are creative and they powerful. Too powerful for the brain to control. It can, however, manage the emotion. If you want to know how to learn to manage your emotion, and why trying to control or repress them is both pointless and deeply damaging, please contact me.

Steven Hawkins was right about one thing in the quote, though. Emotions are irrational. Emotions stem from the Emotional Brain and its role is to keep you safe and secure and give creativity and spontaneity in abundance. Its role is not to think and make sense. That is the role of the Thinking Brain. The Emotional Brain is irrational. It is emotional. It is, however, vital for living a healthy, happy life. Without the Emotional Brain making decisions just don’t feel right. Creative brilliance is beyond our reach since creativity is the realm of the Emotional Brain. Without the Emotional Brain there would simply be no joy in eating a gourmet meal, there would be no awe when gazing on a stunning sunset, and there would be no true wonder at all. There is a world of difference between watching a stunning sunset and being physically moved by it. I want to be physically moved by the wonders of our planet and universe. I hope you do too.

Your emotions are part of you. They give the “Yes!” feel that cannot come from the Thinking Brain. By the way, your emotions aren’t you. They are not who you are. Emotions are expressions. Emotions are outcomes to stimuli if you’d like, although I realise that sounds somewhat cold. Put simply, you are not an emotional person; you are a person who expresses emotion. Or not.

I wonder what amazing discoveries in the universe Steven Hawkins would have discovered if his emotions had been in partnership with his incredible Thinking Brain? I think it’s worth noting too that Jane is no longer his wife.

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Filtering via these methods, especially deletion, is very common.

Come on, we’ve all done it! We have an extraordinary mind capable of filtering information at a staggering rate. It’s a very necessary adaption too. As I sit in my favourite place, a Costa coffee house, there’s a cacophony of sounds all around me. Children crying, the blues music playing out on the sound system, the tap-tap of freshly steamed milk for the drinks and people chatting all around me. The limbic region of my unconscious brain is constantly monitoring the sounds for a potential ‘freeze, flight or fight’ response were something untoward to occur (remember, this is the correct response order, not the ‘fight of flight’, as it’s so often known as). If my mind were not capable of filtering out the sounds, I would be rapidly overwhelmed by all that background noise.

That highly effective filtering system is put to use every moment of the day. Stop for a moment and listen to the sounds around you. You might find that sounds were there that you weren’t aware were occurring. That’s the way it should be. Rest assured, though, that your unconscious mind was monitoring them just in case.

Like with everything in life ‘there are two sides to every coin’. The highly effective filtering system is put to use in ways that aren’t always helpful.

If you’re familiar with some psychology you’ll understand the clause: ‘the map is not the territory’. By this, psychologists mean that what is occurring in front of us is interpreted by our internal filtering system and judgements are then made. What one person concludes may well not be what another person concludes for we see the world, as another cliche so eloquently puts it, ‘through rose-coloured spectacles’. Let me give you an example. I love Christmas. Yes, ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day!’ Once, in October at a church charity function, I bought an advent calendar. It looked, to me anyway, a wonderful purchase. My mind rushed to thoughts of Christmas. I was anticipating opening each of the doors and celebrating the advent time, singing the carols and decorating the Christmas tree. With a face beaming, I turned around with my festive purchase and showed it to a friend of mine who was approaching me. They took one look at it, said not a word, turned around briskly and walked away.

We both saw the advent calendar but it had an entirely different meaning for each of us. And it’s those meanings to us that can exaggerate what’s occurring to us, which is what I was doing with the advent calendar (after all, it was only October and if I’d stopped to consider that I might have just put it quietly in the bag that I had and not magnified the importance of my purchase to such an extent!), or we can completely disregard it and filter it out as being irrelevant, which is what my friend was doing. Distortions, deletions and generalisations can frequent our thinking with great regularity and, in especially the case of filtering, deletions.

It’s not that filtering isn’t a necessary thing to do. We’ve already discussed that filtering extraneous sounds and events around us is a necessary process to coping with all that’s happening to avoid mind overload. Rather, it’s that we’re so good at doing it, that we can filter out through deletion what is actually important or relevant. We do this very effectively, but not very helpfully, when facing this particular thinking trap.

What happens is that we filter information that would change our interpretation of the event. We seldom ‘step back’ and consider what we’ve filtered, but respond to the situation with all filters blazing! The ‘stepping back’ and considering is therefore a necessary stage to empower the rational and logical part of the brain. The thing is, System 1 (the automatic, emotion-responding part of the mind) is the hare in the race; System 2 (the logical, problem-solving and reflective part of the mind) is very much the tortoise left way behind and only just out of the starting blocks.

It can get worse too. We can end up with a self-fulfilling prophesy. We filter through deletion to such an extent that anything positive that does happen is simply deleted, as being irrelevant since it doesn’t fit our current thinking model. “See, I told you so! It’s rubbish!” can be our response. System 2 is left so far behind that we don’t give it any chance to consider what information might have been filtered (or in my case, magnified) and we will automatically respond in unhelpful ways.

So, what do we do?

System 1 is automatic but can be overcome and changed to an altogether more helpful response. Plasticity in the mind means that we can overcome the negative automatic responses and exchange them for more helpful responses. It takes will power (sometimes, tremendous will power) but we can halt the thinking trap response and step back to consider a more helpful one.

“What have I ignored?”; “What have I forgotten?”; “What have I exaggerated?” etc. are the kinds of questions to ask yourself. Being mindfully aware that we are filtering through distortion, deletion and generalisation is essential. Why? Because we’ve probably got into an unhelpful habit of responding in those ways. The first stage to breaking an unhelpful habit is to recognise that we’re doing it in the first place. And that means being mindfully aware. Then, once mindfully aware, we can consider what we’ve filtered and use that to change the meaning of the thoughts that we’re having.

Let’s say that you’ve just completed a task but it’s not gone as well as you wanted it to go. How might you automatically respond (System 1) and what to do about it (System 2) given half a chance? What follows is a possible internal dialogue with yourself and a ‘meta-you’. The ‘meta-you’ is the ‘you’ observing the event and your thoughts, from near by. The ‘meta-you’ will have a different perspective: literally, because they are observing the event near by and not through your ‘rose-coloured spectacles’.

You: Typical! I never get it right. Same rubbish that I always produce. It’s never good enough!

‘Meta-you’: Hang on a minute! Never? Always? Never? Last time you did this task you did pretty well. In fact, Paul said it was good. I think you’ve forgotten that!

You: OK. It’s not as bad as I said. I forgot Paul had said that…

‘Meta-you’: How can I make it even better next time?

The ‘meta you’ helps offer alternative views, ideas and thoughts. It might sound weird but this approach really can work to help you identify those distortions, filtered deletions and generalisations that the ‘you’ has applied and do something about it. Mind you, it generally works better if a skilled coach/psychologist can be there with you asking the questions but a ‘meta you’ is an excellent substitute. Further, ‘meta you’ is with you wherever you go. And doesn’t charge either; just change in return [wink]! Give it a go. Let me know how it works for you.

In summary

We’ve reached the end of the common thinking traps and how to avoid them. Easy to avoid, aren’t they?! Ehem…. For many, common thinking traps are not easy to avoid. That’s why they are common. Changing our thinking patterns isn’t easy to do. Simply because we’ve got ourselves into a habit of thinking and operating that way. Habits don’t occur over night and seldom disappear over night either.

However, they can be changed. It takes will power, shear determination and mindfulness to respond in a much more helpful way. Crucial to all common thinking traps and how to avoid them is the belief that we can change. We can rewire our minds to think and respond differently. Neuro-plasticity abounds in the mind allowing us, whatever the age, to change our thinking and avoid those common thinking traps. As my hero William James (the Victorian psychologist), so wonderfully put it:

Act as if what you’re doing makes a difference. It does.

Act, as if you can change. Practise being mindfully aware of how you’re responding, step back and consider how you might think differently and notice what happens when you put that into practice. It will take will power but the more you do it the easier it will become. A new pathway in your mind will be formed and subsequently desired thought patterns will more easily flow down that newly formed pathway making it progressively deeper through reinforcement. Eventually, it will be a helpful habit that you possess making it easier to think in the desired way and harder to think in the old way. How good is that?!

I look forward to reading your comments on any of the common thinking traps that I have written about, especially the ones that you have found particularly helpful or relevant to yourself. In future posts I will be writing specifically about habit formation and how to break unhelpful habits.

I’ll leave you with a modified quote of mine.

If you think you can (change your common thinking traps) you’re right. If you think you can’t change (your common thinking traps) you’re right.

To ‘cut to the chase’ it’s the unconscious mind that governs emotion. I like to think of the unconscious as a young puppy. Often wildly responding and out of control unless we keep a loving, but tight, reign. The limbic part of the brain (at the heart of the unconscious mind) deals with the ‘Freeze, Flight or Fight’ Response. (It’s in that order of response, by the way, and not ‘Fight or Fight’, as it’s so very often referred.). What happens with Emotional Reasoning is that we ‘reason’ that what we are believing is true without questioning its validity.

The very phrase, ‘Emotional Reasoning’ is actually an oxymoron. Emotions aren’t reasoned responses. They are just ‘played out’ by the Limbic System / unconscious mind. That’s why we ask ourselves after our response: “Why did I do that?” The neocortex part of the brain is seeking to reason the emotional response.

Further, what psychologists call cognitive dissonance abounds in Emotional Reasoning. We create reasons that justify our behaviours, and ignore, as well as delete, behaviours that don’t fit in with our Emotional Reasoning. Cognitive dissonance exists when conflicting beliefs and attitudes exist at the same time within someone. One of those beliefs must give in to the other one. Humans are remarkably adept at dropping one belief to allow another one to dominate. Practise it for long enough and we can justify any behavioural response, never questioning whether it is a helpful thing to do or not!

I feel guilty.

Guilt is a very powerful emotion. I believe that it is one of the most damaging and destructive emotions. Guilt grinds us down, freezes us from releasing change and creates excessive levels of stress with long-term damage to our bodies. Yes, guilt is that powerful.

We should challenge guilt at every opportunity. But how? An excellent website with some very practical advice can be read here. There are some very powerful questions that we can ask ourselves when feeling guilty. They involve asking what someone else might be feeling, thinking, saying and doing if they were in the situation that we find ourselves in. The very act of asking this question helps to calm the emotion (the unconscious/Limbic System) and allow our conscious mind to consider, reflect and enable a more desired response. For example, asking ourselves how our trusted friend, John might be feeling if he was in our situation may well give us a different perspective to our own. John might behave in a different way if he were in our situation and he might also say something more helpful in the long-term.

Acting this way (yes, it’s good to act) can help reduce the emotion, will help stop us saying or doing what isn’t helpful and will free us to live the life that we want to live.

I generally find that forgiveness helps too. It might be forgiving others for what happened; it might be forgiving yourself for what happened. Forgiveness frees us. It’s the opposite of guilt. Whereas guilt grinds us down, forgiveness frees us up. The more we are freed up, the more satisfied we will find our lives.

As a Christian, I believe that Christ has bought me freedom from guilt through His death and Resurrection. By believing in Him and not letting guilt have any power over me it’s helped me to look up and live the kind of life I want to lead.

Whatever your personal beliefs, getting rid of the power of guilt will make such a positive difference to your life. It will probably feel like a massive weight has been lifted off your shoulders. There are things that I wish I hadn’t done (regrets) but I refuse to let the guilt of those events take a hold. Those events are what I’ve done; those events are not who I am. I’m looking up and moving forward and no event or belief is going to hold me back or down.

How might you free yourself up today?

Summary:

Challenge: I feel guilty.
Opportunity: If (someone you trust and respect) was in this situation what would they say/feel/think/do?
Reflection: emotions can mist. What evidence can I find to disagree with my judgement and how might I think and behave differently if I did?
Saying: Guilt grinds me down; forgiveness frees me up!

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