Take Control of Yourself
“Life is 10% of what actually happens to you and 90% of how you react to it.” I remember reading this quote many years ago and thinking. . .how can I have more control over my reactions to things?
As a result of my positive psychology and mindfulness training, I have learned that we have way more power over our happiness than we believe. We can learn how to consciously choose our responses to difficulties and ultimately have more control over our emotions and happiness.
We often find ourselves "losing it" in situations—such as family drama, a challenging event at work, or someone cutting you off on the highway—and we lose control of our reactions. Scientists refer to this as an amygdala hijack! The amygdala is the emotional part of the brain that regulates the fight or flight response. When it feels threatened, it can respond irrationally—causing us to have an immediate, overwhelming response disproportionate to the original event. We then beat ourselves up and say, “How could I do or say that?”
The first step is to notice you are feeling this way and STOP! Take deep breaths from your abdomen. We can prevent amygdala hijacking by using the 6-second rule. Waiting for just six seconds allows the brain chemicals that cause amygdala hijacking to dissipate.The goal is to refocus activity away from the amygdala and light up other parts of the brain to gain more cognitive control and give you constructive options and direction.
Next, become aware of your thoughts and consider why you’re upset. Here’s an example: One of my clients was angry and hurt over not being invited to a birthday celebration that some of her friends were going to. She ruminated over all the reasons why she was excluded. She wound up arguing with her husband and lashing out at her daughter. She felt awful for days. When I asked her to really think about what was upsetting her, she realized she actually didn’t care that much about the party because she didn’t even like being around the woman who was throwing it. We laughed, and she got it!
Technique of the week: When you find yourself hopping on the bandwagon of upset, STOP! Use the 6 second rule, breathe deeply, and ask yourself if it’s really worth getting that upset over. Then you can consciously choose how to respond!