Have you ever noticed how your happiness seems dependent on people doing what you want them to do or circumstances working out the way you want them to? Yeah, me too.
When they do: Great! Nothing succeeds like success!
But what if people don’t do what you want and things don’t go your way? Not so great, right?
You’ll probably decide those circumstances are challenging your happiness and peace of mind. You may decide that those people are doing so intentionally. But the truth is that it’s all up to you. Whatever the circumstances or people around you do, how you respond is your choice.
That’s not to say that when unexpected negative events happen, you have to make them better. You can’t. But I am saying—asking—pleading—that you don’t make them worse.
And the easiest way to make them worse is to say to ourselves, “This shouldn’t be happening!” Maybe we could have avoided whatever we’re dealing with by identifying triggers and planning ahead, but the time to figure all that out is not in the moment of the crisis.
Instead, as we deal with whatever the universe has put on our plate, we need to accept that what is happening in this moment is reality, and therefore unavoidable. The good news, however, is that reality – this very moment – is the kindest, most perfect teacher you’ll ever have.
Getting to the point where you can hear that teacher is the hard part. But I’ve got a story I think will help, and is told by Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist who had a stroke when she was 37 years old.
The stroke created significant damage in her left hemisphere, the part of our brain that is responsible for organizing information and language, remembering the past, and projecting into the future. (The right brain is all about being right here, right now and feeling joyful in the present moment.)
Ultimately she recovered and documented her experience in her memoir My Stroke of Insight—essential reading for anyone who’s looking for an owner’s manual for the human brain.
One of Taylor’s best insights provides us with a scientific basis for the age-old advice to “take a deep breath and count to ten.” Taylor calls her version the “90 second rule”:
Something happens in the external world and all of a sudden we experience a physiological response by our body that our mind would define as fear. So in my brain some circuit is saying something isn’t safe and I need to go on full alert, those chemicals flush through my body to put my body on full alert, and for that to totally flush out of my body, it takes less than 90 seconds.
So, whether it’s my fear circuitry or my anger circuitry or even my joy circuitry - it’s really hard to hold a good belly laugh for more than 90 seconds naturally. The 90 second rule is totally empowering. That means for 90 seconds, I can watch this happen, I can feel this happen, and I can watch it go away. After that, if I continue to feel that fear or feel that anger, I need to look at the thoughts I’m thinking that are re-stimulating that circuitry that is resulting in me having this physiology over and over again.
When you stay stuck in an emotional response, you’re choosing it by choosing to continue thinking the same thoughts that retrigger it. We have this incredible ability in our minds to replay but as soon as you replay, you’re not here; you’re not in the present moment.
I like Taylor’s version of “take a deep breath and count to ten” better. For one thing, she’s got science on her side. For another, as anyone who has tried the old saying can tell you, it takes longer than you can count to ten before your body is ready to resume a calm state.
But the essential information is the same: whatever happens, if you can ride out your body’s pre-programmed response, you will get to a place where you—the best part of you—can respond to a crisis on its own terms and learn what reality is trying to teach you.
Obviously riding out your body’s chemistry is key, and the great thing about the “90 Second Rule” is that it’s there to let you know exactly how long you have to keep it up. A minute and a half is not that long, is it?
Today, try to be aware when you are triggered (hint: you will be feeling negative emotion!) and try to breathe through it for 90 seconds.
See if you can make it through the next minute and a half without reacting. See if you can feel the hormones dissolve in your bloodstream. How did observing and waiting change the outcome of the situation?
Please let me know in the comments!
Stacey is a purpose and success coach who helps you give birth to your BIG dreams. To find your purpose and passion, check out her FREE eBook, The Purpose and Passion Guidebook.
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