OK, that’s a bit dramatic…(if you’ve seen the film or read the novel, you get it), but life working around Type-A folks can certainly evoke some really strong reactions.
Anger, feeling hurt, annoyance and other forms of upset are examples often how we choose to respond to various stimuli at work and maybe even at home, on the freeway, or around our kids.
It’s almost as if we possess a negative-reflex-thinking mode that becomes our go-to response, triggered over and over again each day.
Unfortunately, this leads to increased stress levels, a dumping of stress hormones in our bloodstream, and ultimately to disease states like hypertension and heartburn.
That’s an unhealthy way to live.
Between stimulus and response
The late Dr. Wayne Dyer was an early hero of mine in my search for independent thinking about mindfulness and secular spirituality. I credit his book, Your Sacred Self as one that literally saved my life.
The following quote from Victor Frankyl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, (via Wayne) really got my attention and it’s very applicable in this current context:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. Within that space is the power to choose our response.”
For a very long time, I wasn’t aware of this space. I thought that my reaction to various stimuli like anger, accusation, criticism, or rebuke was automatic and the result of how I was wired.
Dr. Dyer’s books and especially this quote made a huge difference in the way I started to view my responses to the Type-A folks I worked around.
Investigating the space
Thinking is our default mode of mental operation. It’s what our magnificent brains do pretty much all the time.
It’s been estimated that our brains think about 30,000 individual thoughts per waking day. That’s approximately 2,000 thoughts per waking hour.
When we operate in thinking mode, our responses can feel automatic and our reactions almost like a knee-jerk reflex. This type of reflexive thinking can sometimes lead to responses that we regret later.
However, it’s possible to change this response pattern, to lengthen the space between stimulus and response and choose a better, more healthy mode of response.
I call this investigating the space
When confronted by an uncomfortable stimulus like rebuke or criticism, instead of simply responding in a knee-jerk reflexive manner, I pause. It might look like I’ve just checked out of the conversation, but it’s an intentional move to pause …and this breaks my reflexive response pattern.
By pausing and considering a more appropriate response, I’m investigating and lengthening the space between stimulus and response. In this space, I can choose a more appropriate response.
This is a type of mindfulness practice
Mindfulness is the process of putting our full attention on the present moment and observing what’s going on without judgement.
Most of us are capable of breaking our reflexive response and thinking patterns, but it takes practice. This is mindfulness practice.
It can take the form of brief five-minute self-check-ins during the workday and also include formal meditation practice before or after work.
Mindfulness practices can include almost anything such as listening, walking, writing, planning, and scheduling or just sitting quietly.
The good news is that by incorporating any of these mindfulness practices into your life, you can lengthen the space between stimulus and response and enhance your power to choose an appropriate response.
Over time and with regular practice, this leads to a change in reflexive communication patterns, a calmer countenance, decreased stress levels, and less disease. And, it introduces mindful awareness as a new mode of being so that thinking mode isn’t your only choice.
All that for just five minutes of silence. 😎
The 5-Minute Fountain of Youth Practice
I call this brief practice in mindfulness the 5-Minute Fountain of Youth because, in only five short minutes, it’s possible to emerge from a period of mindfulness practice and feel refreshed, rested, much calmer, and …what the hell, younger, too!
Here’s how I conduct a 5-Minute Fountain of Youth Practice Check-in in my office chair:
I sit up straight with my butt on the front edge of the chair. My feet are evenly spaced in front of my hips and flat on the ground.
I place my hands, palms down, on my thighs or knees and softly close my eyes. I take a couple of deep breaths.
Because my brain needs something do (thinking mode is its specialty), I allow it track my breaths. I feel the air flow in and out of my nose.
When my mind wanders off into thoughts about the next blog post or the next meeting, or what I need to pick up from the grocery store (it happens over and over to everyone who meditates), I don’t react negatively or judge myself to be the world’s worst meditator, I just come back to the breath.
I check in with my body and notice any sensations of discomfort, adjusting my position if needed, just noting them and come back to the breath.
At the end of a five minute period (or whenever it feels right to break), I silently thank my breath for always being there ready for me to engage with it.
I open and my eyes and then focus on the next task.
Often, after a 5-Minute Fountain of Youth practice, I feel refreshed, replenished, and recharged. At nearly age 60, I also feel a bit younger.
OK, that’s a purely subjective description. Your mileage may vary.
But it’s far cry from living like you’re in the middle a horror film. 😯