Have you ever snapped in a situation and then wished you didn’t?
Yes? Me too!
The sad thing is that I tend to snap with those I love the most. Why? Maybe it’s a numbers game, the probability of them being on the receiving end of my snippy comments is higher. Maybe it has become a habit to snap when I’m stressed. Or maybe they are just more annoying!
Whatever the reasons, if you would rather not snap at your loved ones here, is a 5-step process that is guaranteed to retrain your brain to respond in a way that you can be proud of.
Step 1 – Spot it
First, I invite you to imagine an irritating scenario which usually ends in you reacting in a way that you wish you hadn’t. Maybe it’s your kids throwing food on the floor (…this happens in our house!). Maybe it’s a partner playing the TV too loud or maybe it’s the person in the office that never replaces the paper in the printer.
Have a real scenario in mind before you read on. Really imagine it….
Now notice what is happens physically to your body. When I did this exercise, I discovered that my heart pumps faster, my eyes open wider and I walk faster. And to top it off, I puff my chest up! Notice exactly what happens in your body as vividly as you can.
One of the great things about being human is that we have the ability to observe, question and then change our behaviour. If we want to!
Step 2 – Walk away (if you can)
Absolutely no good can come from staying in a situation where your body has been hijacked by stress and emotions. Your signal to walk away is when you first feel your body start to react. Don’t wait. You are probably by now already in the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response. This is our bodies thinking we are being attacked and preparing for action.
You know what this feels like know because you visualized the feelings in step 1. If you walk away it is not to avoid the situation it is with the intention of returning better prepared to handle the situation.
Step 3 – Take a breath
Stand still and breath. Yes… I know it is simple. Take as many slow, deep breaths as you can. With each breath, we are naturally boosting our parasympathetic nervous system. Nature’s best and oldest medicine.
The more you breathe, the more your body will relax putting you back in control of your response.
I tend to look out the window at the furthest point on the horizon. This helps me feel as though I have literally stepped out of the situation into a safe place.
Step 4 – What really just happened?
Something triggered you. It was very real. The kids were messing around, your partner was being a selfish pain in the ass or maybe your boss undermined you.
But ask yourself these questions.
“What is really going on with me right now”?
“What does this situation say about me”?
Typical answers I find myself landing on include:
‘I’m a terrible mum’
‘Know one likes me’
‘They don’t respect me’
Your responses I am sure will be different. But in almost all cases the actual incident is not the cause of your reaction. It is the answers you came up with. Sometimes it is helpful to notice that what bothered you one day doesn’t bother you at all the next. Therefore, it must be the message you are telling yourself rather than the incident itself.
Step 5 – Come back with strengths
As you are breathing take a minute to think about all the things that are great about the person that just tipped you over the edge. It’s quite likely that the same thing that makes them great is also the thing that is currently winding you up!
My daughter, Chloe is extremely chatty and asks an incredible amount of questions. It’s one of her greatest strengths, but when the stream of conversation and questions keep coming when we are rushing to get out the door it can be really annoying.
Do you agree that when we are given a compliment we listen? I know I do. If you return to the situation after the deep breaths and restart the conversation on a positive note, I bet you will discover they listen more than coming back with an attack.
Now let’s take my very chatty daughter as an example. I would say something like this.
“Chloe – I know you love to talk… that is what I enjoy so much about you. But when Mummy is asking you to put your shoes on and stand by the door would you mind pausing the talking so that you can hear my instructions?”
But it is so hard!
There we have the 5 steps. I can imagine you are thinking “Yes in theory it sounds great, but it is so hard!”
Yes! Change is hard. We have been handling stressful situations and letting our emotions hijack our bodies for a very long time. After many years we are now retraining the brain to choose a different response.
I hear what you are saying… This is all great if you have the ability at the time to go through all 5 steps. Why not start with just one step and build from there?
And even if the moment has passed it’s not too late to go through these points and learn in hindsight. You will still be training your brain for next time.
Whatever your reason for wanting to make a change. Just remember to listen to your body’s reaction, ask yourself the difficult questions and know that you can always choose your response.
It’s not easy but I know you can do it.
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