Thursday, May 14, 2009

Intentional Moods

One way we can curb reptilian thinking in advance is with intention.

I woke up today in a very good mood. I was well rested, and felt on top of my game. The scene was set for a great day. This was not to be the case though. I got to work and sabotaged my serenity by, not only allowing myself to be distracted by petty annoyances; but almost relishing them. I would not release my grasp on them for anything. Around they spun in my brain like a rotisserie chicken.

I was roasting each and every irksome habit until they were golden brown. My co-worker's tendency to lick her finger while sorting through stacks of paper, another's seeming indifference to the needs of customers paired with the cell phone outgrowth on her ear, all were searing to a crisp in my brain. Whether these aggravations were valid or not is an entirely different issue. After the first hour, I was in a most wretched mood. And you can imagine how pleasant I was to be around this morning.

While I was still thinking somewhat cerebrally, albeit mostly with the primitive, hind regions of my brain. I was able to “catch” these aggravations and filter through them somewhat. Given the small amount of sense I was thinking with this morning, I was able to at least know that I was doing myself (and certainly everyone else) no favors by making these annoyances my primary focus.

“One of the functions of the thinking brain is to exercise veto power over the instinctive forces of the two lower brains. It sets limits on behavior; it provides self-control.” Healthy Congregations by Peter L Steinke

I have often, and have worked for people, who have rationalized a reptilian response in order to “teach the offender a lesson.” This is not only counter-productive, but it usually make the situation worse.

In times of high stress, in order to keep ourselves from a reptilian reaction, we must capture each and every thought. I am constantly learning and re-learning how to do this. Once I could direct my thoughts elsewhere (which did take work and a lot of re-focusing), I was thinking a lot clearer, performing my tasks a lot better, and was in a much much better mood.

It was very hard at first, I won't lie. It took directed intention. I spent a lot of the day “faking it 'til I made it.” But I ended the day in a much better mood, and no reptilian incidents.

c. 2009

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My Brain Stem Made Me Do It

This post will dovetail nicely with the previous post on Perez Hilton. You may have read the last post thinking that I was excusing behavior like Hilton exhibited. Well, if it's biological, how can I help it?
My brain stem made me do it. The “my brain stem made me do it excuse” might work in court, under mans rea, but is rarely effective in every day life.

A reptilian reaction is indeed biological, but that doesn't mean that we can just let loose with reactive behavior whenever we are stressed out. That's a good way to make a lot of enemies and ruin relationships. How do you feel about the reactive people in your life? (Oh my gosh, what is WITH her?)

The neocortex, the the largest and most rational part of the brain, can be dominated by our most primitive brain, the brain stem, or reptilian brain. When stress triggers the brain stem, it is programmed to react whether it's perceptions are correct or not (and it's even more embarrassing when you're freaking out about something that isn't quite as bad as it appears – which is actually pretty common).

It requires emotional intelligence to upshift to our higher brains. The reptilian reaction is automatic, and can't be stopped, but if you are able to upshift - basically find the truth in the situation, (OK, this will NOT kill me) - you can prevent an embarrassing situation.

Upshifting is not easy nor is it natural.

How do we do this? How does one overcome an automatic reaction? How exactly do we upshift to the more cerebral regions of our brains? It doesn't require any super brain powers. There are a number of ways. The best way is to laugh.

I know you're thinking, OK, now I know she's crazy. Think about it though. I'm sure we all can think of time when we were just raging mad, and some comic relief managed to creep it's way in to the situation. We most likely forgot what we were so upset about, right? Laughter relieves stress and lightens the situation, (at least for the one laughing, anyway).

There are some times when laugher is the LAST thing we are capable of, and that's OK because there are a couple of other things we can do.

Reframing is one of them. This is probably the next hardest to do because it involves pulling yourself out of the situation and looking at it in a new light. Oftentimes we are so enmeshed in the situation that it is near impossible to see a different angle of it. If we are not actually in a dire situation, perhaps we may have the time to reflect on how irrational our thoughts may be.

What are some other ways we can deal with stress, thus avoiding reptilian reactions?