So, there you are, sitting with your cup of coffee, lounging on your couch on a Saturday morning just enjoying the simplicity of the experience. Suddenly a thought pops in your head about someone or something that you don’t like, feel wronged by, judge as stupid, irritating or even horrible. Your brain becomes fixated on these thoughts, replaying events, conversations, an email or text. You start to feel lousy. Your peaceful state has vanished.
What we don’t realize is that peace is ALWAYS an option. But because it’s a human trait to ruminate on the negative (we can thank our emotional brain—the amygdala– for that), we don’t recognize that we are unconsciously relinquishing thoughts that generate peace for ones that generate fear, anger, worry, obsession. Yes, our thoughts determine our feelings. As an example notice the different feelings each of these thoughts produce: “He should never have done that to me!” vs. “That’s just who he is, and he just does what he does”.
As long as we believe circumstances are the cause of our feelings, we will be at the mercy of the emotional brain. It has a knee-jerk response to look for danger and to protect our safety at all costs–after all it’s this “survival” brain that’s kept humans alive for thousands of years. So, it’s job is to generate thoughts that motivate us to be afraid, be angry, seek dominance over “threats”. It’s really active while we’re driving, for instance!
The good news is that we have our Prefrontal Cortex, the “reasoning brain” which is ready and waiting to be called upon to mitigate the Code Red hysteria the amygdala is prone to producing. But, we have to remember to call it into action, otherwise it will just remain dormant as we go deeper and deeper into an emotional abyss. The first step is just noticing when you’ve gone there. This very act of noticing engages the Prefrontal Cortex and we have the opportunity to decide if we want to keep thinking thoughts that are amping up anxiety or anger or intentionally choose different ones.
When we’re just learning how to do this, we feel lost as to what new thoughts to choose. Here are some that work for me:
“What’s a different way of looking at this situation?” “What’s the worst that can happen?” “I can handle this, whatever the outcome” “I am not a victim” “Everything is as it should be”
You can start to make your own list of “go-to” thoughts so that when you want to continue drinking your cup of coffee in peace, you can. You will be more capable of finding solutions to problems and deciding what to do, if anything. This is how we evolve and grow. And peace is such a great feeling, isn’t it?