Putting on the breaks

Have you ever wished.. I just want it to stop.. go away!

When we find ourselves being driven by difficult experiences, we resent and fear the impact they have on us. None of us wants uncomfortable or painful feelings, thoughts and experiences. We battle for control over the wheel with mixed or disasterous effects. Ironically, loosening our grip and slowing down may be more effective.

When painful thoughts and/or feelings arise, we often try to flee them (deny them, push them away, try to focus on something else), fight them (argue with them or ourselves) or freeze (narrow down our focus on only them and nothing else). It makes sense we do this. These are basic survival reactions – biologically programed, socially learned and culturally supported. However, our thoughts and feelings are not wild tigers attacking us. These attempts to wrestle back control often worsen the situation.

Unpleasant experiences, people and situations happen. Despite our best efforts we can not avoid them nor fully control them. That said, they do not need to hijacking our life. Nor do they need to define who we are, determine the road we take or worse lead us to crash. Remember you are the one driving, not them. Rather than stiffening up or trying to wrestle back control, slow down and make active choices.

Steve Hayes, one of the developers of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), gives a TEDx talk about how negative experiences can gain the importance they do. Our experiences give meaning in unexpexted and unconscious ways. We can use this meaning making process to our benefit. He gives some simple tips on how to put on the brakes to prevent our mental breaks.

take a step back and look at your experience with curiosity versus judgment

Our difficult experiences, feelings and thoughts often leave us feeling overwhelmed and out of control. Slowing down, putting on the brakes can help us be less entangled in the hurtful process. We can see things as they are… words, thoughts, body sensations, historical repetitions… nothing more and nothing less. Take a step back and look at your experience with curiosity versus judgment. Can you gain perspective? see it from another context? Find another narrative? Find the humour? Absurdity? See the bigger picture?

Breaking free from the control responses helps us move past our pre-programed meaning making or response sets. We can then be more mindful and actively choose how we want to respond. Eventually we can then refocus, reorient, keep going and hopefully enjoy the ride more!