Better self-control is the Holy Grail of the digital age. Constant stimuli, new technology that we have not yet learnt to operate with, a 24/7 availability and an always-on environment constantly push and pull at our guard, depleting our resources and making it highly likely that we either over-react or are so negatively impacted that we are completely discouraged.
Either way, we’ve lost control of ourselves.
Everything that we do has an origin in the mind that finds a correlative response in the body. The cognitive aspects of our function are the bridging points between the digital realm and the physical, between the world of words and abstract ideas and the world we can touch.
Trained operatives in the military and intelligence community have learnt that the moment they lose self-control, they've lost control of the situation. Training aside they are as human as the rest of us, however, they have specific ways they use to bring their emotions under control so they can function more effectively. Now, so can we. Here are 5 ways to achieve better control over our body and mind so we do not over-react to an emotionally charged situation:
Get physical – The body affects the mind in ways that are not always easy to fathom. Low blood sugar can make us irritable and impair higher analytical functions. Thirst, hunger and sleeplessness can divert critical resources that we use to restrain ourselves and result in an emotional over-reaction. Taking care of our self allows us to focus on our wellbeing in an intentional, aware, way. Releasing tense neck muscles through massage, decompressing stress through a brisk walk or some exercise. Making sure that we get enough sleep, are hydrated (it reduces stress) and have had enough to eat. Frequently we sacrifice our own needs and the demands of our body to help others, because it’s easiest. We feel that this is something we control and we are prepared to pay the price. Unfortunately in order to be of most use to others we need to be in a good condition ourselves first. A body that feels at peace with itself is less likely to over-react.
Stay sunny – Dark imaginings, worst-case scenarios and end-of-the-world feelings are the product of a mind that’s at war with itself, intent on buttoning down the hatches and hiding away. We need to be aware of the triggers that produce intense emotional responses and go deep inside us to understand why. Once we have identified what triggers us we are less likely to let it get to us again, particularly if, at the same time, we work to recalibrate our emotions by creating a pleasant backstory or a really positive explanation for the triggers so the same things don’t trigger us again and again. Defensive thoughts produce an adverse chemical reaction in the body that releases the stress hormone Cortisol. Because most bodily cells have cortisol receptors, it affects many different functions in the body. These range from controlling blood sugar levels, regulating metabolism, and affecting inflammation in the body and even memory. In addition it has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and affects both blood pressure and the way the body puts on weight. By staying positive we refuse to subject our body to the physical stress created by cortisol.
Breathe right – Deep breathing through the nose slows down the fight or flight response and arrests the body’s escalating responses that lead to over-reactions. Breathing is linked to neurological networks and it is channel specific. Complex pathways in our brain become activated when we breathe in particular ways which then affects the performance of our bodies. The way we recall memories and make emotional judgements are impacted adversely when we breathe through our mouth instead of through our nose. By taking deep breaths through the nose we activate neural pathways in the mind that allow us to have better judgement and make better critical decisions.
Watch yourself – We are our primary subjects. By observing our own behavior we learn what triggers us. We also begin to understand the emotional patterns in ourselves and others which lead to specific over-reactions.
Step back – Step outside yourself and regard everything like it’s happening to a third person. Note what your feelings are (not how you feel), notice how those feelings impact you (do you feel anger rising? Fear? Regret?). Be compassionate. Consider that what drives the other person is not a specific desire to attack or confront you but emotions like fear, loneliness or anger. Ask yourself how would you feel towards the you that you are observing and the others you are analyzing if you were truly a third person walking into this situation? Peel back each layer you consider to be a motivating factor and see if you notice anything else hiding beneath.
Self-control is not about rigidly reigning-in our own feelings without understanding what’s causing them. If we do that, they will simply boil over at some point. Self-control is about understanding what drives you and what drives others. It requires a deft touch of kindness and compassion coupled with knowledge and understanding.
Give it a try. See how it works for you.
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