Monday, April 25, 2011

What do I do now?

Stop. Breath. Reflect. Choose.

This skill is quite handy. It is simple, straight forward and easy to remember. It can be jotted down on a note-card or post-it and carried with you. 

It is useful in a variety of settings, perhaps your stress level has reached a peek and you are on the border of crying, yelling, screaming, or any number of 'bad' behaviors. But....(there is always a but) you still have several items on your to-do list. 

You can either plug your way through and hope that you don't do something you'll regret later or you can: Stop, Breath, Reflect, and Choose.





Take this as literal as is safe. Clearly if you are going 65 mph on the freeway and you need to enlist this skill you would not want to literally stop on the road. That could be dangerous to your health and those around you. However, stopping quite literal may be exactly what the doctor ordered, given many other situations you may find yourself in. 

The aim here is to stop and silence your head. If it takes you putting on the breaks to the whole body, then do it. Get the mind stopped. Then...


Breath. Breath deeply in and out. Measure your breaths. Understand that this part may be tricky at first, these are the reasons that practicing your mindfulness is so important and useful. The goal here is to put your mind and body at ease for the next step. It is vital for this skill to work properly that your head is as quiet as possible. If it is not, you will not hear what is necessary for:


Reflection. Had you attempted to reflect on your situation before, you would have surely been met with failure. You simply cannot hear or see your options if you have the distracting judgments or other self-condemning thoughts. When we start off of baseline and head north, thoughts become random, noisy and disorienting.At this point you have stopped your body and mind and you have quieted your spirit. Look at whats around you, look at your options, no matter how reasonable or unreasonable they may seem to you. There will come a time during your reflection to start eliminating options. In our example, one of your options is to trash your to-do list for the day. Although, if you have yet to meet with your child's teacher you may come to realize that calling it a day probably isn't an effective choice, therefore you'd eliminate it.

Be sure and view it this way, you cannot reject an option on the bases of how reasonable or unreasonable it is. That thinking defies the very basis for choices. It reminds me of a movie from many years ago, Dangerous Minds. It is the story of a teacher trying to get the attention of her inner-city students. The students all came from tragic backgrounds and the teacher quickly learns that many of them have had more life experience than her. However, there was something that her age and qualification afforded her that needed to be impressed upon her students, and that is choice. We all have a choice. These students were dealing with things that in more cases than not resulted in dropping out of school, yet she pointed out that that still was their choice.

Sure at times it may feel like we are backed into a corner and that we have no options, but that is merely an illusion.  Following the steps that brought you to reflection and understand that we all have choices will help you to see your choices clearly and you will quickly be able to set in front the options that you are willing to live with.

Understanding that we all have choices can be a really difficult concept to many of us. We reason that the pain is so intense at times that we couldn't possibly be choosing it. And if you read that sentence for face value, no you wouldn't be choosing it. Most of us do not choose pain intentionally. But in some cases your options will all result in some level of pain. If you were to bag the meeting with your child's teacher that would probably result in guilt and embarrassment...which both equal a level of pain. It would also be painful to continue through your to-do list. What we didn't choose was mental illness. That was part of something out of our realm of control, what goes on from that point are choices. Some less painful and more likable than others, certainly. But choices none-the-less.

Once you have come to grips with the reality that you do have choices no matter how hard or unlikable some of those choices are, you can now prepare yourself for the final step, well, the second to the last step:


Choose. Make your choice. Understand that a lot of your misery will end once you have made the choice, whether you were best friends with your options or not. The waffling is over, the uncertainty is gone. The only step that remains is to... Execute.

Follow through on your choice and feel your stress ease out of your body. No matter how much you may have disliked your options it is always a relief to be over the indecision. The thing about getting to your decision-making stage the way you have, through this skill is, once you are looking down the paths that are set out before you, you are calm. Calm, collected and closer to wise mind than had you tried to execute without stopping, without breathing or without reflection. Chances are had you done it the old ineffective way you probably would have missed one of the options that you were able to weigh at the very end.

We miss parts of our life when we stick to our old ineffective behaviors. We rob ourselves of life experiences of our own. Give life back to yourself and Stop. Breath. Reflect. Choose.

MJ