What happens next when you get hooked? No, not hooked on drugs. I am talking about being hooked by a trigger: a trigger in the environment outside your head or the environment inside you head.
Once upon a time you are going about your day in the smooth flow of a routine on auto-pilot. In the groove. You feel in harmony with life. Then somebody does or says something that gets under your skin (and wedged in your head). You are caught off guard. Smooth-in-the-flow auto-pilot becomes an involuntary knee jerk reaction. You recognize the trigger. It contains the word, “WHY?” and in a nano-second your mind hijacks you.
WHY? WHY? WHY? Screaming through your head like a tornado ripping through the Kansas flat lands. You notice a familiar feeling swelling up inside just under your skin ready to creep through your flesh obliterating everything in arm’s length. All this happens in a nano-second. Then, the reptilian part of your brain takes over, it is fight, flight or freeze. You’re about to turn to the person who asked you, “WHY?” And then, they turn away and leave the room mumbling under their breath, “never mind.”
You are left holding a bag of left over adrenaline with racing thoughts about what next:
- Fight – chase them down and give them a peace of your mind.
- Flight – quit your task of being in the groove and leave the room.
- Freeze– just stand there numbed out.
You probably have a favorite reaction. I do. Fill in the blank with your typical knee-jerk response_________________________.
What do you do when you are hooked? Do you ever get hooked for hours after the incident? Do you find yourself talking about it with strangers on the street? Just kidding. Seriously, do you chew on the incident long after the moment? “What do you do next?” The questions allows for “perspective taking” to develop. In other words, can you access a place where you are the observer of your own reactions as a witness to both internal reactions in your mind and external reaction in your behavior?
Try this: Listen to the voice in your head. Do you hear it? Really listen closely to the voice in your head. Once you are listening closely, ask yourself:
- Am I the thoughts that are going through my head?
- Or am I the one who is aware of the thoughts that are going through my head.
No need to answer. The gist is to gain a perspective of being able to step back and notice your thoughts in the form of memories, urges, feelings and even sensations. Based on research the process is referred to as cognitive distancing. Cognitive distancing changes the relationship between you and your thoughts. Not to be confused with changing your thoughts. You can create distance between you and your thoughts. Try it. Don’t take my word for it.
When you change the relationship with your thoughts by being aware and noticing them as a product of the mind you can behave independently of your thoughts. Yeah, freedom. Freedom to make choices regardless of the hardwired urges of fight, flight and freeze.
The thoughts generated by your mind are a function of the brain for survival purposes. Much like the function of a kidney is for survival purposes by filtering “bad stuff” in the blood. The mind is constantly looking and filtering for “bad stuff” in the environment. To keep us safe. Our unique learning history teaches us to discriminate what is “bad stuff.”
The reactions fight, flight and freeze to perceived “bad stuff” are all evolutionary behaviors we are hard wired with for survival. We don’t want to get rid of them as they can be adaptive in certain circumstances, like running away from danger.
If you are hooked in a nano-second can you notice the hook and then notice what you do next?
Based on ACT: How to Grasp the “Third Wave” Approach to Meaningful Living, cognitive distancing is called Defusion. Defusion is not about ignoring your feelings or ignoring what was said to you. It is not about white knuckling it through the anger or hurt. It does not mean distraction or suppression of your thoughts. What is does mean is acknowledging the thought or feelings as being a part of you and doing what serves your values of what matters to you. It means having choices which can be interpreted as freedom to guide your life in a meaningful manner. It mean being true to who you desire to be.
Being hooked is not easy to notice when you are in the moment of being hooked. Practicing noticing is a skill. If you notice you are going on and on and on and on, ask yourself. “Is this a hook?” Then, make a choice to get un-hooked. Ah freedom. You can bring your focus and attention to acting as the kind of person you want to be in the world.
Try it. Notice if you have any hooks this week. AND then notice what you do next? Gaining freedom is just like that…notice the hook and then notice what you do next. Look at your behavior beyond the hook.
Once upon a time, you noticed you were hooked and then you noticed what you did next. Then one day, you noticed a hook and you chose to do something different. You noticed you were free to be the kind of person you have always wanted to become.
Try it and let me know how it works for you. We can begin chating as soon a you leave a commnet. I am all ears.
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- 3 Lies Your Mind Will Tell You When You’re afraid
- You Can Do It! Self-Efficacy
- My 5 Secret Tips to Managing the Storm
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Picture credit from: http://www.quiddlebee.com/
C) 2014 copyright Brenda Bomgardner, MA, LPC, NCC, BCC
Alex Young says
What a great message to help us understand our reactions to triggers. So many of the people I work with have a vague notion of the triggers the drive them to bad/unhealthy behaviors. But they have not looked at the underlying beliefs that their thoughts are based on. I see our beliefs as the authorizer of our behaviors. Our beliefs create thoughts that enable the trigger reaction. By attacking the triggers, we have the opportunity to look at those beliefs, and decide if they work for us or not.
Thanks for a great post!
Brenda Bomgardner says
Alex, it nice to have you drop in and share your thoughts. I hear you saying that triggers drive people to bad/unhealthy behaviors and I agree when we are triggered and then are hooked by the situation we sometimes let those thoughts influence our behavior. The part I like to help people realize is they are free to make choices that work in taking them in the direction of the kind of life they dream of living. What I see with people is thoughts can be like a bully pushing us to behave in ways that are inconsistnet with our values. Helping people break free to develop a differnt relationship with the mind’s programed and habitual pattern is one of my greatest joys as a therapist and life coach. You hit the nail on the head “work for us” as the major point of noticing being hooked by out thoughts.