Sunday, February 23, 2014

How Snap Judgments Create Stress

Living with Pain and Stress: Your Worst Habit May Surprise You

elisha goldstein  
Editor’s note: Elisha Goldstein, PhD, is the bestselling author of The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life.  

One of the irrefutable truths of life is not only that there will be death and taxes, but also stress and pain. For all kinds of adaptive purposes, our brains are wired to tag stress and pain as negative experiences and trigger us to avoid it. We do this through a variety of behaviors, such as checking out on our smartphones, eating, drinking, shopping, watching too much television, or even checking out of our relationships. But these habits are all secondary to the primary bad habit that disconnects us from our pain and stress.
What is it?
The first thing our brains do when there is anything aversive in our internal or external environment is manifest a snap judgment that this is bad, wrong, unfair, etc. Only after this occurs does our nervous system jump to attention and begin to affect our bodies in a way that amplifies our stress. As this feedback loop between the mind and body continues, eventually it becomes overwhelming and we check out through our habitual, avoidant, numbing behaviors.
Ultimately, what we practice and repeat becomes automatic. This habitual practice only leads to a degradation of the self-awareness necessary for healing ourselves.
One of my favorite quotes that points to this is by Rumi: “Don’t turn your gaze away. Look toward the bandaged place, that’s where the light enters.”
One of the primary messages in The Now Effect is that while we can never catch these snap judgments, any moment is an entry point to breaking out of that unhealthy feedback loop and starting to pay attention to what matters.This puts us more in touch with choice and gives us that internal locus of control that is the opposite of anxiety and depression. If what we practice and repeat becomes automatic, then we can train the brain to get increasingly better at noticing this loop, disconnecting from it and applying what we need in any given moment.If we look to Rumi’s quote, he says the bandaged place is where the light enters. When we begin to come down from our busy minds and learn how to hold the pain with a curious, loving awareness, we start to recognize that everything is going to be OK.
What would the days, weeks, and months ahead look like if our brains were programmed to be more mindful when this loop was operating and to apply what we needed in any given moment? What would it be like if there were more moments of, “It’s going to be OK”?
What an amazing gift this is.
Be on the lookout for this instant reaction to discomfort and play with turning toward it and leaning into it with more mindfulness.

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