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Quick Study: Stopping Yourself from Acting On Bad Impulses

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AMY JEN SU: Think
about a bad habit you’ve been trying to break. For example, you’re
sitting in a meeting, and dialogue is happening
and you find yourself starting to get impatient. There’s, like, almost a rise
in your body physiologically. And the next thing
you know, you snap or you interrupt one
of your colleagues, and it leads to not
a great discussion. Our impulses and
knee-jerk reactions can sometimes be
our worst enemies. Perhaps you walked
into a team meeting with your direct reports, and
rather than empowering them, you swooped in, took
over the project, and created an
unnecessary fire drill. And so how do we deal
with those moments? If you can find that magic pause
right in between that moment of stimulus or that
physiological surge or that uncomfortable
emotion then you’ve got a better chance
at saying, what’s the choice that allows me to
be authentic, constructive, and effective? The first is when I call
a mantra or swing thought. And a swing thought really
comes from the world of golfers. So there’s thoughts
that they have that help them drop
into their bodies so when they’re ready to
swing and hit the ball, it’s almost like an
automatic response. It’s like a mantra, which then
brings mind and body together. Selecting a mantra or a word
where you’ve associated it with a certain
body stance or body posture or a set of
physical sensations is how it really works together. For example, I have
a goofy one that’s called rabbit that I picked
up from a child’s book called The Rabbit Listened. So now when I find myself
feeling impatient in a meeting with a colleague, I simply
say to myself the word rabbit, and my body cues to calm
down, listen, and get present. There’s nothing like the
breath to reduce anxiety. And so one of my
favorite techniques comes from a western M.D.
called Dr. Andrew Weil, and he has this technique called
the 4-7-8 breathing technique. And so even as you’re
walking to a presentation you might be nervous
about or perhaps a time when you know you can
feel that you might be reactive in a
difficult conversation, as you’re walking down the
hall, you simply pause, inhale for a count of four,
hold that breath for seven, and then exhale for eight. And by time you’ve
walked in the door, you’re in a much
less reactive state. Deep breathing and anxiety
just do not go together. The third technique
that you can use is what I call the washing
the dishes meditation. When I washed the dishes now, I
simply try to wash the dishes. It sounds simple enough, but in
fact, think about the last time you washed dishes. Was your mind wandering? Perhaps you’re thinking about
the email you need to do. Perhaps you’re already
thinking about your next day and your to-do list. And so the practice is
to come back to the dish over and over again and feel
the hot water, feel the plate, feel yourself
washing the dishes. How do you come back to the
dish, come back to the water, and get present and be
in your physical body so that you can pay attention. Now translate this the next day
when you go to the workplace and you’re in a meeting and
you find your mind getting distracted, you find
yourself wanting to check your cell phone. Instead now, think of it
like washing the dishes, and you get very present
to your colleagues and the conversation at hand. So these three tips
are really about ways to bring mind and
matter together and to find that magic pause. When stimulus comes in, I’m
going to find a way to pause and think about what’s
the most authentic, constructive, or productive
response, versus falling into our bad habits or
knee-jerk reactions.

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1 thought on “Quick Study: Stopping Yourself from Acting On Bad Impulses”

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