As I mentioned previously, emotion regulation is a skill. To learn it you may need the help of a therapist. Once you learn this stuff, you will be able to be your own therapist, so to speak. Therapy would typically focus on:
- Self-monitoring: keeping daily diary cards of emotions and what event or thought provoked them as well as recording the impulse to react to that emotion with a particular behavior. There is no changing to be done here. You’d simply write things down as you notice them, without judging them. All that is required is acceptance and pen and paper.
- Skill training: focusing on breaking the event =>emotion =>reaction vicious cycle. Part of inability to regulate emotions lies in automatically reacting to them with a maladaptive behavior. For instance, for people who drink, an argument with the boss=anger=drinking. This happens without thinking. The goal here would be to break this chain.
- Exposure: this means to feel what you feel when you feel it. Soak it all up and sit with it without reacting. Yes, negative emotions are not pleasant but they are not the enemy here. The problem lies in low tolerance to negative emotions which leads to avoiding them by using other unhealthy distractions. Emotions do not last forever, they are just temporary states and riding them out helps you realize nothing extraordinary happened: you’re in one piece and the world is too.
- Behavioral activation: this means making actual changes. Trying new behaviors to replace the old ones. Argument with the boss may still equal anger but your reaction to it is no longer drinking. You want to think of a new behavior that is easy and somewhat pleasant to you. Because this is individual to you, it’s hard to come up with a magic formula.
- Cognitive restructuring: this entails breaking down irrational thoughts and challenging them with facts as if you and they were in an actual debate. Remember thoughts are not truth, they change as we change. Thoughts are not facts. And some thoughts are more rational than others. If you can change your thinking, you can change the way you feel and then there is nothing stopping you.
Here also some tips with Exposure (as this is very hard usually). The key to having a successful exposure is to master Core Mindfulness which entails several components:
1-Observe (sit in a quiet room with no distractions and as you settle into your breathing just notice what feelings and thought are coming up for you without reacting)
2-Describe (words are powerful, name your feelings, know the difference between angry and resentful, develop an emotional vocabulary)
3-Participate (this refers to developing a “wise mind” – the wise you, the observant you, the you who knows better, the you who occasionally talks to himself)
4-Be non-judgmental (observe and accept your feelings and thoughts without judging them, no negative self-talk, stop the parent in your brain telling you how bad you’ve been)
5-Be one-mindful (be in the present, your mind will try to propel you forward or keep you in the past, but the future doesn’t exist and the past is already gone, all you have is right now)
Ambivalence: should I stay or should I go, having “cold feet”, sitting on a fence, having a love and hate relationship with someone, wanting to change but also wanting to stay the same. It is also known as Approach-Avoidance: conflicts occur when one goal contains both positive and negative characteristics. That is, an individual fears something that he desires. When the goal is far away, both positive and negative feelings about the goal are less strong; however, as he approaches the goal, a person’s feelings about the negative characteristics arise, and he backs down, avoiding getting too close to achieving the goal. Then, as the goal is further away, he approaches again, only to have the same feelings of avoidance arise again, and he backs off, which decreases the internal conflict. This is for instance someone who is afraid of intimacy but desperate for it. Many times the conflict is between wanting something we shouldn’t have. Which is pretty interesting since the mere fact that we shouldn’t have it makes us want it even more.
Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. Where there is no conflict or ambivalence there is no change to be made. No one likes change but the truth is it is inevitable.
Someone who is addicted to something or someone, is in a constant state of ambivalence between wanting and not wanting, action and inaction, doing and trying to undo, forever stuck between ecstasy and guilt, control and loss of control, happiness and misery, hunger and fulfillment. Some people continue to be in this state even after they stop “using” or stop engaging in addictive behaviors. Your mind is the last one to jump on board with what you are trying to do. Change involves reprogramming your brain and learning to solve the conflict within you.
2. Reduce my caffeine intake and allow my body to wake up naturally
Last night I went to my first class of Ashtanga yoga, which consists of 6 series of poses that you memorize and practice in a breath-guided flow, at your own pace. Apparently most people practice just the primary series. Second and third are advanced and mostly for instructors…and the other three? Well, a wise man once said that after you have completed the third series, if you have any Ego left you can pursue the rest. Lesson: Ashtanga is an Ego killer, which officially makes it my new favorite thing. OK, great, good for you Elvi, but what does this have to do with driving, you might ask. Well, it turns out everything has to do with everything. And just as driving is much like life, Ashtanga yoga is also a lot like driving…and life.
For one, they are both new and scary to me. Except that the mat is much kinder than the road. But you are on your own. You can’t really have a teacher. You have an instructor. Just like in driving school. To guide you. But ultimately you have to teach yourself. Whether he is guiding you through Parivrta Parsvakonasana – cross bend over knee (which by the way hurts like hell), or guiding you through rush hour on Independence boulevard (which can be similarly hellacious), you are the one telling your body and mind to do what needs to be done. In the moment. You trust your instructor but ultimately you have to trust yourself. Secondly, Ashtanga is messy, you don’t really know what you’re doing. You have to rely on your memory and the present moment at the same time. You make mistakes and you laugh it off. You mess up the sequence but eventually you find that the world is still in one piece. And so are you.
You look over to your neighbor and realize they are going much faster but you learn that you don’t have to.
Thirdly, you need to practice. Practice. Practice. And eventually, you don’t really have to think about it, you just do it. And that’s when the practice becomes meditation. And that is ultimately what I want to accomplish in both driving and yoga. You know, get in the zone. Be in the zone. Which is very different from zoning out. Because, meditation is a lot more like falling awake.
You should have seen me. Me trying to do the half lotus forward fold was as funny as me getting on the oncoming turning lane, (wrong side honey!). Wish me luck.
In Ashtanga you finish your series with a chant. But I think it is perfect to start any driving excursions. It translates:
May prosperity be glorified –
may rulers, (administrators) rule the world with law and justice
may divinity and erudition be protected
May all beings be happy and prosperous.