Then I learned about NLP and I found all sorts of stuff that made me think twice before I reacted. After years of practicing, I created a 4-step process for myself (and my clients) that stopped me from taking my throne.
- Notice – the first step is to disconnect my prefrontal cortex. I know that sounds kind of weird but it’s true. Your prefrontal cortex is where your decision-making is centered. It’s also the place we make judgments about what is good & bad and right & wrong. It’s the judgments I’m turning off when I disconnect my prefrontal cortex. The way I do this is by focusing on noticing rather than on “thinking.” When I notice, I’m seeing, hearing and feeling stuff around me instead of trying to create meaning from it. The moment I decide on something’s meaning, I’m thinking again. I’m using my prefrontal cortex and it’s decision-making skills. When I notice, there’s no meaning yet. There’s just information. And maybe there’s more information I need. I’m just noticing.
- Relax – the second step is for me to relax. When my brain starts assigning meaning (it happens so fast) then I can feel my emotional temperature rise and the responses that I would have typically made come crashing through my nice “noticing.” So, if I’m having issues with just noticing, I’m going to take a deep breath and relax. I’m going to do this several times until I feel my heart rate return to its normal resting frequency. Dr. John Gottman’s work with relationships shows us that a heart rate above 90 will effect our communication and our ability to make good decisions. So relaxing is key to stop myself from overreacting.
- Question – next I want to start to question the stuff I noticed. I want to question what emotions had started coming up. I want to question what assumptions I started to make. I want to question the meaning I was about to make about this situation. And I want to ask a few simple things. One is, “What else could it mean?” and the other is “What else is possible?” This is helps me to begin the next stage.
- Reframe – lastly, I want to choose another way of looking at the situation. Just like a frame sits around a picture to give it context, when I change the frame around my experience, I can change the context and its significance for me. Maybe I will choose a frame of compassion. Maybe I will choose a frame of curiosity. Maybe I will choose a frame of indifference. There are lots of frames to choose. Choosing the one that fits your outcomes instead of your unconscious programming is the real art of self-development.
Let me give you an example of a real life situation that occurred when I just started learning this process.
I had come home very late from a networking event. I forgot to text or call my husband to tell him I was coming home later than I expected. Once I reached my front door, I realized that my husband had already gone to sleep. The house was dark and there was just a small light on to help guide me in. I immediately overreacted.
“How could he go to bed when he didn’t even know I was alive???” Quickly I checked my phone to see if he had called or texted me earlier in the evening. No communication at all.
“He obviously doesn’t care where I was or if I was in the hospital or dead on the side of the road.”
Then I stopped. What did I notice? I noticed how upset I was. I noticed how I was jumping to conclusions and had no real facts. I noticed I was breathing really fast. I noticed it was dark and there was just one small light. I noticed that there was another small light coming from the bedroom. I noticed there wasn’t a note or a text or a missed call.
Relax. I took a deep breath and then again inhaled slowly and exhaled even slower.
Question. What else could it mean? What else could it mean that my husband was already in bed? Maybe he was waiting up for me but was just waiting in the bedroom. Maybe he wasn’t in bed yet and he was still brushing his teeth. Maybe he wasn’t concerned that I was hurt. Maybe that was okay. What else is possible? Is it possible for him to be trusting? Is it possible for him to have faith that I’m safe. Is it possible that him not texting me and worrying about mean doesn’t actually mean he doesn’t love me?
I chose to decide that worry doesn’t equal love. I chose to decide that leaving a small light to help guide my way to the bedroom was loving. I chose to think that the small candle burning beside my bed inviting me to sleep in a soft and subtle way was caring. I decided not to overreact. I decided to notice, relax, question and reframe instead.