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Stop, look, listen

This advice is not solely for traffic lights. I find it really helpful when I am approaching potentially dangerous thoughts as well.

As soon as I find myself in a situation in which one of my base emotions is triggered (the list of these is debated but I go with Paul Ekman's (1972) big 6 - namely, anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise), instead of reacting with my reflex of tears, hyper excitement, butterflies in my stomach, hiding, over talking or over thinking, I am practising three things: STOPPING, LOOKING AND LISTENING.




I stop myself in my tracks through a mixture of awareness and then breathing, taking some quietness into my consciousness. Through stopping and pausing, I am changing my very physiology and my own chemical response. You see, when we are 'triggered', the most primitive parts of our brains engage, they assume they know, they repeat patterns, the release all sorts of primitive hormones which are very helpful in times of danger; my amygdala really does mean well. However, it often gets things wrong and makes decisions I may regret later. By pausing, I withhold its power and am able to take my time.


Next, I look with my eyes but also with my brain, looking at the evidence of the perceived situation. Now, in the positive emotions, I may decide to go with my initial response but in those more negative ones, such as fear or anger, I am often better off being less 'knee jerk'. So now I look around and consider the evidence (I bring out my inner judge). Is this what I thought it was? Do I need to react? Am I making assumptions and judgements of the situation and of other people?


Finally I am able to listen, listen to my more logical, prefrontal cortex, the part of my brain which makes informed decisions and is able to be a lot more objective. Now, if I want to jump for joy, have verbal diarrhoea with excitement or if I want to cry, shout.....great. At least I have had time to consider that this is really what all parts of my brain want to do and I am far less likely to regret it!