When I was a child — perhaps 3 or 4 years old — my parents and I used to go out to dinner at this small family diner in my home town.
One time I threw a temper tantrum. I don’t remember exactly what it was about; I think I wanted the chicken nuggets and they didn’t have any.
And I threw a fit.
I wouldn’t calm down.
I sat there crying and screaming my foul head off. I completely overreacted to the fact that I couldn’t get chicken nuggets.
My Mother carried me out of the restaurant and we left.
I never threw a fit in a restaurant again.
As a child of 3 or 4 years old, that reaction is not unheard of. Children often overreact to things because they don’t know any better. Until their parents teach them what an appropriate and measured reaction is, children overreact to all sorts of nonsense.
The problem that I see, however, is that this behaviour is not exclusive to children.
Adults overreact, too. The way adults react appears on the surface to be more measured and appropriate than the way a child reacts.
But this a fallacy.
The reactions of adults often appear measured and appropriate only because we think we would react the same way.
Just because we would react the same way doesn’t make a reaction measured or appropriate. It just means we possess the same flawed reasoning and lack of emotional control as everyone else.
And if you need any proof of this fact, just look back at 2020.
The year was one big example of how we — both individually and as a collective — overreact, react incorrectly, and lack emotional control and awareness.
Ellen Langer is a professor of psychology at Harvard. Known as the Mother of Mindfulness for her contributions to the mindfulness movement, Ellen is largely responsible for paving the way for a new era of mind/body medicine.
Ellen is a brilliant woman who knows many things about the human condition.
One of which is that we mere mortals tend to overestimate the amount of control we actually have. We tend to believe we can control outcomes or influence events when — in reality — we can’t.
Ellen calls this the “illusion of control.”
And — unfortunately yet not surprisingly — the illusion is stronger when we have a deeper emotional need to control a situation.
This is largely what happened with 2020.
Our fear was deep.
Our fear of the unknown, our fear of death, our fear of anarchy, ruled our decisions and our thoughts. Fear ruled our minds.
And our fear fueled us.
Because we had such a strong emotional response to what was going on in the world, we had a deeper need to control it.
It started off small, and then spiraled until — before we knew it — we were overreacting both individually and collectively.
When we overreact — when our reaction is neither measured nor appropriate — there are real world consequences to our minds, our spirits, and our bodies.
When we live in a state of constant emotional overreaction, it shifts our energy and vibration. It shifts our brain and body chemistry.
We begin drinking too much, or smoking too much. We overeat. We eat the wrong things. We stop exercising. We don’t sleep well. We spend far too much time on social media. We become addicted to the news, to drama, and to turmoil.
And, all of that, impacts how we enter the world.
We no longer enter the world from a place of love, generosity, or compassion. We enter the world from a place of fear, selfishness, and anger.
When we don’t enter the world as our highest selves, we cause real damage to those around us, and the effects ripple.
We can change the way we enter the world when we begin to control our reactions.
There are very few things in this world, in this life, in this mortal realm, that we can control.
We can’t control what others think of us. We can’t control what happens with the coronavirus. We can’t control how governments respond. We can’t control what other people do to us, for us, or because of us.
But we can control how we react emotionally.
It starts by understanding the impact and effect of your emotional reaction.
This past autumn my car overheated and I ended up stranded on the side of the road. I was bored while waiting for it to cool down and I got on Snapchat to share what was going on.
A friend of mine replied and said he loves that no matter what’s going on in my life, I smile and I am positive.
While that’s not strictly true (I do have a few moments of anger, annoyance, frustration, and sometimes grief in reaction to stressful situations), I do try to limit those moments because they do not serve a greater good.
Your emotional reaction will do one of three things:
- It will make the situation worse.
- It will make the situation better.
- It will have no effect whatsoever.
Odds are good, however, that your emotional reaction will not improve anything. An emotional reaction — especially an emotional overreaction will typically have no effect on the situation itself, yet serve to only make you feel more frustrated, stressed, and anxious.
The cumulation of stress in the body becomes chronic when it is perpetual and unabated, and only leads to long term problems.
Chronic stress causes disorganised thinking, physical pain, fatigue, weakened immune response, headaches, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, and high blood pressure.
On top of that, cortisol flowing through your body on a regular basis increases your appetite, and increases your desire to eat sugary and salty foods, thereby increasing weight gain.
Stress is not good.
Cortisol perpetually flowing through your body is not good.
And — unfortunately for most people — you’re doing this to yourself.
You are manufacturing stress by overreacting to things that you can’t actually control in any way whatsoever.
Right, so…you’re overreacting to life. You’re manufacturing stress. You’re eating all. of. the. junk. food.
What do you do about it? What can you do about it? How can you stop overreacting and start reacting in a measured, appropriate way?
It begins when you leverage your breath.
Deep intentional breathing has been scientifically proven to decrease stress and help you react more appropriately to tense situations.
There is a reason why French obstetrician Fernand Lamaze championed the importance of breathwork for women who were giving birth. Lamaze breathing is an effective way to help pregnant women manage stress, fear, and pain during the (what I can only imagine is horrific) act of squeezing another human out of one’s body.
But you don’t have to be giving birth for breathwork to be effective.
Simply inhaling deeply through the nose and exhaling completely through the mouth can help your body and mind calm down by eliciting your body’s relaxation response.
Try to do five rounds of deep breaths before you react to a situation.
Once you feel the initial surge of stress and anxiety dissipate, you can think more clearly, and you can begin to formulate a measured, appropriate reaction. Or — what you’ll probably discover — is there is no need for you to react at all.
Your brain, the way you think, the way you react and respond to the world, is largely responsible for whether or not you are happy.
Thought control and emotional control are essential skills for every mortal to master. To be happy and to thrive in this mortal realm, you need to rule your mind and emotions instead of letting them rule you.
It’s an ongoing process; there is always more to learn. There is always more to discover, but — if you’ll let me — I will be your guide and help you along the way.
As always, show notes and more are over at OneFlawedMortal.com. If you found this episode useful, and if you’re tuning in on iTunes, please rate and review to help the show reach more mortals who need to embrace their flaws and conquer their minds.
Til next time, namaste.