I wrote the book Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being in 2013, 80 exercises to help people strengthen the innate capacities of their brain to better cope with disappointments, difficulties, even disasters.
I posted the September 2015 e-newsletter about Michaela Haas’s book Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks into Breakthroughs to help people understand the possibilities of recovering from loss and trauma into a post-traumatic growth of new meaning and purpose and a stronger, healthy sense of self.
I posted the February 2016 e-newsletter Bouncing Back, Bouncing Forward, Bouncing Around to apply those steps to recovering from my mid-November concussion.
All of those offerings outline big trajectories with many practices from many different paradigms.
Today’s post: one simple, teeny-tiny practice of backing out – catching the first wave in the body of anger – startle – upset – aggravation – and simply backing out. Catching it, noticing it, and making a conscious choice: Nope, not going there.
There are all kinds of benefits to noticing and being with our experience – regulating our reactivity, inquiring into causes and options of response, “monitoring and modifying,” as Dan Siegel would say.
Backing out is not meant to negate or bypass any of those skills practices of working with any of our emotional reactions to any of life’s challenges and stressors.
But I’ve learned that backing out – just not going there – can also be skillful means. To notice and back out of any possible hijack of aggravation or distress or fleeing in the next nanosecond into shutting down or dissociation.
I’ve learned the value of backing out especially in recent months as I’ve learned that any stress in my body triggers a post-concussive headache in my brain. I simply can’t afford to let moments of road rage or jealousy or panic at misplacing my keys or my wallet trigger physical stress and pain in my brain.
So, I back out. I catch myself – irritation at a driver who just cut in front of me – back out. Any hastening of frenzy when I’m already late for work and can’t find my reading glasses – back out. Any reactivity when I drop a glass and it shatters on the kitchen floor – back out.
That doesn’t mean I don’t’ work with myself to use the many, many other tools I offer in these resources. Backing out can create the space I need for the larger practices of skillful distraction or skillful working with: hand on the heart and a few rounds of mindful self-compassion phrases. I may automatically walk out into the yard for a few calming breaths of fresh air. I may imagine someone in my circle of support immediately whispering words of soothing and reassurance. I may follow the advice of Zen teacher Yvonne Rand and make an appointment – I’ll visit these feelings Friday at 2pm and deal with them when I’m calmer and more available.
But I back out first. I even say the words out loud, “Back out.” To quickly break the automaticity of however I’m reacting and give myself three seconds of space to notice what’s happening and what else could happen.
Backing out does presume a minimal level of self-awareness – “How am I doing?” – as I navigate the unfolding of the day. And that may presume a baseline equilibrium – the body’s natural resting state of peace and ease – so I can notice any reactivity as different from baseline. Those are the big ongoing practices taught in Bouncing Back, in therapy, in spiritual practice. For this one simple practice of backing out….
1. Notice any reactivity in the body to any external event or internal thought or mood shift. You don’t even have to take the time to understand what’s going on. Simply notice that something is going on.
2. Say the words “back out” or any other words that help you immediately shift you out of what is happening to a pause where you can choose for something else to happen.
3. Follow up by choosing any of the many other practices of skillful distraction or skillful working with (see Resources for Recovering Resilience for over 100 tools and techniques) to respond to the triggering event/thought in skillful ways.
4. Or, “backing out” may simply halt the reactivity altogether and you can calmly go on about your day.
5. You can give yourself a bit of credit, too, that you’re mastering yet another skill of recovering your resilience and well-being.