Noticing Shifts in Patterns of Response
I like to be liked. I appreciate being noticed in pleasant, positive ways, as most of us do. I can notice a quick cascade of very unpleasant feelings and thoughts if I feel dissed or feel unsure if I’ve been dissed.
Our deepening mindful awareness allows us to notice those inner unsettling reactions with less discomfort and more interest in their meaning, creating more inner space to make healthier choices about responding, especially in interactions with other people.
Exercise: Noticing Shifts in Patterns of Response
1. Imagine you’re walking down the sidewalk of a busy street in your neighborhood. You notice a friend walking toward you on the other side. You wave and call out “Hello!” but the friend does not respond. Notice your own split-second reaction to that lack of response: a contraction in your body, a drop in energy. Notice whatever thoughts might begin to cascade in response to your body’s reaction. Maybe you think, “Hmm, that’s unusual. I’d better try again.” Or, “Whew! He has a lot on his mind. I wonder if I should even bother him?” Notice any reactivity to those thoughts. “Gee, he seems a little stuck up today.” Or “Oh, no! What have I done wrong?” Notice whether your thoughts follow a pattern that you have noticed before, such as feeling badly about yourself or wanting to reach out even more.
2. Now imagine that your friend sees you and, on his own, waves and calls out “Hello!” to you. Again, notice your own split-second reaction in your body to his connecting with you: maybe a smile, an uplift of energy. Bring awareness to any shifts in your body, notice any shifts in your thoughts: “He noticed me!” Or “I’m glad we weren’t disconnected after all.” As you reflect on your experience, notice whether your thoughts follow a pattern that you have also noticed before, perhaps of relief or gratitude.
3. Take a moment to name the reactions and the patterns you discovered, with compassion for any reactions that may have been triggered by the noticing. With every moment of practice in noticing and naming, you are strengthening the capacity of your prefrontal cortex to do that noticing. And by pausing to do this, you are conditioning your brain to create choice points, giving yourself the chance to respond with more flexibility and choose a different response the next time.
(You will find this practice and similar exercises in Resilience, forthcoming in September 2018.)