Can I start by asking you a question, friend? How often do you feel like you are out of control of your emotions? How often do you feel upset, irritated or annoyed with someone or something? Or feel emotions such as sadness, anger, fear or shame come up that end up ruining the next hour or the day, or maybe even the whole week?
All day, every day, we have all kinds of emotions that we experience. God has beautifully created us in such a way that we have the capacity to feel all of them. There are 25 distinct emotional states that can all get mixed together and then nuances into approximately 34 thousand different emotions according to neuroscientists. That’s a lot of feels possible in a day. And you can just imagine how exhausted you’d feel at the end of the day if you entertained each one of those emotions. Perhaps you don’t have to imagine. Perhaps you’re already feeling the effects of being rag-dolled around by those emotions all day…every day.
But here’s something interesting to consider.
According to brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, the experience of any emotion only lasts just 90 seconds. After that, feeling the emotion is a decision of the will. And we do that by attaching a thought to the emotion.
In Dr. Taylor’s book, My Stroke of Insight, she says, “When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.”
She explains it like this: “Something happens in the external world, and chemicals are flushed through your body which puts it on full alert. For those chemicals to totally flush out of the body, it takes less than 90 seconds. This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away. After that, if you continue to feel fear, anger, and so on, you need to look at the thoughts that you’re thinking that are re-stimulating the circuitry that is resulting in you having this physiological reaction, over and over again.”
She’s suggesting that chemicals get flushed through our bodies that we experience as a particular emotion, but that they will pass in about 90 seconds unless we attach a story to them, make them mean something, and thus, keep them alive. If we let ‘em, our emotions are very short-lived.
I think this is fascinating. The way God made you and me is fascinating. And, the more you know and understand how your brain and body work together, the more you’re aware of the power you have over what you’re thinking and feeling. Your eyes are opened.
Dr. Taylor gave the formula or the secret, which she calls the 90-second Rule, to exerting this kind of power. She said, “…for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away.”
The only way you can “watch the process happening” is if you are aware that the process is happening…And if you create a pause in the moment in order to “watch” it. This is the power of the pause.
But conscious awareness is necessary to be able to ‘pause’. This is why the first thing I teach my coaching clients are tools to becoming a student of yourself; to become aware of what you’re thinking and feeling. We have about 60K+ thoughts each day and most of them just whiz past us so quickly. Once you’re aware and are even able to just notice yourself lol you can be aware of when and where you need to ‘pause’. Awareness is the first step. Then do it. ‘Pause’. Pause and breathe...in and out.
Literally, you need to get your attention off the external circumstance - for example, the person saying things that’s upsetting you - and put the intentional focus on your next inhale and the next exhale. I don’t want to get more brain science nerdy here. Oh who are we kidding?! Yes I do. When you intentionally turn your focus to yourself and your breathing, you are using your prefrontal cortex, your adult or executive brain - some call it your “higher level” brain. This part of your brain gets diminished when you’re emotionally charged or triggered. It’s why you can’t think straight, feel out of control, and react by yelling or physically lashing out or crying. That’s all coming from your “lower” emotional brain. By making a conscious decision - decision making come from the pre-frontal cortex remember - when you make a conscious decision to focus on your breathing, you’re elevating that higher brain and calming the nervous system.
So, pause, breathe, then watch. “Watching” just means you’re processing the moment. You notice or name the emotion that’s just come up, you’re feeling it - for 90 seconds - in your body somewhere, and then you’re noticing it flush back out. Feel the tension in your body ease. I talk more about processing emotions in episode 84 - Mindfulness Could Save Your Life if you want to learn more about that.
But, let me tell you what’s not happening here. You’re not allowing a story - or what you’re making that experience or external event mean - to be attached to the emotion. The story is what we play over and over again in our heads that re-creates the flushing of chemicals, or the emotion, in our body. When we’re focusing on breathing and watching, our brains don’t have time to make up horrible stories about what’s happening that ends up making us miserable long after the event has passed.
Okay, because we know knowledge is power, and the more you know about your brain the more power you have over it, let me give you some more ammunition. Your left brain is focused on you as a single entity, ego-centric - so self-focused, right? It’s the part of our brain that creates obsessive thinking, overthinking. But it’s also the part that allows us to plan with future thinking. It’s the story-teller part of the brain.
The right brain is where compassion comes from. It’s the part that allows us to have connection with God and others. It’s outward focused - outside of ourselves. It’s also where we’re cognizant of our presence in the here and now.
So, choosing to pause, breathe, and watch is what Dr. Taylor calls making an intention to “Step to the right.”It’s to consciously realign with the present. The right brain. In other words, you choose to not ruminate on the past or incessantly worry about the future - both left brain activities. Step to the right.
Okay, this is just totally reminds me. I believe I mentioned in a previous episode that I’ve started taking country dancing lessons, right? There’s a line dance called The Cupid Shuffle - you should look it up on Youtube. And part of the song gives you instruction as to which direction to go, and it says “to the right, to the right, to the right, to the right.” And I think I’m going to be hearing that song in my head when I need to pause. To step to the right. Okay, maybe don’t look up that song. It’ll probably get stuck in your head, too. Or maybe that’s a good thing.
A client asked me the other day, “Tricia, how can I become more emotionally even like you when dealing with the people around me? How do you do it?” This is what I told her: I constantly think this thought - which, by the way, comes from my core belief system, meaning, this is a thought I firmly believe to be true and practice often - I think, that people are just doing the best they can with the brain they have. This is just extending grace. Because I understand that people are wounded, for many and various reasons, and we’re all just acting out of those unhealed wounds as people. Christians and non-Christians alike. We’ve been doing it for so long that perhaps we’re not even aware of what we’re doing, and/or we don’t even know that we can be any different. Extending grace is always a choice. Being open enough to see beyond the surface actions or behaviors of others is a conscious choice.
I remember when the Lord was just teaching me to do this, probably 20 something years ago. The words that kept coming to mind when someone had done or said something that normally would’ve upset me were, “Look deeper.” I translated that as, there’s so much more going on that what you can see on the surface. This is not the point of this episode, but this is kind of where the thought of “what if their behavior, actions, or words are not about you at all. What if it’s more about their own insecurities or unhealed wounds?” comes from. You can hear more about this on episode one hundred and five - How To Take Criticism. The point is, though, that in doing so, it pulls you out of your ego-centric, emotionally driven response, pulls you back as more of an observer of the situation, and helps you pause to consider. You must use your higher-level brain to do all this. Then, your emotional brain is not running the show, you’re not reacting to the words or behaviors of others, screaming and yelling back, saying things you don’t really mean, storming off, slamming doors. And you’re not letting your mind attach a harmful meaning to the event that plays over and over again in your head, creating that flush of chemical through your body… over and over again.
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” So, I’m not going to take that as literal because all life is worth living. What I might say is that the unexamined life is not the Zoe life (John 10:10) - the abundant, joyful, peaceful, full, content life - that Jesus intends for you to have. And that’s because to live in abundance means that you must be free from the strongholds of lies that you’re believing and living out of.
So, friend, the there’s power in the ‘pause’ because it allows us to examine - to watch - our lives in the present moment where there is stress, or strife, pain or an unexpected event, so that we are not entertaining any emotion that keeps us from an abundant life. The “Pause” offers a mindful way to handle whatever comes in a calmer, healthier, more emotionally mature way. There’s power to choose to pause and step to the right.
Pausing in the heat of the moment or at the height of emotion is not something that we naturally do. It’s something we learn. If you’d like help here, I’d love to be your Life Coach and help you walk in that Zoe life God intends for you.
I’ve put a link in the show notes for a free 30-minute call just so we can see if we’re a good fit to work together and show you how Life Coaching would work for you.
Also, don’t forget to get the free, downloadable guide that complements this episode. It has a few prompt questions that will help you personally work through some of the things I’ve talked about today. The link is in the show notes. It’s like a little Life Coaching at home.
Have a wonderful week, friends. See you next Wednesday for the next episode of Another Beautiful Life.