Human beings are at the mercy of their own reactivity based on evolutionary markers. Something triggers and “BOOM” we are full Mob Wives, Big Ang, hoop pulling, extension tearing throw down mode. However, what if more individuals were told they have a “choice.” Over the course of may career, I have had the privilege to work with individuals in therapy for a number of issues including, but not limited to, anxiety, addiction, and depression. From a behavioral perspective, we are taught that human beings are a product of their interaction with the environment.
Stimulus –> Thought–> Emotion–> Behavior–> Consequence/ Reward
Now this is a fantastic concept if we want to abandon the fact that we are carbon based and treat individuals like scientific algorithms. The mind is vastly more complex and developed so let us try to respect our opponent for two seconds. People with an affinity to higher learning and knowledge might have heard the concept of “practice the pause.” This concept is an intervention by which we elongate the time spent from emotion to behavior. It is focusing on acting with intent and mindfulness to decrease the “autopilot” concept.
For the data driven minds, there is a logical explanation for this which is outside the realm of yoga retreats and self help seminars. To understand impulsivity, the best example comes from the addiction population. When a person experiences an urge, something is identified as being “uncomfortable” (usually an emotion, such as sadness). Due to ongoing substance use as habit/ coping skill, the brain initiates a process where blood flow directly to the reward center of the brain, more specifically, the nucleus Accumbens , and as a result messages are not carried to the “smart” areas of the brain such as the cerebral cortex (think folds of the brain). As such “practicing the pause,” in this case decreases reactivity so as to allow blood flow to dissipate across the surface of the brain. Thought with intention vs reactive instant gratification.
Now what if you never did a substance in your life and have lived a healthy lifestyle for years but can become impulsive in terms of anger or conflict. The most beautiful sentiment about the brain is that it process different stimuli with the same procedure just with different outcomes. If it is not drugs, we have to ask ourselves could we be addicted to verbal confrontation, food, sex, you name it. The evoluationary brain will always seek pleasure and avoid pain. Re writing the defeinition of pleasure pain is how we make lasting change and the first step is “practicing the pause.”
When feeling a type of way, be curious, sit with it. Remember the shadow within is a part of yourseltf that requires just a little extra nurturance. The picture above has been pivotal for me. Like every good nerd, I enjoy using myself as an experiment. Growing up I never enjoyed running. I was heavy, it caused me pain. I felt vulnerable, slow and raw. By reaction, I would often avoid running and physically shutter at the idea. Once I began asking questions about the process of running, the illusion of physical and emotional pain became a false reality.
In practicing, the pause and becoming curious, I began witnessing the intoxicating pleasure of the rising sun on a late summer morning. If the pain is the only thing we dwell on we miss the beauty of the process. More specifically, if I hid in my pain through the act of running, I would never be able to tune into the reality that with each step forward, I break the scripts of oppression that promoted reactivity and bitterness of my past. Every step is a sunrise. A new beginning. The next chapter. We owe it ourselves to “practice the pause” to create the life we want with the resources bestowed to us in the present. We can never tap into that present until we allow ourselves to pause and be aware of the sunrise painting water colored bliss on a tempestuous, nautical sky.
Higgins, E. & George, M. (2013). The Neuroscience of Clinical Psychiatry: The
Pathophysiology of Behavior and Mental Illness Second Ed.