Tame your mon­key mind

Prevention (Australia) - - Emotional Health -

Green brain ap­proach to emo­tions

Emo­tions are not al­ways pleas­ant or com­fort­able but they are im­por­tant be­cause they are part of your brain’s mes­sag­ing sys­tem. When you be­come stuck in an emo­tion you re­act out of an emo­tion­driven im­pulse, which of­ten does more harm than good. But emo­tions don’t have to au­to­mat­i­cally put you in the red zone — luck­ily there is a green-brain al­ter­na­tive. A green-brain ap­proach to emo­tions is to process them by tak­ing them se­ri­ously and lis­ten­ing to them.

When you process the emo­tion your sys­tem calms down and ac­ti­vates green brain, al­low­ing you to ef­fec­tively re­spond. In this calm, mind­ful state you can see clearly and you can ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion in a healthy and ef­fec­tive way. Pro­cess­ing emo­tions moves you from re­ac­tive to re­spon­sive.

The emo­tion/brain con­nec­tion

Your emo­tions are not there to make your life harder. They are the ‘voice’ that draws your at­ten­tion to what­ever your brain thinks needs your at­ten­tion and then in­forms your de­ci­sion­mak­ing. Yet many peo­ple are in a never-end­ing bat­tle of fight­ing the sig­nals, of wrestling with their emo­tions. As a re­sult, they don’t ad­dress the is­sues their brain is try­ing to di­rect them to through the emo­tion, which re­sults in the vol­ume of the emo­tion be­ing turned up even more.

When we can ac­cept our emo­tions with­out judg­ing them or try­ing to change them or fix them, we can lis­ten to what they are telling us and choose how we re­spond. In this way, our emo­tions be­come our in­ter­nal GPS sys­tem. When the emo­tions are met with a kind and non-judg­men­tal lis­ten­ing ear they will usu­ally sim­ply defuse. It is when we dis­re­gard our emo­tions, or meet them with crit­i­cism or judg­ment that they be­come stuck and turn into messy, un­ruly things that seem de­ter­mined to make our life hard. Green brain is of­ten con­fused with an ab­sence of fear, sad­ness and anger, but there is noth­ing wrong with ex­pe­ri­enc­ing any of th­ese emo­tions; they are all valid and real and each of them com­mu­ni­cates some­thing im­por­tant.

The green-brain ap­proach to emo­tions is to ac­cept them, val­i­date them and lis­ten to what they are there to tell you. When you ap­proach emo­tions this way, you can re­main in green brain and re­spond to them rather than re­act out of emo­tion-driven im­pulse.

Notic­ing your emo­tions with kind­ness avoids the emo­tions tak­ing control and trig­ger­ing you into red brain. In green brain you can choose how you re­spond; in red brain, emo­tions hack your re­ac­tions.

Tame your in­ner critic

As soon as you have a judg­men­tal thought you send a sig­nal to your brain that some­thing is not right. This ac­ti­vates the red brain and blocks the green brain. Mind­ful­ness is about tam­ing the in­ner critic, about eras­ing the shoulds and the shouldn’ts from your think­ing and ac­cept­ing ev­ery­thing as it is with­out ar­gu­ing with the facts. Here are some ex­am­ples of judg­men­tal think­ing ver­sus mind­ful think­ing:

Judg­men­tal think­ing: He left his glass on the bench again! I am so sick of this, how many times do I have to tell him! How dif­fi­cult can it be? Mind­ful think­ing: He left his glass on the bench. This is the way it is right now. How do I want to re­spond?

Judg­men­tal think­ing: My back hurts and it is so an­noy­ing! Why does this have to hap­pen to me? It is so un­fair.

Mind­ful think­ing: I have a strong sen­sa­tion in my back. This is the way it is right now.

What would help? Set­tling all those neg­a­tive thoughts re­quires un­der­stand­ing how your mind pro­cesses what it per­ceives as threats. Ba­si­cally, at any given moment your brain ei­ther feels safe or un­safe: all of your thoughts, feel­ings and ac­tions in any moment come from ei­ther the green brain (safe) or red brain (un­safe) state.

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