Tame your monkey mind
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.