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Part 2 – Here’s A Closer Look
Normally the differences that occur in us from one day to the next are not necessarily life-changing in a dramatic way. While this is true, several “silent” activities that are going on in us change us, sometimes drastically, causing significant modifications to mind and body and therefore to our behavior and relationships. For example our hormones, glands (e.g. thyroid) and neurotransmitters, also known as chemical messengers, are continuously making changes in the brain though these are usually subtle and not easily detected. When there is malfunction however, it is difficult not to realize how the changes they cause affect us. Nonetheless we tend to apply the exact definition of who we were yesterday to the person we are today, when thinking about the present.
This is a significant point, because, everything that upsets took place in the past, which, admittedly, may be only moments before. Nonetheless, important alterations would have occurred since the insult, attack, putdown or any of the many hurts people feel. If we take seriously how much we change we can use this fact to help us deal with the offence by reminding ourselves, if even with humor, that the wrong was done to “another person” or, more seriously, that it is past and gone and we’re in a new life. Keeping track of how we respond to life’s experiences does not require that we make a final decision on who we are at any point, each time we are aware of a change. It is about watching our way of responding to make sure we are actually in control. Again, because we are not usually aware of the many adjustments we make to internal and external stimuli, we may tend to assume that we will respond to future ups and downs in much the same way as we do to present day changes in fortunes. Such an assumption means one is not in control, which could mean using an approach that’s ineffective or even counter-productive unless one is satisfied that reacting by a pre-planned formula checks out as rational.
Here’s the thing. By not realizing the minor transformations we go through moment-by-moment, the larger clearly observable ones, consisting of the definable physical, behavioral and mental characteristics we develop from these small adjustments, would seem to appear suddenly. And as such, often, people’s actions do not match the new requirements in the present, which would have applied to the situations they once faced. Take as an instance the way some people talk to their children. They talked to them with baby-talk at one point when they are young; when they are adults however, you do not normally speak to them in a special childlike manner. At an early stage parents teach their children discipline over spending, even asking them how much they saved of a gift of money from a relative; and they are expected to answer honestly. At a much later stage a parent would bring up differently (if at all) the topic of the cash the children received from you or someone else, or will choose your words carefully depending on the type of relationship you have with them. At that later point in life the earlier behaviors and expectations usually are no longer an issue.
Your behavior change is mainly because the children are different people at the two periods of their lives and so are you. There are times, however, when parents fail to recognize their adult children are no longer in their childhood, primarily because they did not keep track and continued not acknowledging the changing patterns in themselves, their offspring or in society at large; nor have they considered the meaning of the new conditions of life. Using the wrong approach can cause an eruption, which could seem sudden, leaving the impression: “We didn’t see that one coming” on one or both sides.
SHIFT YOUR MOOD AS NEEDED – Yes. You can!
Take another instance of how failing or refusing to understand that the passage of time means many aspects of life do change; and that not realizing this could lead to unnecessary misery. Let’s say, a short while back, an individual broke up with a romantic partner for whom he had strong feelings. Many are familiar with the turmoil or grief this can cause. This situation represents one of the serious changes that sometimes enter into people’s lives. The question that usually arises is how to go on from that point. Is the lesson from the experience to the person who feels hurt that never again can they trust in a love relationship? Is it the case from then on that joy with a partner is forever impossible? It is easy to see that no evidence supports either of these conclusions and that it is certainly not true that only disappointments are to be expected in a love life after a breakup… So what then?
It is still reasonable for someone to be hopeful, even after several romantic failures. This precisely is because we become different people as we go through life; we see even the same situations differently, as our outlook and circumstances change. As such conversations, actions, attitudes and way of thinking do need to be adjusted to suit the current circumstances. Conducting life in that manner helps to put what belongs to the past, in the past. Indeed it is healing and beneficial to train our brain to always recognize when we need to change an attitude. It is a way of living in the present. In the same way, we do not need to adjust to future situations until they are here. It does not mean you do not think about the future or make plans. Nor does living in the present mean you are not to visualize a future event to practice it as if (pretend) it is here. It means you do not act as if (believe) the future event is here until it is. For example to start being distressed today for an appointment in two weeks is of no advantage to you; such a reaction does not strengthen your mental state, which is needed in that situation. By worrying now you have added an unhappy reaction to a situation that in fact may not call for unhappiness in the future. Even if that visit turns out to be stressful you have already primed yourself for distress; so then you have a double dose. Also, suffering ahead of the future appointment means you have prolonged your suffering for longer than necessary and if it is positive news at the doctor’s office the prolonged misery is needless. To keep being hooked into a past or the future, especially one that is unpleasant and would be best to shed, means we are not acknowledging that we are no longer in that past and are not yet in the future. This misunderstanding can very easily happen when we are prone to worry. Always we need to seriously consider to which period, past, present or future, the action needs to be applied. This approach is to be used deliberately until we get good at making the distinction without effort.
The fact is that a person cannot live in two worlds – the past and the present; nor in the present and the future! This is still true, whether the past and present are separated by years, days or minutes, although the shorter the in-between period or the smaller the unit of time, the sillier it may seem to deny our sameness as we move into the future. Living in two worlds means a person will not be able to focus on what’s happening in the present, which creates concentration and memory problems.
It Is In Your Nature To Get Better
From another point of view, individually and collectively, our connection with the past is that it provides valuable lessons for avoiding pitfalls and for sustaining our wellbeing. Nonetheless, we do live in the present; not in the past. So then it would be beneficial if we could learn to use the knowledge that we have changed from who we were in the past to the different person we are in the present to improve our emotional state. This is the more realistic because the lessons we learn are always from the past. Nature helps by ensuring the future is unavailable to inspection and preventing the past from coming back.
There is another very crucial opportunity Nature provides for us to escape emotional misery. One silent activity that goes on in us is the translation of the unconscious impulses into conscious awareness, which enables us to react to anything inside or outside us. In order for this transformation to occur in the brain every thought or feeling has to have a label. The labeling happens while an impulse is at the unconscious level. Our brain tries to match this new stimulus with similar previous ones in our memory bank and then uses the match with old information to present new information, telling us how to react based on previous reactions. As soon we become aware of the labeled thought or feeling we can impose our own reaction instead of merely accepting the brain’s “suggestion”. Depending on how often and/or seriously we have practiced doing this switch, the faster or more easily it will happen. Consistently adding your own interpretation to what the brain presents is training the mind to shift gears at your command! At the same time because of the way the brain works, by practicing this self-coaching the brain learns to dump old ways of thinking and use the new way we teach it. As such over time it becomes capable of instantly “suggesting” or presenting us with the different or “better” way of reacting.
On the one hand, there are occasions when people share common agreement that someone is or is not the same after an intense experience. When we believe that certain events are truly life changing we tend to see the person as emotionally different. I heard this view many times from some observers because of my obvious semi-paralyzed state, although in reality my attitude to life remained unaltered. Making a habit of exchanging automatic thoughts with self-generated thoughts however will give you a step up as you consciously assist the improvement of your emotional wellbeing. Nature is already helping you to change for the better by allowing the option you to override automatic thoughts, why not join in and use the option to give your emotional condition more than a fighting chance. Emotional pain is unpleasant so why would you want to keep it and ignore this kind of advice to help you get rid of your mental discomfort. You do not have to suffer!
Indeed some people who experience an extremely painful or difficult life-change may not see or understand how to use the change in a positive way, while others have a tendency to look for advantages of their plight. For instance separated, divorced, fired or expelled individuals sometimes believe (or to their credit, make themselves believe) that the bad experience offers them freedom to consider better alternatives or choices now that they are “out there”. So both the knowledge that we are capable of changing our thoughts and also that we can actually motivate ourselves to do so, for our own good, are two very useful tools. They can help to greatly reduce emotional pain bringing less distress in many life situations, including those that may seem intolerable. Yes, we can learn to search for the good that comes with the bad in order to make the unfavourable circumstance more bearable. The key to successfully pulling off this way of living is practice!