Chapter 2 - Influences Subchapter: Inner & outer worlds

How do we influence our worlds?

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  • Our inner and outer worlds influence us, but we can influence them back by following a simple process:
  • Notice: pay attention to what’s going on.
  • Stop: put the brakes on our first impulses.
  • Think: challenge our beliefs.
  • Try: experiment with new behaviours.

 

Simple steps for change

Our inner and outer worlds, and our body, shape our approach to relationships and the Field Model, but we can also attempt to shape them back.

There are lots of different ways of thinking about shaping the things that influence us, and the detail of what you can do will depend on the situation, but one way to approach it is through these high-level steps.

 

Notice

To make a change, you first have to notice what’s going on with your inner world, outer world and body.

You can do this simply by making a commitment to start paying more attention to your thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours, as well as people, places and social norms.

You don’t have to be obsessively focused; it’s just about taking an interest, believing these elements are important.

We sometimes notice things for a split-second and then drop them; active noticing is about holding onto that thing for just a fraction of a second longer, so that you can do something about it.

 

Fun fact

Our brains have structure called the Reticular Formation that, among other things, helps us ignore stuff that’s not important. It ignores a lot! But when you start to pay attention to something, you cue this system to let that stimulus go through the filter—and then you’ll start noticing it more and more.

 

Stop

Having noticed something, we need to stop.

When an animal wants something, it goes for it. When an animal is afraid of something, it runs, freezes, or attacks. There’s no gap between stimulus and response, impulse and action.

Humans have this unique ability to stop themselves, and potentially choose to do something different.

 

Actually it’s not entirely unique. Social animals such as apes and dogs show the ability to restrain their impulses—but it’s fair to say that humans are champion stoppers.

 

Stopping doesn’t have to be this big dramatic thing; you might stop for just a couple of seconds. But it breaks the circuit between your impulse and your response.

That break needs to be just long enough for you to think.

 

Calming down

Part of stopping might be calming down. The key to this is breathing. If you’re afraid or angry, your breathing and heart rate speed up. This is mediated through your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight-flight-freeze response. You can soothe that whole system by slowing your breathing, which sends a signal to the rest of your body and brain that maybe the threat isn’t as bad as you thought, reducing your sense of urgency and giving you time to change your thinking and behaviour.

 

Think

Even more than stopping, the thing that makes us most human is our ability to think about our own experiences. In particular we can challenge our beliefs, which in turn helps us change our behaviours and feelings.

 

You can do this by asking questions like:

  • What am I doing?
    • Am I predicting the future?
    • Am I reading someone else’s mind?
    • Am I assuming the way I feel is the way things really are?
    • Am I making an assumption about the other person because of their gender?
    • Am I oversimplifying? Seeing things only as black and white?
  • What does this belief show about myself, another person, or the world in general?
  • What is the evidence for this belief? Is there any evidence that it might be wrong?
  • What would I tell a younger friend in this situation?

 

You might decide everything is fine, and you can keep doing what you were planning on doing. Or you might see a new perspective on the situation, which leads to the final step in this process.

 

Try

Thinking about your experiences and beliefs can help you come up with alternatives to try.

For instance:

  • Checking in with your partner when they’re hesitant instead of just pressing on.
  • Getting up and dancing instead of standing back against the wall.
  • Asking someone directly if they want to go out with you, instead of creeping around them.
  • Telling someone how they’ve hurt your feelings instead of fuming in silence.
  • Owning and apologising when you’ve hurt someone instead of defending, attacking or walking out.

 

New ideas might come to you immediately, or you might need to do some brainstorming over time. You might realise that the best action is no action, and walk away from the situation altogether (even if it means you don’t get what you want in that moment).

The important thing is that you have a chance to break the reactive pattern and try something new. If it doesn’t work, you can notice, stop, think and try again.

If you’re ever in doubt, lean towards treating the people around you with dignity and respect, and using some of the tips in Stop Ask Listen!

And don’t think you have to solve every problem yourself: by talking to the person you’re with, you can solve problems together. So often we assume we’re alone, but the people around us can actually help.

 

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