Partners, friends, and children all know how to push our buttons through their words and actions. Maybe they are completely innocent – or maybe not! Either way, we end up suffering when irritation, impatience, frustration, anger, or other unpleasant reactions are triggered.
Paying close attention, you can sometimes experience the body’s response to these flares of emotion. As brain chemicals are activated and sprayed through the nervous system, the heart rate may rise, specific muscles may tense, and breathing may be affected. Once these chemicals begin circulating in the body, it takes time for them to dissipate and be metabolized. In the moment, we may feel powerless to respond any other way – like a runaway freight train, habitual reactions can seem inevitable.
Next time you find yourself reacting negatively to a trigger, consider this technique to retrain your mind to respond in a new way. This method involves choosing and then practicing one of your core values in the very heat of the moment - for example, compassion, patience, gratitude, open-mindedness, or respect. This process is very different from faking a response – actively embodying a core value is a genuine way to access the authentic part of yourself that knows the best way to respond. Rather than pretending to feel something, this is you activating a real inner quality and pushing it to its limits.
- Follow these steps:
- Pause. When you feel yourself about to react, do not engage with the person.
- Select a value. Choose the core value that you wish to express in moments like these.
- Embody the value. Bring the value to mind by envisioning it. If you hold this value dear, then you have personal experience of it. Call to mind past experiences – whether with this person or with someone else – even positive experiences with a beloved pet! Once accessed, let that value manifest through your posture and expression, your actions, and your words.
- Practice. Every time you are able to bring your core value to mind and body during difficult moments, the more automatic it becomes.
- Last resorts. If you are unable to alter a triggered response in the heat of the moment, you can still make valuable progress by practicing embodying a value in private moments. When even that fails, consider simply imagining the kind of response you would wish to have. Every bit of effort helps break the cycle of unpleasant reactions.
I find myself using this technique time and again. It’s amazing how quickly old patterns can melt away by actively embodying a core value. If you have techniques to respond when people push your buttons – share them with us!