Originally posted 7/26/14
I’ve been reading an incredible book by Jill Bolte Taylor called My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientists Personal Journey. If you’ve ever known anyone who had a stroke or just wanted to learn more about left brain vs. right brain; it’s a great book. At one point she talks about how our emotional responses (anger, fear, frustration, etc.) to specific events/triggers are repeated over time. The result is we train our brain to respond in such a way that it happens automatically. She goes on to say:
“it takes less than 90 seconds for one of these programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our blood stream.”
Think about that - 90 seconds. Everyday emotional reactions, i.e. getting cut off by another driver, the frustration of something/anything going wrong throughout the day, starts and ends within 90 seconds. The chemical reaction lasts 90 seconds and then it’s out of your blood stream. The next question is, how much longer does that emotion live inside you? For most of us after that first 90 seconds you start replaying it in your brain, over and over again. Maybe you get distracted by work or the kids, but later in the day it pops back into your head and the emotion comes surging back. You relive it. Replay it. Analyze it over and over again. Why do we do that? The event is over and done. The chemical reaction ended after 90 seconds, it’s that voice in our head that is keeping it alive.
The powerful truth is that it doesn’t have to be like that, you have the power to change. You can rewire your brain so that when your blood stream releases the chemical reaction after 90 seconds, your brain does too. It’s not easy, but it is definitely possible, it just takes practice. The next time you find yourself continuing to replay an event in your head, stop and ask yourself – why am I continuing to think about this? Why does this bother me so much? Is there anything I can do differently to avoid/change this in the future? If you can get to the heart of the “why” the answer is often right in front of you. When you realize why, then you can take the next step to resolve it. When you resolve it, your perspective will shift along with your emotional reaction. It’s no longer automatic. You’ve literally rewired the neurons in your brain to react differently (or not react at all).
Towards the end of the book, she includes a powerful quote from Einstein:
“I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be.”
We often make excuses for our emotional reactions by saying – I can’t change, that’s just who I am. The reality is that our brain has an amazing ability to retrain itself and learn new things. By increasing your awareness, and a little practice, we can change our reactions. The result may be that you gain more patience or finally let go of that fear or you just stop worrying about every little thing. Then when the chemicals are released after 90 seconds, the voice in your head is able to do the same.
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.