Most people jump in straight to the task at hand. That’s efficiency, that’s not procrastination. That’s good, right? Except, what you are doing is called precrastination. Let me explain.
People were given two buckets of water. One was closer to them, the other was closer to the finish line. When asked to pick up any bucket and carry it to the finish line, people were likelier to pick up the one closer to them. In spite of the fact that they’d carry it for a longer distance. And were more likely to spill.
This doesn’t just happen in a psychology lab. In real life, when we do not give our actions and responses enough thought, we create more messes to clean up.
This is not about overthinking— good ol’ analysis-paralysis. Rather, it’s about giving your life the respect it deserves.
And when it comes to serious decisions and occasions, this is non-negotiable.
What’s really going on inside you
In a highly stressful situation, your fear brain activates. It then hijacks your higher brain— that wise part of you that makes the best decisions. So you create more messes to clean up.
Now you may tell yourself that something logically isn’t stressful. But if something makes you feel energetically depleted— instead of neutral or invigorated— then your body is interpreting it as stressful.
And here’s when we need to reset your brain, and get your wisest self back online.
Step one: Name it
We all know someone who says some positive mantra all the time, even when things aren’t going right. They tell themselves, “I am GREAT, I am CALM” even when they are shaking all over.
Now I am all for affirmations, but when these mantra are a blatant lie for the situation you’re experiencing, it’s not gonna work. You’re gonna feel way worse instead.
Of course, you’ll think that if you told yourself “I am overwhelmed”, you feel even more overwhelmed.
Except that, when we name what’s going on, treating our experiences as data rather than a moral judgment, we actually regain power.
We step back into control.
So what you’ll do from now on, is to name what’s going on for you.
Like, “I feel [feeling]”. If you don’t know your feeling, it can be as simple as bad/neutral/good.
If this feeling is obvious in your body, you can even say, “I feel an ache in my neck”.
Step two: Ground
Next, you’ll ground yourself.
If you’ve ever watched dogs and cats shuffle their paws on the ground, that’s precisely that wisdom we’re gonna tap into.
Slowly, shuffle your feet on the ground. Feel the points of contact between your feet and the ground.
What this does is that it gets you away from the tornado in your head, and into your body. When we make decisions from our entire body, we make wiser decisions.
When you’re talking to someone and don’t want to be obvious, you can curl your toes slowly instead.
Step three: Breathe correctly
And finally, the pièce de résistance. You may have heard of people who secretly tell you that they deep breathe, go to meditation retreats. . and feel worse. That’s because they aren’t breathing correctly.
Of course, I totally get it. When we are told to ‘Calm down! Just breathe!’— in that frantic state, we end up sucking our bellies in when we breathe in. Just like. .when we take photographs. What happens however, is that your chest constricts. And when your brain picks that up, it thinks you’re in trouble. And it sends cortisol and adrenaline.
Of course you feel worse.
Now you and I, we don’t want to spend hours meditating everyday. So we’ll just get back to the simplest basics— breathing correctly.
Put one hand on your belly. Inhale deeply through your nose, making sure that your belly is filling up like a balloon.
If it isn’t, practise until you get the mechanics right.
Now, we’ll combine it with breathing out. So breathe in, and as you breathe out, drop your shoulders, visualising sighing everything out through your heart.
Do this another two times.
If you’re breathing correctly, all your attention will naturally be focused on your breath. There is no space to think at all.
And these three breaths are all you need to get in control.
Step four: Grow muscles
When to do these?
Of course, this is great practise when you are stressed.
But, you don’t learn to save money only when you are in debt. Nor do you only learn to exercise when overweight.
That same principle means that you will train your brain to reset itself all the time.
So, first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
Some people like to pair it with activities like when they reach for a glass of water, or when they wash their hands.
For me, I like to do this every time I transition from one activity to another.
When will you do yours?
If you would like more neuroscience of getting your brain in the right stress zone, join us at our next open workshop series.