Here’s a foundational mindfulness practice to use whenever you’ve been triggered. This will help you to tame the emotional brain and bring the thinking brain back online for more calm, reasoned decision making.
Whenever you feel triggered, stop and catch yourself. Don’t react. Give yourself a few moments with the sacred pause. You might try using f a catchphrase. In my case, I find that things like “Don’t react” or “Stop and think, Joe.” This simple act is enough to engage your thinking brain and give it time to catch up to the emotional brain (your fight or flight trigger).
Bring attention to your breath to relax yourself. This reinforces the sacred pause and puts you back in control.
Get in touch with your emotions by bringing attention to your body. What does it feel like in your face, neck, shoulders, chest, abdomen, and back? Do this without judging it. Be curious. This helps you move from the existential experience of “I am angry” or “I feel ashamed” to the physiological experience of “I am experiencing anger (or shame) in my body.” Once again, you’re inviting the thinking brain in to process the information.
What’s causing the emotion? Where is it coming from? Is there some history behind it? Is your ego getting involved? Is this story you’re telling yourself true? What’s the evidence? Is there another way to look at this?
Consider how to respond to create a more positive outcome. Ask yourself: How can I bring kindness to this moment? Then respond.
This is a deep dive into the SBNRR practice. In real time, you don’t need more than a few seconds to catch yourself and bring the thinking brain online to create a more positive outcome. The most important step is to create enough space to move from being compelled to respond (out of emotion) versus choosing to respond (out of thought). Or not.
You May Not Even Have to Respond
Oftentimes, leaders are invited into drama without warning. This can happen when an employee or teammate gets fired up and wants you to take sides. Taking the bait can reinforce the wrong behaviors and it can be divisive. Try, instead, listening with your full attention as if hearing the issue for the first time. Witness what’s happening. Ask a few questions and let the person know you’ll thoughtfully consider it for a later discussion. This also gives you the opportunity not only to think, but to allow emotions to dissipate, as well as allow you to speak to others involved. Instead of being triggered, you can be the coach with helpful advice.
Even a few seconds of the SBNRR technique can improve relationships and outcomes. It creates enough of a pause and reflection to explore different choices, ask a few questions, and connect with the person, or interrupt yourself when you get stuck in unhelpful ruminations. Set an intention to try the SBNRR practice once a day this week.
About the Author
Retired Founder and CEO of Whil and former President of Headspace
Joe is an entrepreneur in the digital wellness space, retired Founder and CEO of Whil and former President of Headspace, and spent fifteen years as a global COO in public companies. He’s an alumnus of Harvard Business School and a regular contributor to Forbes, Business Insider and The Huffington Post. He’s worked in over 50 countries and travels the world speaking on topics including disruption, culture, resiliency and mindfulness.