What Came First, The Chicken or the Egg???
You know what it’s like to get caught up in an emotional downward spiral. One moment you’re feeling fabulous and suddenly you’re aware that you’ve somehow spun into a negative funk. You realize you’ve become angry, frustrated, or critical; thinking thoughts that are perpetuating the mood. How did you get there so fast?
Some experts would suggest that a thought triggered by an external event resulted in an emotion and it spiraled from there. While others would suggest an emotion, triggered by an external event, then triggered thoughts aligned with the emotion. It’s a matter of cause and effect, but what’s the first cause? Like trying to figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg (figured that one out yet?)
To answer this question, we could reflect on events, moment by moment, trying to figure out whether a feeling came before a thought or vice versa… and that’s a lot of mental work when what you really want is to get out of the downward spiral. That question I have an answer to!
The moment you start noticing how a thought is causing an emotion and how that emotion is causing the next thought – you can interrupt the flow. Consciously choose to interrupt the current flow of cause and effect of your current stream of thoughts and emotions by choosing either a thought or an emotion that will start altering your current course.
For example: Upon returning home from work, my partner fails to notice that I’ve cleaned the floor and washed the car. I feel hurt that he hasn’t noticed and start thinking that he doesn’t care. Then I feel sad and start wondering “what does he expects of me; is this not enough earn his appreciation?” Now I’m feeling angry, I worked hard all day too and got a bunch of chores done between clients and not even a thank you! You get the point.
The moment I become aware of how my thoughts and emotions are sending me into an emotional and mental frenzy, I stop. I take a deep breath, which immediately feels better, and choose a new way of thinking. I choose to remember all the times he has expressed gratitude for something I’ve done. Immediately the emotion shifts to a feeling of calm. Then I’m curious about how his day was and ask. He shares the many challenges of his day. Now I’m feeling empathy and compassion for him. I start wondering what I can do to help him release the stress of the day. Next thing you know, he looks around, takes a whiff, and says “hmm… it smells so clean in here; did you wash the floor?” “Thanks honey.”
No more spiral… steady flow forward.
To summarize, here are the steps to getting back into a more desirable stream of cause and effect:
1. Awareness – notice how your thoughts and feelings are flowing in the moment
2. Accept that you are the one participating in this current flow and you are the one who can interrupt and change it. Start by taking a deep breath in and out.
3. Choose a thought or feeling that you know will cause a more desirable flow of emotion or thought.
4. Awareness – notice how your thoughts and feelings are flowing now.
So, what came first, the chicken or the egg? It you figure that one out, please let me know!