It all starts with Awareness
Raising awareness is the start of the process of change, without awareness we cannot change anything.
We all have developed or inherited (emotional) Involuntary Mechanisms (core concept Multilevel Emotion Regulation Theory – MERT). These are deeply ingrained neurological pathways that are of great value to our everyday ability to function, because they make life much easier. It means we don’t have to process information every time we do a repetitive action. If the phone rings, we pick it up, the mechanism becomes so ingrained, that it even becomes difficult to not do it.
We recognise an Involuntary Mechanism because it just happens without us making a conscious choice.
Of course, we also inherit or develop (emotional) Involuntary Mechanisms. These can be coping mechanisms that help us early on in life, but can get in the way later on when we don’t need them anymore.
For example, we might learn as a very young child that crying will bring our mother to our aid, while later in life crying in a situation where we need attention might not be helpful.
Aim of the Awareness Mantra?
The aim of the Awareness Mantra outlined below is to over time create a very tiny but highly significant space between the trigger and the involuntary action of an Involuntary Mechanism. This allows us to connect with our intellectual ability and use this space to ask ourselves: What is my goal in this situation? Which action would be most helpful towards achieving my goal?
The first step towards change is to grow awareness and appreciate ourselves for that.
The Awareness Mantra will also strengthen our Baseline, our energy level and emotional resilience, as it is a way of giving ourselves heart-felt compliments.
What is the Awareness Mantra?
The Awareness mantra is a simple tool that we can apply every time we become aware of an unhelpful thought or memory, we say the following to ourselves (if possible out loud):
“I’m proud and grateful to be aware that I have / had a not-helpful thought / flashback / sound / picture / film / smell / feeling etc. (choose the most appropriate word based on the type of memory) or action.
Before we can apply the Awareness Mantra we need to understand what might be happening in our mind before awareness happens. It is helpful here to establish how, in general, our memory works.
How does our memory work?
We can lay down memories in many different ways – pictures, words, films, feelings, smells, sounds, or in our body.
Ask yourself to think back to when you met your spouse or current lover, or when your first child was born. What pops up? Which senses are involved? When you think back to the most challenging situations in your life, how do you remember them? Is it a picture with feelings? Or is it a film with sound? If you say ‘I think in words, do you see them written in front of you, or is it in sound, do you hear them spoken? Perhaps you remember a smell or how it felt in your body?
Getting as clear as you can on what happens when a memory has been triggered will help you to apply the Awareness Mantra as accurately as possible.
Applying the Awareness Mantra
Every time we become aware of an unhelpful thought etc (fill in here how your memory works) we can apply the mantra. For example, …..
When we become aware of feeling overwhelmed by an argument between our children and we become snappy. As soon as we are aware we can say to ourselves: “I’m proud and grateful to be aware that I have an unhelpful feeling (the overwhelm) and action (the snappiness)” and follow up by the 4-7-8 breathing exercise (see below) to replace the neurological pathway of the Involuntary Mechanism.
The more we apply it, the more the Awareness Mantra will replace often deeply ingrained neurological pathways of guilt, anger, blaming and shaming that we have created as a reaction to when ourselves, others or circumstances haven’t lived up to our expectations. Our emotional reactions are the result of what is known as Gap Energy, which is caused by the gap between who we are now, or how we are behaving, and our personality ideal.
Without awareness in the moment we cannot change anything, therefore learning to apply the Awareness Mantra will over time help open up a gap between our triggers and our involuntary reactions.
Applying the Awareness mantra, will also help us to strengthen our Baseline, as each time we apply it, independent of what happened, we give ourselves a real-felt compliment with our awareness which will increase our emotional resilience and energy level.
Be aware that any recurring thought, flashback etc. you have is probably unhelpful!
The only thing that distracts us from our journey of growing awareness, is that awareness comes with all those feelings we do not want to feel. This in itself triggers more not helpful thoughts and feelings etc. So keep on catching them, and stay on your chosen track of growing awareness.
Please stay compassionate to yourself while practising raising awareness. Use the unhelpful and energy-draining (train of) thoughts / feelings / actions that might follow the awareness to build your own emotional resilience. Keep applying the Awareness Mantra or whatever individualised form you have developed, and follow that with the calming 4-7-8 breathing exercise .
Growing emotional resilience
Every time we have had not-helpful thoughts, feelings etc., or are aware of having acted in a not-helpful way, e.g. being snappy towards a child, partner or friend, we can use the Awareness Mantra to prevent further negative thoughts, feelings etc.
We can think of unhelpful thinking patterns as a series of dominoes – one unhelpful thought is often the first domino to fall triggering a whole bleak scenario of dominoes toppling further. This might end in a very familiar thought process (deeply ingrained neurological pathway) that is not helpful and drains our energy further.
Use these instances where we don’t live up to our own expectations by saying “I’m proud and grateful to be aware that I had an unhelpful behaviour” followed by the 4-7-8 breathing exercise. This will help prevent any more dominoes falling, along with any unnecessary energy loss over the situation, and will help us raise our emotional resilience.
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