I was on the main avenue in my neighborhood a few years ago after I’d moved in looking for a store. Not being from here for very long, I just didn’t know all the shops and where they are located. I crawled along riveting my head from the road to the store numbers when that old familiar, grating noise intruded: beep-beep-BEEP!!
And I had that urge that I always get – to rush out to the the beeper and ask, “So…I’m looking for an address and I’m a little confused….How, um, how, exactly, does your beeping help me find my address better so I can get out of your way?”
Of course, I never do ask that question. For one thing, I don’t want to be shot because who knows just how irritated and aggravated that person is who is behind that steering wheel?
And that really is the second and most important reason why I never have done this and never will: It’s because I know that the beeping comes from the emotional place in the brain and rational questions can’t “reach” an emotionally overwrought person. People use their horns as an expression of emotions that have gone out of rational control.
In fact, people often use their mouths as an expression of their emotions when they ought not to.
It’s those darn emotions that get in the way of brains that work so very well otherwise.
Think about all the emotional things that deter us from living happy lives: Worries over what is beyond our control like
- someone who is sick,
- fears of failure when failure really won’t make a significant difference in our lives even if it happens,
- anger over not being pleased when the not-being-pleased already happened and it can’t be undone,
- depression that won’t let us see the good, and things like that.
As much as we can sit there and read this post and say, “Yeah, emotions aren’t rational!” they nevertheless gum up the works. In fact, they are the reason why therapists are needed. It is not easy to overcome them.
On the other hand, there are lots of things that we do that are not easy but we do them anyway.
I can distinctly remember being about eight years old and happily jumping rope for what I recall was hours at a time. I am certain I never ran out of breath, either. Yet, now, when my trainer says, “Start jumping rope,” I huff and puff to 10 and call it quits. Building up your strength is really difficult when you have been fastened to a chair for 30 or 40 years.
But I’m doing it. I will continue. And now that I’ve just published that in writing in front of thousands of people, I doggone well better keep doing it.
People quit smoking every day. Even though it is considered to be one of the most difficult addictions, people do it. People lose weight and keep it off. People get through school; even people with Attention Disorder can do it.
All of which brings me to the comment someone made the other day. She said, “I like your articles, but sometimes they are just too pat. You can’t just follow these four steps and, poof! All the problems you started with just disappear.”
Well, actually you can. Without the “poof.” I admit it will take time and effort to accomplish changes. Zev Brenner interviewed me on his radio program and he asked me the same exact question: “Dr. Deb, are you telling me that people can just read a book and their problems go away?”
And my answer is kind of like the answer my husband gives when people ask him how his diet is going. He says, “I read the book but I didn’t lose an ounce.” Then he waits for the laugh.
No, reading my book won’t help couples create happy marriages and neither will reading my articles on this blog. On the other hand, attempting to get control of one’s emotions so as to follow the tips that I offer will work over time.
How do I know? I know because research backs me up. Like me jumping rope to regain the strength I once had, it’s just a matter of doing what I have to do whether it’s easy or not.
So let’s go back to our friend, the beeper. How can he gain control over his emotions?
This individual – and it could be a woman as easily as a man – has two jobs to do which go together:
- There is the attitudinal job. It seems to me that this person has a bit of an entitlement problem. He or she thinks that everything must go smoothly for them because they are the Gift to the Human Species. Either that or this individual believes that nothing will ever go smoothly for them because God Doesn’t Love Them. Both of these attitudes are the unfortunate byproduct of a terrible start in life. But such a bad start is not a reason to be condemned to such a painful way of thinking for the rest of their lives.
People in the first group can overcome their misguided view of life by reminding themselves that although they were unfortunately spoiled as children, they must become givers. Every morning these people should plan out small things they will give to others.
If they are beepers, their gift will be time: They will remind themselves to allow others on the road to take their time getting themselves to where they are going without becoming impatient with them.
People in the second group must learn to reconnect with who-ever their belief system tells them runs the universe. They should pray; they should recall all the good that they have in their lives; and they should stop their negative thoughts about how difficult life is for them.
When they are behind the wheel, they can remind themselves that other people live their lives and they are not slowing down just to annoy them!
- The second job is visceral. Our emotions get away from us in part because our brains are wired to jump us into action at the mere suggestion of an emergency. To prevent the cascade of autonomic events, the solution is to practice deep breathing every day. Very s-l-o-w, deep breathing. This slows down heart rate, blood pressure and chemical spills of cortisone and other stress hormones. That, in turn, allows time for the brain to reconnect to the rational neural circuits that you have perfected in Job #1.
Is any of this easy? No, of course not. Sorry if I ever implied that it is. But it is doable – as long as you actually do it.