Mental Dexterity is about being flexible in your thinking and actions, and about understanding the control and influence you have on your thoughts and reactions.
You are probably familiar with the fight or flight reaction that we can have in times of stress. Often people can recognise occasions when they have reacted to a situation in this way. This initial reaction may not be the most helpful in the long term – we might say or do something in the heat of the moment that we later regret. Can you think of a situation recently where you have done this?
Well, there is an alternative – the other “F” word can be helpful in enabling us to be more flexible and considered in our reactions.
That “F” word is freeze. So catch yourself as you feel the stress rising inside. For you it may be a tightness in the jaw, or it may be clenching of your fists. You may feel like crying, or running away, or want to punch or hurl abuse at someone…. Know your signs, and when you notice them happening, freeze and take a deep breath.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
A simple way to freeze is to learn some spot breathing techniques.
One technique that Eric Harrison of the Perth Meditation Centre teaches is called Three Breaths. It is so simple that you can do it anywhere:
- Take a deep breath in, fill your lungs and then exhale with a long sigh, releasing any tension as you breath out.
- Take a second deep breath in, fill your lungs and then exhale with a long sigh and a yawn, releasing any tension in your face as you go.
- Take a third deep breath in, fill your lungs and then exhale with a long sigh, releasing any remaining tension that you may have.
Even a tiny pause can give your brain just enough wiggle room for common sense to prevail.
Sometimes we need a bit more of a strategy to create this freeze moment for ourselves. Have you ever had the experience of being in an argument with someone and ten minutes later, you have the perfect comeback? Think about the last time you were in a verbal stoush with someone – think back to the conversation – at what point could you have built in your freeze? When did you start to notice that you were reacting to the other person? What are some things that we can do or say that can help buy us some time to handle things better?
If I am really bamboozled by what a person has said or done, and I don’t know how to respond, or if a person puts me on the spot and asks me to do something or commit to something that I’m not sure I want to, I might say something like:
- “How interesting – can I think about that for a while and get back to you?”
- “That’s a different perspective for sure.”
- “Well I can see that this is important to you. I wll get back to you once I’ve had some time to think.”
Try it. See if by buying yourself some time you can slow down your reactions and gain some perspective that will allow you to make a decision about how you want to respond, rather than just reacting in a fight or flight manner.