Ready, set, go is a familiar refrain on playgrounds, but for many of us it’s how we begin the day. We sprint from meetings to appointments with unbelievable speed and juggle projects and obligations with dexterous might. We may even be encouraged to keep this pace with well-meaning cheers of, “I don’t know how you do it!” And, it’s hard not to enjoy those words while continuing our dash through the day. In fact, we may crave those words even more! We live in a culture that praises and rewards productivity and, as we know, this way of living comes with a hefty price.
When we’re feeling squeezed for time and space, our focus narrows and stress significantly reduces our emotional bandwidth. It’s almost impossible to remain poised and patient in moments such as these. In fact, we’re primed to react rather than respond when things go wrong and potentially cause more suffering for ourselves and others.
To complicate matters, the holiday season has a way of intensifying our emotions. The joys glow brighter, the sorrows cut deeper and the day-to-day stress leads to dizzying and frazzled states. So, what can we do?
May I suggest what I call, Ready, S.E.T., Orient! S.E.T. stands for Sensations, Emotions and Thoughts. Before you head out the door, step into a meeting, make a call etc., try taking a couple minutes to label what sensations you’re aware of, what emotion(s) you’re aware of, and what thoughts you’re aware of. Labeling doesn’t mean analyzing but rather noting, ie. “Aware of irritability,” “Aware of clenching in jaw,” “Aware of ruminating,” “Aware of you-screwed-up storyline.” By bringing a kind, curious, nonjudgmental attention to what you’re experiencing, you’re helping your nervous system regulate and recalibrate.
While I may have packaged this technique in a playful way, there are serious studies that corroborate the effectiveness of this practice. One such study is from 2007 and is titled “Putting Feelings Into Words Produces Therapeutic Effects In The Brain.” In this study, Matthew D. Lieberman, UCLA associate professor and lead author states:
"When you put feelings into words, you're activating this prefrontal region and seeing a reduced response in the amygdala...In the same way you hit the brake when you're driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses."
So, maybe playing a few rounds of Ready, S.E.T., Orient! this holiday season can be the best gift for our ourselves, our nervous system, our immune system, our digestive system, and our...friends and family!