Stop Trying to Solve That Problem!

If you must start with thinking, then see how you can reappraise the situation.

As a big fan of Pixar’s movie Inside Out, the “train of thought” reminds us to separate “facts” from “opinions”. Our opinions are what cause emotional responses. Rarely do opinions point to solutions.

Kevin Ochsner’s research at Columbia State University shows that “conscious control over the limbic system is possible, not by suppressing a feeling, but rather by changing the interpretation that creates the feeling in the first place.” It’s not about denial, just looking at something from multiple angles.

“Cognitive reappraisal” is the ability to change your perception by choosing to focus on a different aspect of the fact. This is a great tool for emotion regulation. David Rock thoroughly describes the four types of cognitive reappraisal in his book “Your Brain At Work”. Here’s a brief overview:

1. Reinterpret the event. If you see a woman swinging her hand around her baby’s head, at first glance it can appear you are witnessing child abuse. You could race over to intervene or give it 5 more seconds. Then you witness her continuing to swing in empty space and jump away from what seems like an invisible enemy. You might interpret this as her being mentally ill. This tendency is because our amydala is primed to interpret threat and ready us for action. By consciously accepting that there may be aspects of the situation you do not know, you are more willing to revise your opinions. Within ten seconds she has returned to stillness, and you open to the new idea that she was protecting her young from something you could not see.

2. Normalize: We store routine information in parts of the brain that don’t require as much energy. Anything new uses up our brain resources and cause distress. Our brains like certainty. According to David Rock's SCARF model, uncertainty is once of the top 5 reasons we get triggered at work. So being able to recognize that you are uncomfortable, and your brain will need to work harder to take in novel information in this new situation helps normalize and diminish the stress response. Then you can use higher level thinking to review your strategies.

3. Reorder or reevaluate the information. Not allowing everything to be top priority is a great way to lessen your stress response. For example, finishing this presentation aligns with my top priority and passion in this job, therefore, I am choosing to give less attention to this other task. You get to choose the hierarchy.

4. Reposition: Find a new perspective. You've long heard put yourself in someone else's shoes. That wisdom can guide you to breakthroughs on negotiations. When you change the context of how you are viewing the situation, you are more likely to come up with creative solutions. One trick is to ask yourself, "What if the other person was a close friend, or my adult child?"

Reappraisal is a tool to regulate our emotional responses in tough situations. Managing ourselves with our brain in mind keeps us skillfully navigating daily challenges.

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Deanne Carter - Evolving Leaders

Based in Tacoma WA

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