Over the last two weeks we introduced the stress-meter that helped to measure your inner state of being over time, and we had you do an exercise that helped you see how your inner state of being impacts your performance for better or worse. (If you would like to go back to any of the prior articles in this series you can find them here in our blog)
By now you may have some new insights about how much the way you feel inside impacts how you perform on the outside.
In order to take charge of your inner mental state and consciously move to a place where it supports you at your best, it’s important to understand what drives your mental state at a deeper level.
Below are four simple insights based on neuroscience and cognitive psychology that can help you better understand what is really controlling your mental wellness:
- Your brain is designed to help you survive by recognizing any potential threats to your survival as quickly as possible.
- Your brain can alert you most quickly with physical/emotional signals, bypassing the slower but much more logical pre-frontal cortex. This is why we often react to negative situations before we think.
- Whenever you feel a surge of any negative emotion in your body, be it anxiety, frustration, or even depletion, this is a signal from your brain to pay attention to and mitigate a potential threat.
- You learned about potential threats to your survival when you were very young as you discovered how easy or difficult it was for you to get your basic needs met.
There are many models around needs available, and they all generally group our non-physical needs into three basic categories: (1) Safety / Security, (2) Belonging / Attachment, and (3) Autonomy / Personal Power. One way to understand how our mental state of being works is to imagine that every time we feel a surge of negative emotion, it’s our brain’s way of suggesting that in that moment we may be in danger of losing our safety, our belonging, or our power. The best examples of this are when we worry about money, avoid rejection, or angrily take a stand when something seems unfair.
In general, we feel more threatened when we have beliefs that tell us it’s difficult to get our needs met, and we feel less threatened when we have beliefs that tell us we can easily get our needs met. For example, if you have a large unexpected expense, you will be more or less stressed based on how easy you believe it is for you to get the money you need to cover it. If your colleagues start leaving you out of meetings, you’ll feel more or less upset based on how easy you believe it is for you to strengthen those relationships. If a situation seems unfair, you’ll feel more or less upset based on how empowered you believe you are to fix it.
In other words, if you feel highly safe and secure in this world, if you feel a lot of unconditional love and an ease about building and maintaining good relationships, and if you feel empowered to make your own choices and live your life however you want, you will feel less threatened by challenging situations.
To test this out, try this experiment over the next week. Every time you feel anxious, frustrated, stressed, or upset, try to catch the words of your thoughts. What is at the core of your emotional response? What is the threat?
This week’s coaching challenge: Keep a “trigger log” and notice each time you have a stressful reaction to a situation. For each time you are triggered, see if you can pull back from the specifics of the situation and identify what made you feel threatened. Did you worry what others would think of you? Did you feel unsafe? Did things feel unfair? See what patterns you discover.
It can be helpful to journal about your exercise results and/or save your observations in a self-development notebook. If you have any questions or would like to share your insights feel free to send me an e-mail – I’d love to hear!
In our next post in the Secrets of Mental Health series, we will examine your trigger log and uncover your unmet needs.