It’s no secret that life is filled with challenges and difficulties. In fact, it seems that life continues to become more complex socially, politically, technologically, and economically. I’ve heard so many people recently talking about how much they miss it when life was simpler.
The fact of the matter is, life has never really been that simple, and the feelings of complexity and overwhelm happen when our attention is pulled in too many directions, especially toward things we have little or no control over.
Stress and overwhelm happen when we start to lose control over our own attention. Even the most stressful environments and experiences, like combat, can be navigated when the soldier learns to control their awareness and point their attention to the things they actually have some control over.
While we may not have much control over most things that happen in our lives, we do have some control over how we think and feel about them. This exercise of thought control is called cognitive reframing. If you’ve ever done a gratitude journal or looked for the positive things in a challenging situation then you’re already familiar with cognitive reframing.
The problem is that when we’re feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, it’s hard to simply replace those feelings with gratitude or positivity, and trying to do so often feels inauthentic. Tricking ourselves to focus on or feel something positive when we’re actually feeling frustrated is a short-term effort without much evidence for long-term results. It can also add to our frustration when we start to believe that we “should” be feeling one way, while we’re actually feeling another way.
The reason for this can be easily explained in psychological terms as the “either-or” fallacy. In order to conserve mental energy, the mind tends toward either-or statements such as…”I’m either happy, or I’m frustrated”…”I’m successful or I’m failing”. And, since we have on average 5 x more negative thoughts than positive ones each day, our either-or statements are often dominated by frustrations and anxieties.
How To Use Non-Dualistic Cognitive Reframing (NdCR)
To break out of this cycle and to reduce your sense of overwhelm, you can try the following exercise called Non-dualistic Cognitive Reframing (NdCR).
Here’s how it works. Instead of believing your either-or fallacy, you can allow for multiple emotional experiences to happen simultaneously. It’s actually possible for you to feel frustrated and grateful at the SAME EXACT TIME! Allowing for positive and negative emotions or thoughts to coexist simultaneously validates how you actually feel versus how you want to feel. It also creates a more resilient and adaptive mind which can keep up with the growing complexities of life and work.
- On a blank sheet of paper draw a line dividing it in half.
- On the left side write all the things you are currently frustrated, angry, sad or anxious about. While you write them out, allow yourself to feel them but try not to get too caught up in the story.
- Then, on the right side write down things you appreciate and are grateful for. It’s ok if you can’t think of anything at first. You can simply look around your environment and find something…anything that you appreciate. It could just be a color, or a plant, or the sound of the birds outside. It could be something you’re looking forward to, or a fond memory from the past.
- Now, pay attention to all the feelings and thoughts as if you are looking at a sweeping landscape and noticing different points of interest.
- The goal is to allow yourself to feel multiple things simultaneously, intermixing positive and negative sensations into a more accurate emotional mosaic of who you really are.
Eventually, the goal of this exercise is to get to the point that whenever you experience a strong, distracting emotion or thought, you can quickly acknowledge and validate it while also augmenting your experience to encompass positive perceptions at the same time. You’re not canceling or redirecting your negative experiences. You’re simply expanding your capacity for mental and emotional depth and complexity.
When your capacity for coping with complexity is equal to or greater than the complexities you encounter then life will feel easier and you’ll feel more resilient.
By practicing Non-dualistic Cognitive Reframing your mind will be free to focus on the most important things while your emotional life becomes richer and deeper.
I hope this article has provided some valuable insight for you in building up your personal resilience.
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