My husband and I celebrated our 21st anniversary last month and, as a gift, my parents thought it would be nice for us to replace the bare wires hanging from our home office ceiling with an actual light fixture. (Do you know how hard it is to find a decent light fixture with a pull chain?)
We were delighted. My parents suggested that we may want to exchange the fixture for something more to our liking so we unpacked the fixture and held it up to the ceiling to see how it looked and
…the exposed wires hanging from the ceiling touched, causing a startling spark and some equally startling foul language. Thankfully no one was hurt and within minutes my husband had capped the wires with those neat little twisty wire cappers. All was well.
Many of us walk around with our own exposed wires just ready and waiting for some poor, unsuspecting soul to touch them off. We call them “triggers” or “hot buttons” and when someone presses them…GZZZZTTTT! Whether it’s the guy on the highway cutting you off, someone interrupting you, chronic tardiness or a disrespectful comment, we’ve all experienced that shot of adrenaline that tells us that our buttons have – yet again – been pressed.
Interestingly, while we accept the fact that electricity is conducted through wires and that they must be capped to avoid unnecessary or uncontrolled current, we seldom apply the same mechanics to ourselves. It’s the other guy’s fault for doing the stupid thing. She MADE us feel angry/sad/hurt/embarrassed. They deserved our wrath in response to their lateness.
In fact, our personal wires – or hotbuttons – are unique to us. Not everyone is wired to be aggravated by the same things. Not everyone is annoyed by tardiness, not everyone is enraged by stupid driving habits. So the currents flowing through these wires are our own. And it’s our responsibility to know what those currents are and how to effectively manage them. Because if we let our wires flail around uncapped, we find our hotbuttons get pressed more and more often. And if our hotbuttons are constantly pressed we get worn down and either lash out or check out; or we decide that things are hopeless; or we decide that everyone else is at fault and we become isolated.
These wires – if figurative – are real and they originally existed in our brain to protect us from danger. Today, with information overload, the fast pace of technology and the ever-more-demanding social and economic landscape, we need to become better managers of our brain’s threat response system. To avoid hotbutton overload, here are a few ideas:
1. Give yourself a break. Do something fun or relaxing – even for a short time (though the longer you can responsibly have fun or relax, the better). The overloaded brain needs some quiet time.
2. Put words to your hotbuttons. Instead of going straight for the jugular of the other guy (“idiot driver”, “lazy colleague”, “disrespectful oaf”…), PAUSE for just a second to name the impact of whatever just happened. For instance: “Being cut off on the highway was scary and dangerous”; “When kept waiting, I worry. “; “Hearing disrespectful comments is embarrassing”. This lets your brain’s threat response system know that the rational part of you is aware of the threat and can handle it from here.
3. Ask yourself what you want instead. “To get to work safely”, “to be in control of my schedule”, or “to be unaffected by others’ comments” are examples. These “insteads” engage your the rational part of your brain and sets you on a path of positive solution rather than letting your threat response system go off half cocked. Left to it’s own devices, your threat response would likely be hopping around shaking its fist saying: “run that idiot off the road”, “make the late person pay for their laziness” or “punch that person in the nose – that’ll teach ’em!”. As gratifying as it may feel to flip someone the bird, it has no positive effect on you, your brain, or the other person’s driving habits.
4. Have fun and relax. Life is extremely short. Dr. Phil’s guests should not be our role models. No one is waking up in the morning plotting how to ruin our day (and if there IS someone doing this to you – maybe you should find different folks to hang out with). You have more control over your own well-being than you may be aware of.
These four steps are your own neat little twisty wire cappers.