Letting Go of Old Patterns

One of the biggest challenges in developing emotional agility is letting go of thoughts and patterns of thinking that are no longer serving us. That’s one of the powerful messages in Susan David’s book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. David says that our minds sometimes have, well, a mind of their own when it comes to emotional thinking. Here are some of the common problems holding us back from dealing effectively with our emotions.

Thought blaming. “I thought I would sound stupid, so I didn’t say it.” “I thought she should make the first move, so I didn’t call.” How many times have you closed off your thoughts or your actions because you judged in advance how things would turn out?  Closing your mind to another possibility means you’re responding to what’s in your head, not what’s really happening. Sure, experience matters, but people, circumstances – and you – can change. Being in the moment allows you to imagine another outcome.

Your Monkey Mind. I’ve written about the Monkey Mind before – that chatter inside your head that just won’t stop. Your brain is so busy reviewing or rehearsing an emotional scene that you stop paying attention to the world around you. Susan David writes, “When we’re in monkey-mind mode, it’s easy to start “awfulizing”—imagining worst-case scenarios or making too much of a minor problem.”

Your Monkey Mind is not your friend most of the time; it’s taking up all your emotional energy and bandwidth and preventing you from getting the distance and calm you need to evaluate how you really feel and how you want to respond to the situation.

Old, outgrown ideas. Sometimes, we hang on to ideas and defensive mechanisms that made perfect sense at the time, but don’t in the present moment. Your 8-year-old self learned not to cry because your parent couldn’t tolerate it. Crying was a sure way to earn a beating.

That protective measure is no longer needed, now that you’re a grown adult, yet you suppress any emotion or show of vulnerability in front of others. You’re feeling isolated and lonely and have trouble connecting with your spouse and children. Maybe it’s time to let that old way of thinking go. Thank it for its service in keeping you safe – and move on to trusting the people you love to love you back.

The need to be right.  David writes, “Anyone who has been in a romantic relationship for more than a few months knows the moment in an argument, especially with a loved one, when you realize . . . ahh . . . the troubled waters have calmed, some kind of understanding—a truce, perhaps—has been reached, and the best thing you could do now would be to shut your mouth, let it go, turn off the light, and go to sleep. Then something compels you to say just one more thing to demonstrate that, in fact, you were right and your spouse was wrong—and all hell breaks loose again.”

The ancient Greek Heraclitus is credited with saying that you can never step into the same river twice. The world is constantly changing, and what worked for you even a day ago may not be working right now. Learning to let go of thinking that’s not working is one of the keys to emotional resilience – and happiness.

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