Perceptual flexibility, the large self, the small self, and feeding the wolf

If you are trying to understand a negative experience, step outside of yourself first. Visualize yourself as a person in a situation and ask, “Why did s/he feel that way?”

Chances are you will discover some new information about yourself, the other person, and/or the situation. Your point of view is larger.

This is a way to gain insight. I don’t know about you, but I find insight to be very valuable.

The less effective strategy is to remember the experience as if you are re-experiencing it, feeling the negative feelings again, and ask, “Why did I feel that way?”

Often your emotion can overwhelm the understanding. People often replay the tape of “he said x, and I felt y” over and over again.

Guess what that does for you?

I dare you to try this now! Think of a recent situation in which you felt an unpleasant emotion. Please pick something with a small to middling emotional effect and not something intensely painful.

For instance, if someone made a remark that you perceived as insensitive and you felt hurt, review the situation as if you are seeing it occur on film. You are one of the characters. See the other character make the remark and see your character reacting.

Now ask, “Why did that remark get to her so much?”

Then notice what happens.

You might need to do this several times to practice if this is new for you.

It’s pretty amazing how such a shift in point of view can make a big difference. Research has shown that people who self-distance from situations that result in unpleasant emotions feel less distressed later, ruminate about the experience less, and are less likely to be hostile when future disagreements arise.

It is amazing to me how many people live decades of their life immersed in either their own point of view, feeling everything intensely, or distancing from everything and not taking anything personally without knowing they can do both — and can choose which point of view to use when.

And…you can review past events and change your point of view. You can actually change your feelings about the past!

We all have a range of emotions. Like the Native American story says, which wolf do you choose to feed? The one with less suffering or more, your own included?

I call this skill perceptual flexibility. It’s worth practicing and cultivating, in my opinion.

By the way, this is elementary Neuro-Linguistic Programming. A scientific study confirmed what NLPers have long known works. I read about it on Steve Andreas’ NLP Blog in case you’d like to read my source.

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