I’ve spent time this past week reading and thinking about habits. And, more specifically, how habits can influence emotional reactions to events in our lives. I think it’s safe to assume that there was a significant element of surprise to the outcome of last week’s Presidential election. Reactions varied from person to person, but nonetheless prompted a wide range of emotions. This post offers a consideration of how habits may be influencing our emotions.
Emotions are rapid and nonconscious automatic responses to either threat or reward stimuli. Feelings are much slower conscious physiological changes such as increased heart rate, respiration, etc. Thinking is also conscious such as decision making, planning, etc. Emotions are generated by cues or triggers and one of the most basic is the fight, flight or freeze response. So, in the context of last week’s election, it is likely that emotional responses could be broadly categorized and were likely experienced as either a threat or reward.
Habits are a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. We initially make (conscious) choices about our behaviors and, if repeated enough, eventually become habits. One example is driving to familiar destinations (e.g. work, school, etc.). A large percentage of auto accidents occur close to home. Our brains allow us to navigate to destinations, but our actions are largely subconscious since the routes are repeated and eventually become habitual. Thus, our recognition of the familiar – including potential danger – is dramatically reduced.
In the context of last week’s election, how might your habits be influencing your emotions? Did you have some preconceived notion of the outcome? How might the habits you established over the months and weeks leading up to the election have become ingrained (i.e., ingrained being defined as a habit, belief or attitude that is deeply embedded and difficult to remove)? If you think that habit may have been a contributing factor, you can change the habit and its influence over how you respond to future events.
To reiterate, habits begin with a cue or trigger which then leads to a routine. Routines then produce or lead to some type of reward. To change a habit, one must first change or disrupt the routine. One way to change or disrupt the routine is to consider our (default) thoughts and behaviors and the reward that is produced as a result. In other words, if your reaction to last week’s election was anger, sadness, fear, etc., then you might consider changing the routine to a different thought or behavior. Eventually, this may lead to a more peaceful place such as acceptance.
One of my favorite words is “consider.” In this context, consider who is choosing the thought or behavior and what the source can do differently to shift the emotion attached to the outcome. Perhaps we can all consider that each of us is in a different place following the election. And, to be considerate and respectful of each other as a result.
“Beyond the field of right and wrong, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” — Rumi
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