learning to pause is a superpower
stimulus. response. Drought.
You are driving to meet your friends. Your favourite music is on and you are chilling and in a good mood. Out of nowhere, this idiot in a car cuts across into your lane. You stomp on the brakes and prevent a collision, barely. You see red! From chilling and tranquil to angry, in a split second.
We've all been there. Nothing good comes out of flying into a blind rage. A regrettable decision, a loss of mental peace, a few minutes/hours of agitation. These emotions are hard-wired in us and they come from a different part of our brain. And before we know it, our brain executes the pattern.
Gafur silently watch Mahesh, whose two deep, brown eyes were full of pain and hunger. ‘Didn’t even give a handful,’ he muttered, patting the bull’s neck and back. ‘You are my son, Mahesh,’ he whispered to him. ‘You have grown old and served us for eight years. I can’t even give you enough to eat-but you know how much I love you, don’t you?’
Mahesh only stretched out his neck and closed his eyes with pleasure.
Some stories you read touch you and leave a mark. One of those, for me, is Drought by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee. It tells the story of a poor, indentured labourer living in a village afflicted by drought. He struggles to feed himself and his daughter, and cannot feed his bull whom he loves like a son. He resorts to pulling straw from his thatched roof to sate his bull's hunger. But, as the story goes, the stress and injustice of everything add up and in a fit of blind rage, he kills his beloved Mahesh.
emotions take over
Most of us are lucky enough that we never have to be in Gafur's place. But being overpowered by emotions, and losing your cool - you know that place. And you don't want to be there.
I see this affect my students in two ways. One, when they are unable to show up to class. Two, when they completely lose track of their eating routine.
I am so stressed and demotivated, I don't feel like working out today.
I am so stressed, I want to eat some cake.
And I empathise. Just like Gafur in his blind rage or when we see red when an idiot cuts us off and drives dangerously, we get blinded by emotions.
It happens ALL THE TIME to me. Not just with wanting to skip my workouts, or eat food cravings. But all across life.
It was a long day at work. You gobbled your lunch in record time. You didn't get enough sleep last night. Plus, being stuck at home is driving you all up the wall. Of course, you are going to feel a severe lack of motivation to work out. And of course, you are going to feel like eating some cake.
Why? Willpower is finite. And our body and mind and our life are one piece. Battling that emotional response, battling inertia requires a significant amount of resources. And at that moment, we are waylaid by emotion. We want a band-aid.
We want a momentary break. And so, we eat some cake. We skip our workout. But if we do this all the time, then that's a problem. This is not in line with the goals that you've set. You are miffed at yourself for doing what you did, once the dust settles and the emotional takeover is over.
take 5 minutes. pause.
Expect the emotional response. Breathe. Slow it down. Inhale. Exhale. Don't fight it. Don't rationalise it. Don't be for or against it. Don't push it away. Don't clutch at it.
Take 5 minutes. Once the surge of emotions has passed, see what you want to do. Most times, your deeper values will take over. There's a reason you've made a commitment to working out, and that will be visible once this cloud of emotion has cleared. Or you will find that it is a better idea to actually take the day off from working out and instead relax for an hour instead.
There's no right or wrong here. That's why, most times, the only right answer is it depends.
What you can do is pause between stimulus and response.