I’ve been reminded that a picture paints a thousand words. Therefore, can some pictures help in the design of small, safe experiments?
This is a helpful request as the web site is now too full of words. That is not something to be proud of.
I am going to have a shot at summarising my thoughts in a series of illustrations. OK, I’ll be adding some more words but let’s see ……
Each illustration will include a short explanation, and then I will move on.
PART ONE: finding a direction
I will start with a picture that might be familiar: it’s on the Welcome page of this web-site. It’s the ‘inverted tree’ and you might want to revisit the safe experiment attached to it.
What the picture says to me is that therapy is a journey into the future.
Actions, today, will shape that journey.
Information from the past will help us design the journey, but the focus is on forward direction.
Unlike trees, humans do not stay in one place to be nourished. They move about – and not just to restaurants. They need a range of nourishments!
So what route might you and I follow in pursuit of that nourishment?
This is my picture of the overall journey viewed from above, as though from a helicopter. It is a journey I can take:
….. and I can stay put.
There is no obligation on me to change. True, there will consequences for me – from journeying and from not taking that journey. Which is it to be, for you?
If I begin my journey and step outside my Window of Tolerance (WOT), I am be inviting change so the start of the journey may look like this – with small victories (at the Parking signs) and small defeats ( Big Red Question Marks) dotted along the route:
I will face a number of risks on my journey. Some are real threats and others have the appearance of a threat. Thus, The No Entry sign suggests danger but, as a walker, I may find it is a useful route to take. Risks I can watch out for might include:
In short, my journey requires me to step outside my Window of Tolerance (WOT) and to set out on a Scenic Route, a sort of Yellow Brick Road, to somewhere different. The journey need not be a marathon or a sprint; indeed, as I will emphasise, problems arise when I rush into things. Safe experiments are small and well informed steps able to make progress, at a reduced level of risk. Change happens in the space between stepping outside that Window of Tolerance (WOT) and meeting the obstacles on the road. If I struggle to step around them, I can over-react and find myself propelled to an extreme response. This over-reaction is referred to as either hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal. Whatever I do, it is possible to overdo and hyper-arouse myself. At the other extreme, I can fail to react – or become hypo-aroused; sometimes my body can decide that’s the best course of action to protect me from both real and imagined threats.
As you can see, this illustration, above, invites me to consider my form of transport if I want to avoid extreme responses. Anything that speeds me up is likely to increase my risk. Adapting to change is usually a slow process. Time is needed to assimilate what is going on. Riding on a 1000 cc motor cycle may be tempting, but, in this case, it is less likely to get me to a destination safely. Riding a horse or walking along my chosen route is, generally speaking, a safer bet.
What extreme are you tempted to?
My summary illustration of this journey has been up-dated and looks like this.
This illustration helps me ask another question: If it’s possible to arrive – 0 to 60 mph – at one of the corners of my illustration, what actual responses do you notice? When you most often seek change in your life, where can you end up? Do you find yourself in a ‘favourite’ corner, or two? Few of us are exempt from this tendency, so do explore your own ways of reacting to change.
Make notes about how you get there, and any other pattern that has helped you to get there in the past.
Now I want to look at some of the obstacles – the ‘rocks’ in the road – in a different way.
PART TWO: making the first of several moves
What prompts a seemingly unsteady start? Our bodies and minds appear to have a mixed view of change. On the one hand, we want it and, on the other, we are suspicious of it. Thus:
I start from my present normal on the far left, above. I walk on. Troubled by what I foresee, I falter and start to question my own wisdom. Under pressure to do something different I tumble into some change. In this illustration, the 0 – 60 mph response mentioned above is ‘chaos’.
However, calling on all the resilience, creativity and curiosity I can muster, I am able to identify a way forward. I develop greater self-confidence and move on. New ideas and actions are put together with old skills until I master my own New Normal (at the right hand side of the illustration)
Now what makes to pathway difficult? It appears that our bodies possess a ‘negative bias’; we possess a built-in uncertainty, sometimes called a ‘conservative impulse’ – a wariness of risk and change. That impulse can put me on alert. Being on alert is closely connected to feeling high emotion. High emotion, particularly anxiety, has some predictable impact on us, as follows:
It is possible to think we have little control over these body responses. These bodily reactions are so hard-wired into us that it is possible to predict how most people will respond, most of the time, when the going gets tough. When difficult things happen, our life is disrupted by events – often by unexpected and shocking events. Common human responses to such events include an efficiency arising from gaining focus and giving attention to detail – only to be followed by a ‘collapse’ in the system:
It may seem from this that somethings are simply beyond my control. Indeed, this is so, world events are out of my control. Even so, there are do-able things I can try out as long – as I have enough wisdom to separate out what is achievable, from what is not. In fact, I have abilities and qualities that are sometimes hidden from me. This feature is well illustrated in the Johari Window.
This illustration offers another view of the therapy journey – from top left,, where things are known to us and others in our world toward bottom right, where things are not known to me or others. However, that journey is not a straight line; it is one that shifts from left to right, and back again, according to the information we give to others and, indeed, the responses we get from others. The trip into the black box at bottom right – where things are not known – is best completed on foot, not by Jumbo jet.
I find this illustration helpful as it highlights the value of other people in helping us shape our future. We hide part of ourselves from others and we are unaware of ‘parts’ of ourselves that others can see. It’s pretty handy to practise the art of sharing just so much of ourselves with other people and listening to things they have to say about what they see when we meet.
To continue: I return to the bodily responses mentioned above. We do have some control over the way our bodies respond to everyday experiences. Other people in the top right of the Johari Window – including me – can help you identify ways to respond a little bit differently.
This web-site is saying that we may have more control than is often appreciated.
PART THREE: designing small safe experiments
To help meet the challenges as I approach a New Normal, I can anticipate some of my feelings that go with the steps I am taking. I can develop skills that will help me. After that, I need to practice them and improve my ability.
The next illustration identifies just a few things I can do. For a start, I can manage my high emotions just a little bit differently using the three strategies printed in green:
The web-site is devoted to detailed discussion of each of the three strategies printed in green, and you might want to investigate them more in your own time starting at: what is a nudge.
In the meanwhile, it pays to manage my feelings generated when I try out those strategies. This is important as some actions have unexpected impact on my body, as listed in the ‘body’ diagram, above.
When I am faced with high emotion, there are ‘other parts’ of my anatomy that can send me into Flight or Fight or, as will be seen, other trickier reactions.
PART FOUR: some of those Talk/Self-Talk actions?
Steps along the Yellow Brick Road
Talk and Self-Talk
Note that talking to others can be quite a problem for us human beings; often as tricky as the conversations we have with ourselves – in our heads. For instance:
Possible ways to improve things include slowing down my delivery: saying what I say or think at a slower speed. This involves a safe experiment that involves:
- editing what I say;
- speaking in small chunks, and
- listening more to the other person rather more than to myself.
- summarising what I think I heard.
Equally important to the words I use, I want to know how I feel about what I say. Therefore, it pays to take a ‘measure’ of my current level of feeling. That measure is called a ‘SUD’ – mentioned in the illustration, above. The SUD is a Subjective Unit of Discomfort. It is a measure of your level of emotion only you can make, where:
1 = very little emotion, and,
10 = the highest level of that emotion you can recall.
See this page for further information.
As the SUD level rises, I may find the type of experiment needs to change. For example, talking through things – in your own head – or with others – seems to work best with lower levels of emotion. You can talk things through with the support of others. As the level rises your attention may be best turned to diversions and distractions in the middle range. This will include controlled breathing, visualisation and ‘safe place’ work.
At the highest level of SUD, the way to go is ‘with the flow’. Meditation and Mindfulness works for some people but look for ‘just noticing on this hyperlink as a useful way to Go With the Flow.
Let me end this illustrated journey along the scenic route, by offering this illustration. It offers an explanation for the frustration I may feel as I experience the impact of change on my life. There is little order to it as one day I can feel confident and the next day I can feel as those any progress is an illusion. One moment I am sad and depressed, and the next moment I can find myself doing new things and feeling good about that.
There is reason to think that this oscillation of my responses represented by the wavy line arises from the operation of my central and Autonomic nervous system. The website has much to say about this and I’d encourage you to look at one understanding of our nervous system and Stephen Porges’ material as well as the information about the impact of separation and death on human beings.
If all this feels too much, would it help to consider this page?
Furthermore, you can find further information on the scenic route at. Here are some other leads you can follow:
Welcome to Your-Nudge
A summary of topics on this web site.
I will develop these illustrations to describe the evolving journey as time goes by.
Indeed, here is a lead to a BBC broadcast on Melancholia from March 2021.
This made a lot of sense to me and had the advantage of quoting authorities such as Robert Burton from the Middle Ages, along with two modern interpreters of Burton’s work.
It helped put me in my place and assured me that I am not the rebel I like to think!
I do not know how long the link will last so please let me know if it fails.