I have been asked about the way safe experiments fit together. My main blog does read like a long list but there is a thread linking them all.
I was reluctant to identify that thread as it comes out just like another model! However, what do you make of this?
What this map is saying is that ‘safe experiments’ help expand our “Window of Tolerance” so that change can happen in small steps.
The Window of Tolerance (WOT) is the area where we can comfortably work – with or without therapy. It is not an area in which change is easily obtained. Each of us has a greater or lesser willingness to expand that window in our day-by-day ‘learning’ or adapting.
The ever-present risk for any of us is that, under pressure, change can lead to confusion (“I don’t know; I don’t understand“). For others, the risk is to become rigid in our problem-solving (“this is the way I’ve always done things“).
In these extremes of confusion and rigidity, change struggles to be effective. It can be made worse by cycling between each of the extremes. Any safe experiment runs the risk of generating a ‘small defeat’. I’d prefer you to have only ‘small victories’, but that’s not going to happen. Therefore, the design of any safe epxeriment has to accept the result might be a small defeat. You and I need to build in ways to meet such defeats.
My recommendation is to ask myself, and for you to ask yourself:
“what something can be done just a little bit different next time around?”
This is a valuable question when the extreme response is our tendency to catastrophise (“I’ll never get this right, ever” and ritualising (“I’ll only get it right by doing this every time”).
Therapy provides an opportunity to expand the window of tolerance. Therapy helps to see that the process of change is safely contained. This is not guaranteed, of course, and it is easy to slip back into old, familiar ways. Such ways may be unwanted to some degree but we can prefer them simply because they are familiar!
So the diagram points out that our ability to change suffers when we are chaotic or rigid in our problem solving. Catastrophising and ritualising has a similar impact on our efforts.
Therapy can improve performance through small amounts of change. This emerges from small victories and small defeats – as long as we have recorded some results and can come more aware of what is going on.
I am saying, then, that a way toward better well-being is something like: “what step can I take now to do something a little bit different?”, just as stated above.
In practice, then, if this way is going to be of any help at all, consider some of the following challenges:
* what encourages you into chaos or rigidity, or both.
* what might ‘inoculate’ you against chaos and rigidity?
* DITTO, for catastrophising and ritualising.
* do YOU have a ‘favourite’ out of these four possibilities – chaos, rigidity, catastrophising or ritualising? Alternatively, do you mix them up?
* what can you do to widen your Window of Tolerance (WOT) by some small step.
* what can you do NOW?
For more information take a look at this material made available on YouTube by a US training group, The National Institute for Clinical Applications in Behavioral Medicine (NICABM). It includes material from Bessel van der Kolk where he talks about his use of various breathing-related exercises. This site is well worth a visit, and a further follow-up.