What will work best for me right now, regardless of what has worked before?

Response flexibility is the habit that enables us put a temporal and mental space between stimulus and response, and between impulse and action.

Siegel’s research showed that widening our window of tolerance is what broadens the span of arousal within which we can function adaptively. Think of it as the clinical version of the best mindfulness advice our parents and teachers ever gave us.

Sweetheart, take a breath.

Now, the concept of response flexibility is a much more sophisticated than that, but it’s essentially the same practice. It’s all about the pause.

Here’s a question that just popped into my brain.

What will work best for me right now, regardless of what has worked before?

Sure, this sounds like something people are not going stop and ask during their day, but the spirit behind it is powerful. Questions like these are direct lines to what mindfulness researchers call the wise self, which is the part of us that’s always calm, centered and compassionate.

It’s inside all of us, and it’s freely available, as long as we’re willing to pause when our thoughts begin their march on us. As long as we learn to intercept them at the gate.

Swift, many say the greatest songwriter of her generation, did a documentary including intimate details of her life while also showcasing backstage and onstage concert footage.

One moment in particular was deeply inspiring to me. Taylor shared her struggles with an eating disorder, citing the paparazzi as a dangerous emotional trigger. Historically, if someone published a picture of her body in an unflattering pose, she would spend the rest of the week in a shame and hate spiral.

Taylor learned, however, that when such a triggering event happens, she can catch herself. She can pause, widen the window of tolerance an act from her wise self. Here’s the internal conversation she played out.

Nope, we don’t do that anymore. We’re changing the channel in our brain, and we’re not doing that anymore, because that didn’t end us up in a good place last time.

She essentially asked herself that question: What will work best for me right now, regardless of what has worked before?

It’s response flexibility in action. Creating space, in both time and mind, to enable a wider range of possibility.

How well do you do that? Do you practice being with your emotional experiences before engaging the circuitry of action?

It’s a really hard skill to learn. Building a neural platform from which to choose to cope differently and more resiliently, that doesn’t come natural to anybody.

But it is possible. Like most good habits, it all starts with the breath.

So many of us live our lives in either rewind or fast forward mode, and sometimes we need to press the pause button for a moment, that way we can actually enjoy the movie that’s playing. 

How wide is your window of tolerance?


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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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