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Be like Teflon

Let's continue our discussion on developing and practicing equanimity as a path to mindful communication.

Equanimity, as we have discussed, is the ability to remain calm even in difficult situations and not get triggered in response to what others say or do.

Today's practice is about being like Teflon.

Teflon, as you may know, is used as a non-reactive, non-stick coating for pans and other cookware. The primary characteristic of Teflon is that it does not react with the chemicals in food and also allows foods not to stick and instead slide right off the pan.

So what is a Teflon Mindset? To have a Teflon Mindset is developing the ability to allow experiences, feelings, and thoughts come into your mind and slip right out without reacting to them.

If you run into someone else's bad day, for example, you do not have to engage with them and get hooked into an argument. If they say something which is baiting you to engage into a verbal battle, how about practicing being like Teflon?

Let...

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Develop a mantra

A highly effective way to practice equanimity is to talk to ourselves in the third person. In this process we become our own coaches for the moment and talk ourselves through the situation.

It is fun to come up with a creative mantra that we can use as a signal to calm down.

When I find myself getting triggered, I imagine a big hook waiting to hook me into a predictable and familiar overreaction. A reaction that will most surely cause me to regret what I say. I then remind myself:

"Come on Marzia, remember to 'engage brain before operating mouth'".

Using your first name in the 3rd person in this way is a highly effective way to remind yourself of your values and coach yourself through a situation which would usually trigger you.

So go on, develop a mantra or two for yourself to help you when you find yourself getting triggered.

Here is a really good example (a 9 min video clip):

 

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How do we develop equanimity?

As we said, Equanimity means to keep cool even in difficult situations and not get triggered in response to what others say or do.

Keeping cool does appear to come naturally to some people. For most of us though, it takes intentionality and practice. The good news however, is that it is a learnable skill. We can learn how to respond to others based on our values rather than react angrily to something they said that triggers us.

How do we develop equanimity?

The first step is to recognize and understand the concept itself.

When someone pushes our buttons or triggers us, there are several physiological signals that tell us that we getting triggered and in danger of reacting. Our breathing becomes more shallow, the heart begins to race, we may begin to feel a build up of tension in our muscles (especially in the hands, the neck and shoulders), we might feel pressure building up behind our eyes, or in our temples.

All these are the body's signal that it is going into fight or flight...

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What emotional reactivity looks like

We have been talking about emotional reactivity in communication and the opposite of reactivity which is equanimity.

Before we talk about how to develop equanimity, let's get clear on recognizing reactivity.

Sometimes we think that if we are not screaming or shouting and we look calm, we are not reacting. But our calm surface might be covering up an internal storm. This is not equanimity.

Looking calm and being calm are two very different emotional states.

Emotional reactivity is as much about what is happening internally than it is what appears on the outside.

If we are having negative thoughts and ruminating about what someone has said, we may be internalizing or "imploding" rather than exploding which is equally unhealthy. Equanimity is not about gritting your teeth and bearing it.

If we shutdown or stonewall during a stressful conversation, we are anything but calm. We are using emotional distance as a way of managing our reactivity which will hurt us and our relationships.

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Equanimity

The opposite of emotional reactivity is a state called equanimity which means mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; it is a state of calmness or equilibrium.

Equanimity is a fancy word with a simple meaning: it means that we are not "triggered" by what others do or say. That we can exhibit calm in the midst of chaos. That we can live our life based on our own values and principles rather than let what others do or say control us.

Think of it this way: if you throw a pebble in a small bowl of water, it will cause large ripples. So large in fact, that some water might spill out of the bowl. Now if you take the same pebble and throw in into a larger bowl, the ripples will be smaller while the very same pebble will cause hardly any ripples at all in the lake or the sea.

What changed was not the force of the throw or the size of the stone but rather the increased capacity of the body of water to bear the disturbance caused by the throwing of the...

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Emotional reactivity in communication

Do you ever notice yourself getting "triggered" in conversation? Being triggered is when the person you are communicating with says or does something that causes an intense emotional reaction in you. The trigger usually causes you to say or do something that is generally out of proportion to what the other said or did. In other words, you 'overreact'.

The problem with emotional reactivity is this: when our words or actions are triggered by something or someone outside our self, they are usually not in alignment with our values. Instead, these words come as a reaction to someone else's words or behavior. It is as if we have given the remote control of our words and actions in someone else's hands.

If you are still wondering what we are talking about, let us take a few examples of things that we say when we are triggered:

You make me angry
Don't make me hit you
You are making me scream

Sentences such as these imply that someone else - "you" - controls my behavior. They put the...

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Foundations of mindful communication – Recap

Today let us remind ourselves about the five foundations of mindful communication that we have discussed.

To practice mindful communication,

1) Get in touch with your intention. Cultivate positive intentions for your communication and remind yourselves of these before you engage in conversation with others
2) Have an attitude of curiosity and compassion. An attitude of curiosity helps us listen better and get to know people while judgmental attitudes block communication.
3) Be willing to learn and to act. Change and growth means that we are open to learning new ways and willing to act on our learning and put it into practice.
4) Practice self awareness. Shine the light of awareness on how you interact with others and be open to feedback.
5) Be mindfully present, which means having your attention in the same place where your body is.

Which foundation do you find the most challenging?

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The iPhone effect

Continuing our conversation about being present to those we are trying to communicate with, have you ever heard of "The iPhone Effect"?

The iPhone effect is a term researchers came up with to describe the impact of the smartphone on communication.

The researchers split people into two groups. One group sat down and chatted with someone they had never met while a smartphone was visible on the table next to them. The other group sat down and chatted with someone they had also never met while a notebook rather than a smart phone was visible to them.

Guess what?

The group who had the smartphone in sight reported a significantly diminished quality of interaction vs. the group that did not have the smartphone in sight.

Here is the interesting thing: the phone was not ringing or pinging during the experiment. In fact the phone did not even belong to the people that were participating in the study – it was someone else's phone! The MERE PRESENCE of the smartphone diminished the...

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Bring mindful presence to your interactions

The fifth and final foundation of mindful communication is mindful presence.

What is mindful presence? In the context that we are talking about, it means to have your mind and your attention and your body all in the same place. Sounds simple, right?

Being mindfully present where you are physically is rather challenging in modern times. This is because we have so many things to distract us all the time.

Think of all the times when you talk to people or do things during the day but realise only after you have done them that you have no memory of what you did or said. This is because while we are doing our daily actions or conversing with people that we speak to regularly, our attention is somewhere quite different. Many of us live with background noise of the TV or devices on all the time. Or we are so hooked to our devices that we are connected with those who may be far away from us physically while not connected to those who are right beside us.

Do you know what I'm talking about?

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Opening the window of insight into ourselves

One of the most effective tools for developing self-awareness and opening up lines of communication with others is the Johari Window.

Invented by Psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, the Johari Window (cleverly named by combining the first names of its developers!) helps us to become more self-aware and shines the light on parts of ourselves that we may be unaware of, but which may be impacting ourselves and our relationships.

The premise behind Johari's Window is that there are certain things which we know, and things we do not know about ourselves. Similarly, there are certain things others know and do not know about us. Johari's window attempts to help us see that there may be major aspects of our own personality that we are unaware of.

The premise is that there are four areas of our identity: a public self that is known to ourselves and to others (such as our obvious likes and dislikes and personality traits), a private self known only to us and not to others (things that...

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