We are all subject to experiences or interactions with people that shift our energy. Maybe you felt confident before you had that conversation with your boss and now you feel uneasy, unsure or low. Maybe you felt pretty good about yourself before you went to the dinner party, but the comment by an acquaintance made you feel sloppy or unattractive. Maybe you had an “I can do it!” attitude before you started putting together that piece of assemble-it-yourself furniture, but now, several hours in, you want to collapse in a puddle of sweat and tears on your living room floor.
Have you ever stopped to think about what really takes you out? Meaning, what are those experiences that repeatedly cause a shift in your energy? What are the situations that cause you to feel depleted, or angry or hopeless? Of course there are some totally novel situations, things that you haven’t engaged in multiple times, and you rightfully can’t predict the effect of those on your state of being. But, there are other instances that are relatively predictable – tasks you need to do on a regular basis or people you know you will interact with over and over again – that you can, with some degree of certainty, know will affect you in a certain way.
I have health insurance through a provider that shall remain nameless. I can’t count the number of times they have made huge billing, claims, or coverage mistakes. I would estimate this happens about once a month, no exaggeration. Which means, that at least once a month, some issue has to be addressed, by the insured. Me. Which means I have to call someone at this insurance company. Some of these people are really pleasant and easy to deal with. And sometimes they are pleasant, but don’t know how to help me. And sometimes they are not pleasant at all. I spend about an hour on the phone with them, on average, sorting out some mistake. About a month ago, I was on the phone with a particularly rude and unhelpful agent and the sweet billing person at my doctor’s office. The call took ninety minutes. I hung up the phone and my tired, pregnant, hormonal self was done for the day. No energy. No drive. All I could do was lay on the living room couch. I had other things I wanted to do, but they immediately became unfeasible for me after this call.
My husband, Mike, uses a recording program on his computer, quite frequently. A major frustration he has is that every time he opens the program, intending to do something he’s done dozens of times before, the software has been updated in some way since the last time he used it. Basically, what this does is causes long-time veteran users to spend way more time than they budgeted for figuring out the new way of accomplishing the task they wanted to complete. Mike’s reaction is equally predictable. He gets frustrated, then angry. He feels like he wants to punch a wall.
The good news about both of these situations is that while the need to accomplish these tasks is somewhat fixed, so is the predictability of each of our reactions. In other words, I have ended up depleted and Mike has ended up angry so many times after the same type of experience with either my insurance company or the recording program, that we can pretty much assume what is likely to happen to our state of being as a result of either being on the phone or working in the software.
This is good news because when something is relatively predictable, there are things you can do to empower yourself around your own reaction and your own energy. The simplest one that I’ve found is to take a little bit of time to prepare before you dive into an activity or an interaction that you can reasonably assume could “take you out.”
How do you prepare? There are a couple things I’ve tried that have proven really useful. One protects your energy. The other is a “priming” technique.
1) To protect your energy, you can take a few minutes to close your eyes and breathe deeply. Three deep breaths is adequate. Ten deep breaths is even better. Either way, you’ll activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which will put you in a relaxed and calm state. You can even try putting your hand over your heart, which amazingly enough, helps activate the hormone oxytocin in your body, responsible for reducing fear and anxiety. With your eyes closed in this relaxed state, you can imagine that there is white light protecting you from any negative experience or interaction, and this white light wraps around you like a protective bubble or perhaps even “mummifies” you, wrapping you up from head to toe in several layers of protection. Take a few minutes to get into this state and proceed with your task.
2) The second strategy which you can do instead of, or in addition to the one above is to prime yourself to have a different kind of experience than the one you usually have. When you engage in priming, you are essentially programming your subconscious ahead of time to have a particular response to a certain stimulus. So, you can pre-program yourself to feel differently about the familiar (and potentially depleting or negative) stimulus, and you can also prime your subconscious for the whole experience to be different (both the stimulus and your reaction). For me, that means I tell myself before I dial the insurance company’s phone number something that approximates the following: “This call will be easy. I will speak with a helpful and friendly agent. The call will be brief and efficient. The person on the other end will solve my problem and I will feel refreshed and ready to take on the rest of my day when I hang up.” The last time I called my insurance company, this was EXACTLY what happened. Coincidence? Perhaps. But, I also primed myself for this to happen. Even if it hadn’t happened exactly as I imagined, I had already dealt with my energy before the call so that I could create a different outcome from the one that I was used to having.
You can do this with any situation – predictable or unpredictable, but it’s especially fun to see what happens with situations where you are used to things going a certain way. Choose to not get taken out.