If you want to learn how to have better relationships, here are a few excellent tools for change in yourself and when talking with others.
Slow Your Thinking (Emotions) Down
Most situations will stimulate your emotions in some way. It can be anything from a near-miss collision with another car, hearing lies about you, or a temptation to sin. Whatever it is, something happens, and feelings are stimulated. Your flesh is ready to act, and your self-control may be switched off.
At that moment, you have a choice, but you may not realize it. Follow your emotions, like following your sin nature and wrong thinking, or follow the Spirit. Too often, you react to the situation and never see other choices and options.
That is because certain emotionally significant events get stored in a portion of your brain called the amygdala – two small lobes in the base of the brain, one on the right and the other on the left. That portion of your brain does not consider time. Therefore, you believe that memory is relevant now, even though it may not be valid. So, when a stimulus arouses a previously stored memory, the amygdala prepare your body to react or respond according to that stored memory.
For example, when I was about eight years old, I was bitten by what appeared to be a friendly dog. I was petting the dog, and then suddenly it bit my face, my cheek! Even though I have had numerous experiences with dogs since then, that memory still creates caution, especially if the dog is not known.
Tests of people’s brains using Magnetic Resonance Imaging show that when a person is in a situation that stimulates the amygdalae, the connections with the frontal lobe, the “thinking” part of the brain, are bypassed. The person responds according to the memories stored.
But, when coached to take three deep breaths before acting or speaking, that little time restores the connections to the frontal lobe allowing rational thought instead of reaction.
Slowing your emotions allows you to reflect on other options. Hopefully, you are in God’s Word and under good biblical teaching to consider Godly principles, Christ-like values, and truth. Without the foundation of good values, slowing your emotions may only delay your reaction. But if you have a good foundation, slowing your emotions gives you a chance to choose sound principles, truth, and virtues.
Simple, right? Isn’t that what you learned as a child? Count to 10, and take a deep breath – that helps slow you down to reflect instead of reacting. What you learned is correct and works.
Finally, some clarification because this may sound like your emotions are leading, not your thinking. How are you “slowing your emotions down?” You change your thinking from the stored memory to reality. Even the memory stored in the amygdala forms from your thoughts and experience in a previous situation. So, even when it appears that emotions are leading, it is thinking that is the culprit.
Another great tool is the “Magic Question”. This technique has been used successfully for years. Here is the basic process.
- Determine what problem you want to address
- Have them rate where they are now with that problem using a 1‐10 scale, where 10 is totally solved, and 1 is awful.
- State, “We only want to move up the scale 1/2 or 1 point.”
- Discuss why that is so important (prevents becoming overwhelmed, small steps)
- Ask the MAGIC QUESTION
- “Suppose a miracle occurred tonight while you were asleep and your problem went away – a miracle solved it. Since you were sleeping, you did not know that. When you wake up, you notice some things are different.
- What minor signs would tell you that the problem is solved?”
- The minor signs are often the steps they could take now to help.
- Help them find the small steps they could take to move up the scale by ½ or 1 point
A dramatic example of this process was a couple headed for divorce. The wife had filed the papers, but due to Louie’s friendship with her, she agreed to talk.
She and her husband came to our house, and after two hours of going through the basics of GR8 Relationships (forgiveness, confession, freedom…), there were signs of hope, so the “Magic Question” was posed to the wife.
After some discussion, she said there would be three minor yet noticeable changes.
- She would hug him in the morning when she first saw him
- She would make him coffee and sometimes breakfast if he wanted it
- She would kiss him goodbye when he left for work.
Once she identified those three small items, I asked. “Would you be willing to do that consistently, every day for the next 30 days and see what happens?” After some hesitation, she replied, “Yes.”
By God’s grace, the divorce was eventually stopped, and the marriage was resurrected. They also supported their marriage through further learning about what God desires for marriage.
Again, these techniques do not create change. They help catalyze change but are not why a couple stops a divorce and stays married. Nor is it why people begin to enjoy, or at least not be annoyed by another person after they take actions based on love and kindness.
The reason people change is because of their thinking changes.