I recently found myself in front of a mirror making a response that had been conditioned in front of a screen.
I was deciding what to wear for the day. I’d already donned a skirt and long-sleeved top… skivvy-ish. I was mooting a second top over the first… sleeveless.
Surveying my reflection in a full-length mirror to judge whether the additional choice would be successful, I pulled the extra garment on.
It wasn’t successful.
I didn’t like what I saw and immediately decided not to wear the second top after all.
That’s when I noticed the conditioning.
My eyes moved to the top-left corner of the mirror as I vaguely felt a feeling of ‘undo’ in my mind. Then I realised, standing there in front of the mirror, that I held a liminal expectation of my reflected image instantly returning to the moment before the second garment went on. My arms didn’t move to take off the second top. But my mind expected it to be gone.
I’d been conditioned by Word! With a bit of Outlook influence thrown in!
My body and subconscious responded in 3-dimensional, real, breathing life, as if I’d hit the curved ‘Undo’ arrow on the top left of Word docs and emails.
I experienced milliseconds of mild confusion as I realised that I would have to physically, actually, remove the second top myself. My arms would have to cross at the waist, hands grasp the hem of the garment, and arms uncross while lifting them, and the sleeveless top, over my head.
I’ve many times experienced (and I imagine in 2021 almost everyone has) placing index finger and thumb in pincer position over a photo in a book or magazine and then sweeping them apart expecting the image to enlarge. That’s a clear example of auto-mode generalising beyond the screen on which it was learned. But the ‘undo’ example was new for me.
I reflected for a bit on how convenient a personalised ‘undo’ function could be. ‘Oops, smudged the lippie… undo’. ‘Too much soy in the stir fry… undo’. ‘Pasta sauce on the white shirt… undo’.
And then I thought how human minds already have pretty good access to an ‘undo’ function. And now, in this peri-pandemic uncertainty, is the time to be using it.
The function we already have, won’t, unfortunately, undo a splodge of pasta sauce. That’s still going to need eucalyptus oil and soap. (Or perhaps this is not unfortunate, but fortunate; lest we find ourselves, with our technologies, way too far ahead of our ability to understand and manage unintended consequences.)
However, our current and very human functions do allow us to notice and undo our emotional responses. This is a good thing because these can so often be the situations that become the undoing of us.
Psychologists and mental healthcare professionals are the experts here. They have tools and strategies to help those they serve notice their emotional responding. And if it is unhealthy, to undo it, and to make a reflective, healthy choice. They work to help their clients generalise this function from the clinic to all the moments of their lives. In the words of a dear psychologist friend:
“Thinking matters. And taking the time to reflect on our thinking matters too. It matters because what we believe (think) about situations, others and ourselves is so powerful in generating our emotional responses, our bodily sensations, and how we respond in the world. We all have it in our own power to challenge our thinking, or to challenge our relationship with problematic thoughts, in order to enhance our emotional lives and the quality of our relationships.”
This is good work. It’s work we need to help hold us together with steadiness and calm as we lead our lives, love our families, connect in our workplaces, and share our communities. I am incredibly grateful for the labour of love that our psychologists and others are pouring-out at this time of stretch and fragility in the pressure and uncertainty of a peri-pandemic world. They are pouring it out in their clinics. In their blog posts. In their trainings and events.
And just as well. At this time of quiet crisis, we need to know how to ‘undo’ in our minds. We need it for ourselves. We need it to help our workmates ‘undo’. And friends. And the stranger in the street who has equal could-be-my-friend potential. We need it as fortification to keep us practising our good health supports. To put some grunt behind the important question ‘Are you OK?’. So we have the groundedness to ask that question and not shrink from the possible response. So we have the groundedness not to judge, but to apply loving kindness – and to apply it with a trowel.
Just like the virus, insidiously lying on ‘which surface’ that we might touch(!?), floating in ‘which droplet of breath’ that we might draw in(!?), the contaminants within our emotional mindsets are also insidious.
So don’t forget to ask yourself ‘Am I OK?’ And don’t shrink from the possible response. Let connection, and knowledge about beliefs and thinking, condition you to consistently activate ‘undo’ by keeping your mind in the present.
We can switch to our more successful choices. Individually and together, we can pull through this crisis of change and loss and uncertainty.
If you are not OK… look in at yourself with reflection… and undo!
And here’s a great place to open a new dialogue box: Lifeline 13 11 14.