Energy Flows Where Attention Goes:
How to stop the downward spiral before all hell breaks loose.
We’ve all had the kind of day where you wake up on the wrong side of the bed and then everything goes wrong. It starts off small; maybe you slept past your alarm, or bumped your head, or someone got your coffee order wrong, and then it started to spiral out of control. The next thing you know it’s as if the whole world is conspiring against you. Perhaps a kind gesture snaps you out of it, but most likely you spiral all the way down until a blow out happens, which is basically an adult temper tantrum. Maybe you pick a fight with a friend or your partner, maybe you get into an accident, or even break a foot (all of which I have done in a blow out).
So what can you do? How can you stop it? Or even better, how can you turn it all around into an upward spiral?
If I tell you “energy flows where attention goes,” it makes sense, but on a tangible level what does that mean? It’s easy to understand that our bad mood is creating our bad day, but what can you actually do to turn those days around?
Here’s how to turn that downward spiral around in 5 steps.
1. YOUR BODY IS A TOOL. USE IT.
Your body is like a machine and it functions pretty smoothly for the most part. So when you notice a gear is grinding, the machine needs some maintenance, some attention. This gear grinding will show up as sensation. Just as pain tells you where your body is hurt, sensation is also an indicator. When you notice things out of the ordinary like an increase in your heart rate, sweaty palms, crying, or an upside-down feeling in your stomach, your body is telling you something; stop and listen.
H.A.L.T. is an acronym used in the 12 Steps program. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. I like to add “$” for Stress or Stress about money. Listening to your body will tell you if you’re feeling one or more of these emotions. When that happens, STOP EVERYTHING. If a gear is grinding, the machine needs attention and there is no point in continuing because the machine can not properly produce. Stop, check in with yourself; use the sensation in your body like an alarm and pay attention to what is happening in your mind, because the body mirrors the mind. I’m going to make a safe bet and say that in these moments when you recognize you are hungry, angry, lonely, tired or stressed, that your mind chatter, your inner narrative, is complaining. Ok. Take all that complaining in your head and turn it into requests. Now, what do you need?
3. SELF CARE
At this point you have recognized sensation in your body and stopped to listen to what you need. Take this time out to give yourself what you need. If you’re hungry, eat. Lonely? Call a friend. Angry? Have a good scream. If something is out of your means to do, then do a little something for your body. What does it need to move the energy? A walk? Yoga? Dancing? Self care is about acknowledging what is happening in the moment and giving yourself what you need.
You’re wasting energy on a bad mood, instead take a moment to use that energy for yourself. Tell your body thank you for pointing out that you were beginning to spiral down by doing something nice for your body as a thank you. Gratitude is a key turning point. This is where the spiral stops because with gratitude you leave victim mode behind.
Now you can take the spiral up, but to do so, you must first go all the way down. It’s easy to blame others. What’s not so easy is examining why you sabotage yourself. It’s difficult because we feel guilt and shame when we realize we created the shitty day we are having, especially if we lashed out at others. The anchor here is curiosity, unlike judgement, curiosity is for the sake of knowing, whereas judgements come from the assumption that we already know.
Curiosity can examine the WHY of what’s happening by addressing the stories that your inner narrative is telling. Take your “why is this happening TO me?” attitude and turn it into “why is this happening FOR me?” Really get curious, but just as important, stay honest with yourself. Maybe you chose to sleep past your alarm because you needed the rest. Maybe you chose to get upset about being late because you are addicted to the alert sensation anger can give you, which you think will help you wake up, and get to work faster. Maybe you picked a fight because you wanted attention. Just. Get. Curious.
If you put enough attention on why you are creating the day you are having, then life doesn’t have to keep drawing your attention toward it in the context of a shitty day or emotional blow out.
The truth is, YOU created your day, YOU chose how to feel, YOU chose how to act (or react), YOU are responsible. When you take responsibility, when you think of things as happening FOR you, when you stay curious, you will learn. Over time the things that used to upset you will been seen and used as learning opportunities. Instead of reacting you will be growing.
Now you have stopped the downward spiral and things are beginning to turn around. How can you apply what you have just learned? The best way is to create a game. Just for yourself, in this moment, about the lesson you just learned. You could make a game of going to bed early for a week to see if you get up on time. Maybe you challenge yourself to speak up the next time someone gets your coffee order wrong (so you can’t play victim the rest of the day complaining about it). My personal favorite is to tell your partner to wrestle you to the ground and tickle you the next time you pick a fight with them while in a reactionary state.
I have used this process over and over and it never fails me, even now, as I grieve my father’s recent passing. First I notice when my shoulders feel heavy and my jaw and hips get tight. Other times, like last week while I was driving, it shows up as a huge overwhelming wave of sensation, like the feeling you get when you free fall. These sensations are like an alarm telling me to stop and listen, so I pulled over the first chance I got and found a quiet street to park on. I gave myself permission to feel the sensation, all of it, all the way through it. Sometimes I just breathe into it and it passes, but in this particular moment, I found myself sobbing like a baby, and I stayed committed to feeling it all the way. When I felt it start to pass and settle down, I got curious. I didn’t start by labeling it, instead I started with what triggered it. When did it start? Why did it start? Why did I want to feel that way? What does the feeling need from me and what is it telling me?
After contemplating these questions, I found that it was a of couple things. First and foremost it was the sensation of loss needing to leave my body in the form of crying. Secondly, I have some stressful “adulting” stuff in my life lately (in addition to grieving) and there was a piece of me that wanted daddy to fix it and another piece that just wanted my hero to tell me everything will be fine and I am strong enough to handle however it works out. Then I realized that alive or dead, this is MY life, and these are MY issues, and him being here wouldn’t make a difference in the outcome. In this moment I realized I need to be my own dad. My father was my teacher, an archetype of my own masculinity and now it’s time to be my own archetype of my own masculinity. Immediately my body felt lighter and less tight.
I decided to make a game of it; for the next week I paid very close attention to all the times I wanted someone else to do it (whatever “it” was in the moment) and I gave myself permission to get more creative about ways I could do it for myself and then I committed to doing it in that moment (not later, like I so often told myself I would, but right then, like my dad would). Hands down, it was the most productive week I have had in a long while and at the end of it I realized, I can do it. I don’t need him to tell me that and yet he did, as it was grieving him, and playing with my grief that allowed me to learn that, yes, I can do this.
Grief can be a heavy topic, but I chose this example because it demonstrates that if this process works with a really difficult emotion like grief, than it will work when you get upset that someone got your coffee wrong. The idea is to play for the sake of playing. There is no right answer in life, there is only learning and growing, so why not make it fun? Even grieving can be pleasurable if we agree to play. The serious mind is often ripe for judgement, but a playful mind is ripe for learning.
Written by Melanie Gillum