The “Energy” for “Anger” or “Anxiety” Word-switch transcript
Today’s stren, substituting the word “energy” for “anger” and “anxiety,” and the next stren are word-switch numbers 6 and 7 of the seven Mind-freeing, Life-changing, World-saving word-switches. They comprise the two important word-switches that dramatically prevent major problems we bring on our self.
I’m referring to the mindless, impulsive, harmful aggression that was appropriate for our ancestors but commonly results in irreversible consequences and punishment in today’s relatively civilized world. We commonly observe “road rage,” other “rages,” crimes of passion, and related impulsive behaviors triggered by a stressful event. Our primitive fight or flight behavior, the root of this problem, is hardwired in the first to develop older portion of our brain.
Here is today’s stren: Substitute when possible the word-switch “energy” for the trigger words “anger” and “anxiety.”
Some years ago, I was invited by the Connecticut Commissioner of Mental Health to interview, along with the Commissioner of Corrections, inmates serving the longest sentences in our highest security prison. I was struck by the high percentage of individuals who had lost their freedom because of a single destructive act committed in a fit of rage, often an act of passion. Even though their mindless crime was an atypical deviation from their usual behavior, they could not undo their damage. Have you witnessed the many kinds of “rage” that lead to explosive behavior? Can you recount personal experiences where you reacted to anger or to a stressful situation by taking actions that you now wish you could have handled more productively?
We all start life hardwired to release energy chemicals in response to stressful situations. Instinctive survival of the fittest and fight or flight primitive physical responses alert us to take quick action. Our ancestors lived in a world where survival depended on instant action. Each turn at every corner required anticipation of what danger lurked beyond. Survival required being on red alert status and being prepared to strike out or run away. In either response, emergency production of energy was required. Second mistakes are rarely permitted in life-threatening circumstances. This elegant emergency response system designed by nature allowed our ancestors to survive and thrive in a primitive, savage environment.
Constant preparedness for red alert emergency was once critical. The words anger and anxiety trigger the physical confrontation or emergency flight our ancestors required to survive. Preoccupation with survival explains why humor is not a characteristic of animals and was unknown to our primitive ancestors. Sophisticated, common sense, long term problem-solving and laughter are learned with the help of language.
In today’s partially civilized world, we no longer face a life-threatening situation at every turn or corner; rarely at any corner. When we experience the frustrations that are a common part of daily living, our body still responds by producing instant changes in our chemistry and red alert tension, telling us to take action. We are all born with elegant physical solutions to survive and thrive. We are preprogrammed to automatically repeat the life cycle, to direct our energy to eat and not be eaten, and to procreate. Thirty year mortgages, planning a proper retirement, an eternal hereafter, and preserving the global community were not priorities of our early ancestors. Surviving and thriving today is best accomplished directing our energy to elegant common sense mental problem-solving. Fighting or running in a relatively civilized world usually gets us what we don’t want rather than what we prefer. Technology has suddenly shrunk our world so that geography no longer separates us from other tribes; so we must learn to collaborate with our new neighbors to accomplish our shared interests, not fight or intimidate others to prove our dominance. We must also plan for the long term as well as the short-term solutions that preoccupied our ancestors. Cooperation and collaboration for mutual benefit is now required to survive and thrive.
“Anger” is an appropriate trigger word to activate the fight response. “Anxiety” is an appropriate trigger word to activate the flight response – run or hide. Labeling our automatic chemical response to stress “energy” is more likely to turn on a mental problem-solving action pathway than a physical fight or flight action pathway. Energy is a more neutral and accurate trigger word than anger or anxiety. Common sense logical problem-solving is our means to create wisdom-inspired solutions that benefit all parties and secure future benefits in addition to immediate, short term benefits. The simple word-switch energy reroutes our thinking to replace our automatic negative fight or flight action pathways that are no longer adaptive. Problem-solving thinking is now the appropriate substitute for hair-trigger physical reaction. It signals us to apply common sense to plan beneficial action. Physically fighting or running and hiding provide limited short term benefit given today’s social expectations.
Most people continue to label the problem-solving energy produced by stress with traditional trigger words such as anger and anxiety. These labels turn on not only the primitive physical behaviors of fight and flight but also many modern day harmful mental equivalents of these behaviors. These negative reactions include blaming others; blaming ourselves through putdowns and guilt; and avoidance behaviors such as procrastination, lying, substance abuse, changing jobs, residences, and spouses. Worry is sustained pink alert thinking. We “what if...” and then anticipate the worst outcome of a situation to the neglect of what is the “most likely” or the “best” outcome. When individuals become excessively anxious about anxiety, they multiply its effect. Common outcomes are panic and phobias to some real or imaginary feared situation. Sustained tension leads to muscle contraction pain in the tensed area such as headache, backache, neck and jaw pain. Getting rid of these negative patterns will be discussed in future strens.
The “energy” word-switch provided in this stren and the next stren effectively prevent the instinctive primitive behaviors that are commonly triggered by our emergency response system and can cause great harm. Each of the prevention word-switches is easy to learn. With a bit of practice and mental rehearsal, they will become habitual and effortless, and enhance instinct and tradition with common sense wisdom.