Five months ago, I became a grandmother for the first time. Perhaps it's just the love and pride I've been gushing these days, that makes me secure that this little boy will have a great life. Given all the extremes around these days, that might seem a bit optimistic.
I don't think it is, because of how the brain operates.
If my little grandson acquires one thing: the emotional skills to encode a strong brain pathway from any level of stress to joy, he will have it knocked. He will make lemons into lemonade. With each challenge he faces, he can take a ride on that emotional pathway with a few rocks and pebbles to daunt him, but sooner or later he'll be at Brain State 1. Even better, each trip through his confusing emotions back to clarity will make his internal core pathway stronger. In other words, stress will be good for him.
Somehow knowing that made me even more committed to strengthening my own resiliency pathway. Yesterday, it looked like a great day. I went swimming. I worked a bit. We cleaned out boxes of memorability from the basement. But in the afternoon, I caught myself feeling all mixed up, anxious, with my mind darting from one problem to the next, running at a Brain State 4.
Most of what I was obsessing about had to do with love relationships. At Brain State 4, the brain's primary need is often love, as the vagal brake disengages at Brain State 3, so it's hard to find empathy and compassion for ourselves or other. We obsess about feeling loved and loving, but what we really need is to have all 5 of our needs met.
When we spiral up to Brain State 1, that is, use our natural brain pathway from stress to joy, the brain delivers. Before we know it, we do feel safe, loved, comforted, pleasures, and we have a sense of higher purpose. We do things for the right reason.
What I really needed in that moment was to override how modern life tells us to process stress (e.g., texting, video binging, exercising, overworking). I did that. I checked in and identified my brain state, then did the emotional dance of the Cycle Toll (aka "4 Tool") and about 3 minutes later, my brain had me at Brain State 1.
The first thing I noticed about being at Brain State 1 was that not only was my need for love met, but all of the 5 basic needs of life – safety, love, comfort, pleasure, and purpose were met. My situation hadn't changed; however my brain had. Most of our problems are caused by the brain in stress. It manufactures problems faster than we can solve them.
Even that momentary flash of Brain State 1 made all seemed right with the world. My situation had not changed. I'm in a rapid change time of my life, and the reptilian brain always spews cortisol with change. However, for that moment (and the moment lingered), my needs were met. It wasn't hard. I had just used my power to travel on my brain's natural emotional pathway from stress to joy.
The rewards started flowing. Instead of worrying myself into a having a stomachache or missing out on taking a brisk walk with Tammy and Walt, I had taken charge of the quality of the afternoon. Plus, doing that had made a small but important change in my pathway. Like grooves in a dirt road, using it had deepened it.
In this complicated world, that's one thing I can do to give my grandson a good life. As kids download the circuits of those around them, I had done my part. If you have children in your life, consider making their world a safer place by trying out the tools and perhaps teaching them the tools, too. (EBT Director of Research Arinn Testa, PsyD just gave a workshop on that just last week that's available to members). Even if you would not become part of the BBH movement for yourself, do it for the children.
That said, I think I'll do use the Cycle Tool a bit more frequently now. My grandson needs me to do that, and he is worth it!