Improving Hindsight. A look behind the scenes at the process that creates emotions.
It’s a common English idiom: “Hindsight is always 20/20.” It means that looking back at a situation after the fact, you can see perfectly clearly what the correct thing to do would have been.
Since we’re entering football season, you could also use the expression “Monday morning quarterbacking”, which is essentially the same thing, although certainly a bit more energetic sounding. They’re both used for good reason, we’ve all been there, we’ve all said or done things in a situation that looking back we realize we shouldn’t have, and we can see what we would have liked to have done instead. But why is it so common? Can we do anything to improve our in-the-moment sight instead of looking back in hindsight with regret?
Life happens fast!
Life happens at a pretty fair pace, and we don’t always have time to stop and weigh out our options or consider all the choices before we respond. Your experience in the moment passes through an array of filters that you probably aren’t even aware of: how you feel physically at the time, any emotions you are already feeling, what you think about what is happening (which is typically based on filters of past experience, upbringing, and your own personality, just to name a few) and then almost instantaneously your thoughts about the situation trigger emotions that also add to the mix. It’s no wonder our 20/20 emotional vision gets obscured! These filters don’t always cause trouble, in fact the filters are what makes you uniquely you. The fact that everyone in the world does this exact same process with their own filters is what makes us all exactly the same, the human experience that no one can escape.
It’s all about choices.
Usually when people talk about wanting “the power to choose better” in the moment, it’s assumed that they mean being capable of choosing a better emotional reaction, as in, “Next time someone pulls out in front of me in traffic, I won’t get upset and angry, I’ll try to remember that he could be rushing to the hospital for a sick loved one.” That works great the one time you remember it, but is either quickly forgotten before it happens again or is proven false the first time you see someone cut you off just to get to the Taco Bell. It’s a “tool” for better emotional health, but it’s unnecessary, and it also requires not only a great memory in the heat of the moment (when we’re least inclined to remember the rules we’ve laid out for ourselves), and it also requires innumerable “rules” for each situation which can quickly get out of hand. The heart of the problem is that trying to change your emotional response in the moment from the back end is like trying to change the germs in your body after you already have a cold. This is impossible, of course, the germs are already there. Understanding the way the germs work could allow you to wash your hands more frequently, helping you possibly avoid the cold, but there’s no changing those germs once they’re present.
The “emotional germ theory.”
The “emotional germ theory” we teach at Gulf Breeze Recovery is beautiful in its simplicity. The experience you have is subjective to your own thoughts and feelings about it, and that moment is all-inclusive. The inner emotional response is a reflection of the thoughts happening inside you and as things unfold there isn’t much space to change the thoughts that are occurring. There doesn’t appear to be any options as to how you feel or even what you think at the time, but understanding how you create those emotions shows you behind the scenes to the process that creates emotions in the first place.
It’s that understanding that lets you start from the beginning, in the moment, and accept whatever thoughts and feelings you have there…and also realize that this is probably temporary. Knowing that in the heat of whatever crazy thing is happening, especially ones filled with emotion or urgency, our thinking is based on information that is not even close to reliable, no matter how true it seems. That thinking creates emotions that drive us to act, to speak, to do something, and that urge goes up as the intensity of the emotions rise. This in turn creates more distorted thinking, and you’ve quickly got a vicious circle of emotion propelled action that has little room left for rational thought or analysis.
Understanding that you can’t choose your thoughts or emotions but that they both come from you and only you does give the space that is needed to see clearly that just because your mind seems to be screaming, “Call him a jerk!” doesn’t mean you have to follow through, and that you may not actually think he’s a jerk when the smoke of emotion clears. It gives you the space to not take every thought and emotion so seriously, as though they were marching orders from a commanding officer, and just…be. That space starts out seeming infinitesimally small, just a pause of breath before you make a choice or take action, but the more you understand that your anger, frustration, jealousy and outrage are only coming from what you think about what is going on the larger that space grows. The more space you have, the easier it is to choose not to act when you’re emotional, which sounds like such a tiny thing but in reality is a superpower that rivals x-ray vision, call it emotional X-ray vision.
Do you have the power to choose your thoughts? Probably not. Do you have the power to choose the emotions you have about situations in your life? Even less likely. But if you want to know if you have the power to choose your response to those thoughts and emotions, the answer is an unequivocal YES, provided you know how your life experience is created: Always and only through your own thinking about the things you encounter.
Gulf Breeze Recovery is a non-12 step residential rehab located on the water overlooking Pensacola Beach, Florida, and the program there is completely different than any other rehab in the U.S. A holistic based model using licensed Addictionologists and more therapy hours from licensed clinicians than any other facility worldwide, our program helps people see the root thinking that caused the addiction rather than treating the effects of the addiction from the back end.