Emotions are our inner compass, but when we don’t pay attention and don’t know how to manage them, they can derail our lives. Intense emotions, both those considered positive, such as euphoria, or negative, such as anger, can lead to hasty decisions and push us to actions that we later regret.
Sometimes, the daily pressures or the blows of life push us against the ropes and we lose control. Obviously, when we feel emotionally overwhelmed we don’t usually show our best version. We can snap, say hurtful things, or break down.
In fact, a decade ago psychologists Robin Stern and Marc Brackett noted that many people in our society “Are addicted to strategies that prevent them from reaching their goals.” Many times, even though we know what we should do, we go in the opposite direction.
The lack of emotional awareness and the inability to regulate our emotions conspire against us to sabotage our best “self”. What can we do? The key is to learn some emotional self-regulation strategies, such as meta-momenting.
What is the meta-moment?
The meta-moment is a tool that helps us hit the pause button right at that moment between a challenging feeling and our first impulse. It helps us to prolong the space of time between the stimulus and the reaction to choose how to respond.
It’s like stepping on the brake and getting out of time to reach that essential space that allows us to decompress emotionally. It is called “meta” because it is a moment of introspection about another moment.
We can use it in those vital moments in which we find ourselves under strong emotional stress, but also in our day to day, when we feel that we are about to explode or break down emotionally.
Instead of reacting immediately leaving ourselves at the mercy of emotions, the meta-moment encourages us to stop, breathe and visualize our best version to choose, almost “from outside” the most appropriate way to resolve the situation.
How to apply this psychological technique?
The idea is that instead of reacting impulsively, running the risk of making the situation worse, we use our breath to calm down. Instead of acting instantly, we stop for a second to calm down and observe from a distance what is happening and how it is impacting us.
This gives the rational part of our brain time to regain control, so that we can reflect more serenely on our options. Pausing and taking a deep breath activates our parasympathetic nervous system, thereby reducing the release of cortisol, one of the main stress hormones, and lowering our “emotional temperature”.
However, the meta-moment does not only imply calming down or taking a break from the problem, but it goes further because it encourages us to think about the person we aspire to be, it pushes us to show our best version.
During that pause we can ask ourselves: How have I managed similar situations in the past? And what would my best “self” do at this moment? It will help you to imagine your best version, perhaps a more empathetic and understanding or a stronger and more resilient “self”.
For example, if we are angry with our son/daughter because he/she has disrespected us or with a co-worker who has tripped us, we can resort to the meta-moment: first we take a deep breath and when we have calmed down a bit we must ask ourselves how our best “self” would react to try to solve the problem without aggravating the conflict.
The decision remains in our hands, but the interesting thing about this technique is that it does not simply help us solve the problem, but rather focuses on developing more positive strategies. In fact, there are two types of meta-moments:
• Proactive meta-moments. These types of meta-moments allow us to anticipate a challenging situation and solve the problem in advance. We can put them into practice when we are calmer and anticipate what could happen, looking for an effective strategy beforehand so as not to lose patience or nerves.
• Receptive meta-moments. These meta-moments are those that help us respond more effectively and maturely to the unexpected and challenging situations that life always brings us. They are generally the most difficult to master since it is necessary to calm the emotions first.
However, the more we practice this psychological technique, the easier it will be for us to use proactive meta-moments and master our early emotional reactions.
When we integrate meta-moments into our routine, they help us move from old automatic reactions to new, more adaptive responses to each challenge we face. In fact, when the whole family uses the meta-moment, it can become a very powerful tool for avoiding or minimizing improductive conflicts and build an emotionally stable and secure unit for its members.
Studies have shown that people who use meta-moments regularly employ more effective emotion regulation strategies and experience less stress, anxiety, and frustration.
Of course, the meta-moment demands a level of self-control and emotional maturity that is not always easy to achieve, so this exercise is further complicated by the difficulties and stresses of everyday life, but it is worth having it in our backpack of psychological tools.
Brackett, M. (2019) Permiso para sentir. Barcelona: Editorial Planeta.
Abshire, B. (2014) Making Time for Meta Moments: Effective Closure for the Secondary Classroom. A Journal of the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts; 44: 53-57.