When the umpteenth motorist cuts your way you are likely to be assaulted by a wave of anger. When you make a long tail and you do not get what you need, a wave of frustration overwhelms you. When your colleague receives a promotion that you thought you deserved, a wave of jealousy assails you. Anger. Impatience. Sadness. Frustration… We spend most of our days invaded by various emotions.
Often these emotions are “negative” because they make us feel bad and make our plans fail. Because of anger, irritability or jealousy, we end up doing things that we will regret later. These little experiences of everyday life dull our days of gray, preventing us from feeling joy and satisfaction, and undermining our emotional balance. The good news is that it does not have to continue like this.
You can’t change the situations, but you can change your reactions
Whether we like it or not, our emotional reactions end up shaping our experiences. We cannot change the situations of the past, but at any moment we face new experiences on which we have a certain degree of control. Our response to every situation will affect the next minutes and hours of the day, we just have to learn to pay attention at the right time.
It can help you think of emotions as if they were a key into the lock. You can insert and turn the key without problems inside, but since your goal is to open or close the lock, you will have to find the exact point where you can extract the key. If you don’t find it, the key will remain locked and you will have to keep turning it in the lock, and this will only increase your frustration.
In the same way, in life some situations can generate emotional states in which we are trapped, the most common are guilt and resentment, which in turn generate a cycle of negativity, a cycle that will not stop until we are able to find that precise point. The “third moment metod” teaches how to find that point, so that we can go on using the emotions in our favor, instead of staying at their mercy.
The three moments of the experience
Life is made up of a series of experiences and each of them can be divided into three moments.
The first moment: The feeling
At the beginning, our sensory organs perceive a change in the environment. It’s that moment when we hear our name or see a person. At that moment, we simply perceive, we do not recognize what is happening. Our sensory organs acquire and transmit information.
The second moment: The attribution of a meaning
In a second moment, in a matter of milliseconds, which is what the stimulus takes to cross the nerve networks, we recognize that they have pronounced our name or we have seen the face of the person. At this moment are activated those that Antonio Damasio called “somatic markers”, which allow us to automatically classify this perception as good, bad or neutral.
This attribution doesn’t depend solely on the stimulus but also on our memories, from previous experiences with similar stimuli and even from our beliefs and expectations. At that moment the experience begins to have an emotional value, we like it or generates a rejection. That mechanism is basically below our threshold of consciousness.
The third moment: The reaction
In this very moment we have the possibility to accept or reject the meaning that our most primitive brain has given to the experience. We can consciously analyze it and decide if it is really so unpleasant and threatening or if, on the contrary, ours is an exaggerated reaction based on past experiences that have no relation to the current situation.
The third moment gives us the opportunity to mark the difference between action and reaction, we can distance ourselves from automatic answers, understand our emotions and think of a reaction.
The third moment metod
We cannot influence our feelings and the attribution of the meanings we give automatically, but we have enormous power over the third moment of the experience. We can use that time as a pause, so that we do not just react, but we can respond.
The Third Moment Method allows us to take control and not be victims of circumstances. How to apply it? Simply by observing the emotion.
In the second moment, our primitive brain triggers an emotion, which is what drives us to move away or get closer to what is happening. We must be able to detect that emotion when it arises. It is about becoming aware of that emotion before it can trigger an automatic response and connect with any thought.
When the emotion is connected to a thought, we think that we are reacting in a rational way, but that’s not true. For example, we may feel frustrated and, consequently, think that the person in front of us is incapable. Obviously, it’s a conclusion without a solid foundation beyond what we’re hearing. When you look at the newborn emotion, avoid making associations that would cause you to make mistakes.
It is probable that you’re tempted to trace the source of that emotion. It’s understandable, but it’s not useful because you can fall into an endless loop of guilt. Instead of focusing on who did what for whom, simply watch your emotions.
Don’t do it as if you were an external observer, freeing yourself from that emotion, but you must feel it fully. You can imagine that emotion like a balloon that fills you. Pay no attention to the balloon but to what it contains.
How do you feel? It is important not to rationalize. What’s inside the balloon? As a matter of fact, there is only empty space inside it.
This does not mean that your emotion is the empty space, but this will help you understand that the emotion itself does not exist as you think, it is not something static and solid. Little by little you will begin to feel lighter, that emotion will “deflate” and you will probably feel happy or satisfied. When you free yourself of an emotion that is influencing you, you feel the relief of getting rid of a great burden.
However, it is not something you obtain right away, you need to practice. There is no doubt that in the heat of the moment it may be difficult to put this method into practice, which is why it is important to practice first in situations that can be better controlled.
The interesting thing is that to the extent that you learn to control this method you gain confidence and self-control and the quality of your life improves greatly because you stop reacting, stop being at the mercy of circumstances and you can really choose how to behave.