Break Out of Your Mental Ruts

Sometimes we think and act in ways that don’t serve us, that limit us and make situations worse, not better. Sometimes our communications with others sucks because we’re stuck or boxed in by old patterns of thinking. This video explores a concept described in “The Anatomy of Peace” by the Arbinger Institute. It provides insights that can help you break out of your mental rut, and gives you strategies for living more with a “Heart at Peace.”

You’re probably wondering what’s up with the boxes. This isn’t normally how I go through the day — on the OUTSIDE. But on the INSIDE, that IS how I sometimes experience life — and you do, too. Let’s check it out . . .

This is a remarkable book by a group called The Arbinger Institute. It’s not just about boxes, though. At its heart, it’s about making better connections — with others and with yourself — and resolving conflict that can derail you.

Before we get to the boxes, there’s a key concept to understand — which also shaped the title of this book.

According to the authors, we have two basic ways of being in any situation — we’re either coming at things with a Heart at Peace or a Heart at War.
And there’s no middle ground here, like “Of course I have a Heart at Peace!” The distinction between Heart at Peace and Heart at War is binary; you’re either in one or the other at any given moment.

Now, a Heart at War doesn’t mean you’re raging at someone or some thing; it could be as simple as getting annoyed.

And a Heart at Peace doesn’t mean you’re lost in a meditative fog or that you’re a pushover who does anything to avoid conflict. It just means — when you have a Heart at Peace — that you see and react to others as people, not as objects. Even if you disagree on things.

That all sounds sooo simple — right? — but in practice it can be hard.

There is so much more that we could talk about here, but I’ll put a link below to the book, and let’s move on to the boxes. According to the Arbinger folks, when you have a Heart at War — at whatever intensity — you will typically find yourself in one of four mindsets:

· Better Than

· I Deserve

· Need to Be Seen As

· Worse Than

When you’re in a Better Than box, you tend to see yourself as superior, important, and virtuous or right. And you typically feel impatient, disdainful, or indifferent.

When you’re in an I Deserve box, you see yourself as praiseworthy, under appreciated, mistreated, or a victim. And you’re likely to feel entitled, deprived, or resentful.

When you’re in a Need to Be Seen As box, you see yourself as wanting to be well-thought of and appreciated. Here, you typically feel anxious, afraid, needy, stressed, or overwhelmed.

When you’re in a Worse Than box, you see yourself as not as good as others, as broken or deficient or ruled by fate. In this box, you likely feel helpless, depressed, jealous, or bitter.

Too often, we get stuck in different modes or boxes, which affect how we interact with the world — AND how we think about situations, make plans, or reach decisions.

Each box serves to limit us, to negatively impact communications, to put us in a defensive mode, and to reduce the quality of our lives. And here’s the crazy thing . . .

We’re rarely stuck in only one box. In the course of a single conversation, you might jump from I-Deserve to Better-Than to Need-to-Be-Seen-As.

We are complex organisms!

Now, you may never get completely rid of these boxes, but that’s not a reason to ignore this. When we can be out of the boxes, when we can approach the world with a Heart-at-Peace, we are:
· more forgiving — of others and of ourselves

· better able to connect honestly and productively with people at work, at home, and out in the world

· and we’re happier and healthier.

1. When you feel “hooked”, ask yourself which box or mode you’re in.

2. Once you’ve labeled the mode you’re in, ask yourself how you’d like to be instead.

3. Get your own set of boxes and try out what it feels like to be in each of the four modes. It’s really eye-opening to intentionally experience these different dimensions.

A year ago, I was REALLY PISSED about something — s/t which I can’t even remember *now*, which makes this all the funnier. But, boy, was I WORKED UP — fury poured out of me. And then my wife called me out on it, helping me see that I was *choosing* to be angry.

The crazy thing was, in that moment, even though I knew that my anger didn’t serve me — it wasn’t going to be able to change the course of things at all — I still held on to the anger. And I said, “I know I’m pissed and it doesn’t serve me, but right now, I am making the choice to be angry.”

For some reason, my body needed time to let all that anger dissipate; there was no way I was going to be able to flick a switch and suddenly be all calm and loose, as if nothing had happened.

But *realizing* that the anger I felt was a *choice* I was making helped me work through it much more quickly. Before I became aware of all this, that level of anger might’ve plagued me for hours. In this case, it lasted maybe 10 minutes, once I realized this was my choice.

And being able recover quickly is one of the master skills of living.

Here’s a quick review of the takeaways from this video:

1. When you feel “hooked”, ask yourself which box or mode you’re in.
2. Once you’ve labeled the mode you’re in, ask yourself how you’d like to be instead.

3. Get your own set of boxes and see what it feels like in each of the four modes.

4. And whenever you feel stressed, upset, or otherwise out-of-sorts, you’re probably feeling a Heart at War. So ask yourself how you can recover to a Heart at Peace.

John Windsor

Coach & Author · I help people reinvent themselves, at any age.


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