What state you are in can change from one moment to the next. This change is triggered by internal or external circumstances and experiences. So how can we learn to control and harness these states?
What state are you in?
We’re all in a state at any given moment. States range from being relaxed, chilled and happy to stressed. Or, we can be uptight, defensive, sad or lonely.
Sometimes we actively choose the state we’re in, and sometimes we subconsciously force a state upon ourselves.
How do we get into a state?
The state you’re in is a culmination of what is happening in your brain, what’s going on in your body and at what rate (i.e. heart rate and pulse, your physical experience and energy level), what your senses are experiencing, what you’re doing, your emotions and what you are thinking.
We all label our experiences. We can be excited, happy, sad, upset and we assume that we all experience them in the same way. But, my happy will be different to your happy and so on.
When I work with clients, I ask them to describe their state in more detail. For example, if they tell me they feel confident, I ask what this means to them. This is because their description of a feeling or experience might be different to my interpretation or understanding of what they are attempting to describe. This not only helps me to help them learn to manage or change their state, it also helps them to learn more about what the causes and consequences of that state in that moment are. We also go about exploring where the assumption for going into that state comes from, and how we can go about changing the auto-piloted state into a new, better and more resourceful and helpful state. We also look at how to manifest a positive state more often and to transfer it if they experience negative states in certain situations.
How do states impact on us?
The state you’re in at any given moment will significantly influence your ability to make decisions. It will also impact your behaviour, as the state you are in can either be helpful and resourceful or detrimental and un-resourceful. Have you ever made a decision based on fear or anger? How might that decision have been different if it were based in a more positive, proactive and confident state? How would the results of that decision be affected?
Some examples of states
There are many reasons for you to be triggered into a state. This could be a positive and resourceful state, or one that is unhelpful.
You might be:
- Stressed due to a deadline
- Frustrated because your technology isn’t working quickly enough
- Annoyed because there’s a long queue at the supermarket
- Overwhelmed because you need to find a new job and organise your finances
- Excited because you’re going to see someone for the first time in ages
- Cheerful because the sun is out and the weather is gorgeous
- Thoughtful because you are reflecting on a past experience
When you pre-empt an experience, you anchor yourselves into a state and then find what you look for.
Are you associated or dissociated into a state?
You are either associated or dissociated into an experience.
This means you are either truly present, physically, mentally and emotionally (associated) in a moment or experience and that you are fully engaged in what is happening to you, experiencing it fully.
Or, you are not really paying attention. You might be thinking what to have for lunch, stressing about your bills or planning your next holiday. This will mean you don’t fully feel the impact that event is having on you mentally, emotionally or physically (dissociated). When you are dissociated, you are removed from the experience, and almost see yourself from a distance, rather than seeing what is happening to you from within your own head, with your own eyes as when you are associated.
If you are associated, you can hear it with your own ears and feel what’s happening around you. If it’s hot or cold, how your body might be reacting, a good or bad feeling in your gut, if your shoulders are tense or relaxed, how your jaw feels, where your eyebrows are on your forehead, and what your heart beat and pulse is feeling like, etc., and this is true for when experiencing something in the moment, or remembering or anticipating something.
When you dissociate, your feelings aren’t activated, it’s like being on autopilot and you can almost observe yourself experiencing what is happening, which, again, is true in the moment, when remembering and when anticipating.
Each ‘state’ of being associated or dissociated gives you a different perspective, a different take on an experience, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.
What are the benefits?
Clearly, if you want to live in the moment and fully enjoy feeling alive and present during a fantastic moment in life, then associating into it is the way forward. Concentrate on your thoughts, feelings, and senses during it.
If there is an unpleasant experience coming up, a test or interview, for example, you might want to dissociate from your feelings. This may help you prepare for how you might go about feeling, breathing and strategies you’ll use to remain calm and focused.
Also, we’re always facing new challenges. This means it’ll be beneficial to be aware of the state you’re in when making decisions, and to practice associating into and dissociating out of your feelings so you can make considered decisions. You’ll need to learn when to listen to your gut, but not to let overwhelm and other emotions take over.
Dissociating on a long-term basis can have negative results, however. This is because you effectively learn to become numb to your life and experiences, so it’s better to learn when to use it to reflect on a past experience in order to learn from it, or to use it as a means to endure an uncomfortable moment. For example, if you are in physical pain, or learn how to prepare to be in a positive state for an upcoming event.
How to use associating and dissociating to your advantage
There are four possible options to using associating and dissociating to your advantage:
- Associating into both positive and negative experiences. This will help you to feel great during and about positive experiences. But, your state can quickly deteriorate and make you feel bad if you are fully immersed into negative experiences/situations.
- Dissociating from both positive and negative experiences. As mentioned above, it is beneficial to dissociate for brief periods of time during unpleasant experiences or situations, or to use this state to reflect objectively on a past experience or to prepare for a future experience. But, if we dissociate for too long, or dissociate during positive experiences, then we are depriving ourselves of truly living authentically and joyfully. It’s a fine balance.
- Associating into the negative and dissociating from the positive. Unfortunately, this is how some people live their lives, which results in feeling down and unfulfilled. If this is how you associate and dissociate, then there is a great deal of reflecting to be done, and some conscious decision making needed about understanding your triggers and reasons for this, as well as practicing controlling your state.
- Associating into the positive and dissociating from the negative. This is the most beneficial usage of associating and dissociating, as you are able to dissociate from negative experiences. This gives you the benefit of being able to learn from them, while experiencing and remembering positive experiences. This, therefore, helps makes life that bit sweeter.
How can you use your state?
If you assume you are supposed to be nervous, edgy and sweaty during an interview because you’ve heard that’s how other people feel and this has been your experience in the past, you might automatically be triggered into this state without consciously deciding to. Therefore, you’ll stress and panic every time you have an interview. You could carry on fostering this state every time you have an interview. Or, you could decide that the chosen state you’d like to be in during an interview is to be cool, calm and collected. Your conscious mental process for preparing for the interview would include preparing to answer your questions. You should also be preparing to anchor yourself into your new chosen state. this includes breathing calmly, taking your time to focus on the questions you ask and formulating your answers.
It can be as simple as changing your perspective about simple, everyday tasks that can impact on your state.
So, instead of feeling fed up about doing the polishing, hoovering or washing up, make it more fun. Put your favourite tunes on while you’re doing it and have a bit of a boogie. Music is an excellent way to instantly change your state!
Rather than getting frustrated at sitting in traffic on the commute, choose a series of podcasts you’d like to listen to. Alternatively, find a foreign language tape, or download some audio books. You could also choose a music playlist that will either chill you out or cheer you up.
If you’ve ever watched the Channel 4 SAS programme where people undergo the SAS training experience, the trainers often talk to the participants about harnessing their anger and aggression in a positive way. What they mean by this is that you need to learn how to control and use your emotions to benefit you. Learn how and when to stay calm and learn when to harness aggression. For example, when you are physically exhausted and at breaking point. It’s about dropping into a state of anger and aggression, not focused or directed at anyone, but at in directing that energy to get the job done.
How can this help me?
- Start to pay attention to your states, and which one(s) you find yourself in most often
- Get used to becoming aware of your current state. Is it beneficial to you to be in that state? Is there another state that might be beneficial?
- When you want to be in a ‘fit state’, what does that mean to you? How might you go about focusing yourself into being in that state? What can you do to change your physicality and sensory experiences to help you change your state?
- How can you prepare yourself for being in a positive state beforehand? Remember we talked about visualisation previously. How can you focus your thinking, emotions, physicality and behaviours to ensure that you are in the best state possible?
- Do I need to associate into this experience, or is it better and more beneficial to dissociate from this experience just for a short time so that I can make a well-formed and considered decision based which isn’t clouded and lead with emotions? That being said, we do need to remember to listen to our heart and listen to our gut.
So, there you have it. What state are you in?
About Sara Wright
Sara Wright is a confidence coach based in Leicester. She specialises in helping improve people’s mental health self-esteem. She has over 20 years’ experience, as well as a BSc and MSc to back up her practical knowledge. To find out more, check out her website and Facebook page.