Take a moment to think about the last time you were cut off by a car while driving. What was your reaction? Most likely, your first instinctual response was anger and frustration. Unfortunately, creating a negative dialogue to go along with a situation comes more naturally for most people. But, what if you could take a pause before reacting to consider the possible reasons for why the driver cut you off. Was he rushing to take his wife to the hospital to deliver their first child? Was she a new 16- year-old driver learning the ropes of the road? Was he in a hurry to his second job? The list of possibilities is endless. The old, familiar saying comes into play here, “Imagine yourself walking a day in someone else’s shoes’. It is impossible for us to know why people react the way they do so immediately assuming the worst is a detrimental trait to exhibit. Continuing to respond to others in a negative manner fosters hostile, unproductive relationships. Even worse, you begin to train your mind that this response pattern is normal. Living in a state of permanent negativity and distrust fuels a cascade of internal events that aren’t sustainable for a healthy mind/ body presentation.
Last week, I presented an evidence-based positive practice to a multidisciplinary task group interested in evaluating the stress continuum in the University of Virginia’s Surgical Trauma ICU. In a very stressful, high acuity, face paced environment, creating ways to establish positive practices is of upmost importance. As we all know, increased stress levels can cause a more reactionary response due to the body’s physiology. Being mindful and understanding of this predictable mind/ body state can allow one to choose a different path.
Positive Practice: Assuming positive intent
Most people start off with positivity in mind. Outside factors can quickly change the course of a positive situation. In practicing assuming positive intent, you take the time to pause before your react. Completely evaluate the situation at hand before responding, becoming curious in your interactions. Strive to avoid negative biases that in turn will improve communication. Mentally ask yourself, “I wonder why…” or “Tell me more…” A friendly reminder is to take a deep breath; count to five before you respond to someone who you feel is approaching you with negativity. Assume the other person is coming from a positive place before immediately throwing up the defense and creating an unproductive barrier.
Since everything can be tied to yoga, a wonderful way to grasp this concept is by breaking down Patanjuli’s Yoga Sutra 2:33: pratipaksha-bhavana. In Sanskrit, pratipaksha means ‘opposite’, bhavana means ‘cultivation’. Cultivating the opposite. Sage Patanjuli wrote about cultivating the opposite before 400 CE. Assuming positive intent is not easy, human kind has been working on cultivating the opposite for a long, long time. One must work at this practice. An easy way to begin is by replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Using scenarios like someone cutting you off in traffic to train your mind so you are better prepared for the face-to-face interactions during stressful times. It takes practice. Start on a small scale and eventually your natural state of reaction will tend towards positivity.