We are supposed to be the higher animal. The non-reactive ones. The ones that can rise above ourselves, pause and make rational adjustments for the betterment of self, others and our relationships. I know I forget this evolutionary perk at times. My monkey-brain takes over and I am two shakes from the jungle. I might as well be swinging from trees.
Psychological maturity requires the development of what is known as the second consciousness. Instead of reactively firing off, we practice intentionality. We make an actual conscious choice to be relational, calm and moderated.
How do we cultivate this higher capacity? Through observation, curiosity, risk and repetition over time. Like going to the gym, we build new emotional muscle memory. What once was automated gets unlearned and a new neural pathway grooves the now norm. More specifically, we can meet this challenge in three places – after, during and before, from easiest to hardest.
After. This is the “ah ha” moment after the fact. Might be a moment later, an hour later, a week later or even longer. “You know, honey, I messed up last week. I … when I really should have …. I am so sorry. In the future, I really want to ….” The not-so-helpful deed has been done and cast but at least we can recognize it, own it and commit to more relational behaviors in the future.
During. A bit harder to do. This action means catching ourselves mid-stream. “Oh my gosh. There I go again. Let me redo.” We then back-up, pull a U-turn and start again. Hopefully, our partner is gracious enough to mark the first try a strike-out and give us another turn at bat.
Before. The hardest to pull off. Before I react, I pause. I stop. I choose behavior and words that are respectful of you, me and our relationship. If I can’t do this, I breathe and wait until I can. Much easier to prevent than to take back. A hallmark of psychological sophistication.
Monkey or human being? I say we choose the latter. It’s the path of psychological progress.