How to Get Out of a Rut: Breathing and Our Emotional Response

Have you ever felt a bit lost, confused or simply bored? Some might say they are in a rut; a kind of routine that is part boredom and part frustration. There are some very simple things you can do, which I have tested out over many years, which can help you find a place where you feel alive and inspired again. Recently, I’ve been reading the book Mindsight, by Dr. Daniel Siegel. In it, he describes the relationship between our:

  • Mind
  • Brain
  • Relationships

“Mindsight” is the concept and a set of strategies which allow us to understand how we can impact our own “interpersonal neurobiology,” as Dr. Siegel puts it…. What the heck does that even mean? In simple terms, Dr. Siegel, who is a Harvard-trained clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center, has laid out how we can better use our mind by understanding our brain...whoaaaaa, right? In this book, a roadmap is given to you which allows you to understand where and why emotional downturns happen… and what you can do about it.

For example, have you ever thought of the difference between saying or thinking, “I am frustrated” and “I feel frustrated.”

“I am…” is self defining by nature. “I feel…” references our ability to identify and own a feeling, without that feeling taking over our psyche.  Dr. Siegel describes how we can transform feelings and greatly improve our emotional journey through life. This can include how we see what we sometimes may call “being in a rut.”

As I read the book, I realized that I’d been practicing some of Dr. Siegel’s strategies informally for some years, based on what I’ve learned from my many mentors. In reading Mindsight, I became more intentional, and more effective, in training my mind to identify what he calls “activities of our mind.” I am now able to look at these “activities” objectively, and very quickly avoid emotional outbursts (internal and external). This has allowed me to greatly improve my use of my energy. The resulting positive byproducts are many!

Obviously I am encouraging you to pick up this book and read it! Here is one simple visualization which one of Dr. Siegel’s patients shared. It’s so simple and very effective. I’ve used it many times since reading it, and it has saved me from overreacting, assuming, and/or underestimating many times.

First, you need to understand a couple of places in the brain in a basic way, so that you can visualize where they are physically.

Say hello to your Amygdala, which prompts an instantaneous survival response. They are actually two small almond shapes in the middle of your brain… think of it as being near the center of your brain.

Say thank you to your Prefrontal Cortex, which creates representations of meaning, concepts, sense of self, abstract  and symbolic information. This is an extraordinary part of your brain which allows you to, among other things, get out of a rut! It is located just behind your forehead.

Our amygdala can perceive danger, from a physical danger to an emotional one.

Within our prefrontal cortex, there are different regions. Some exist to help us think before we act, and embrace the use of insight and empathy. This area of the brain is positioned physically and neurologically as a kind of broker and connector. Our prefrontal cortex can neurologically “speak” to our amygdala… and that’s exciting news!

On page 28 of Mindsight, Dr. Siegel shares, “After we had discussed the role of the brain in her treatment, one of my young patients announced ‘I’m trying to get my prefrontal cortex to squirt GABA-goo over my amygdala.’ GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the prefrontal inhibition of subcortical firing, and she imagined it as a kind of gel to soothe the limbic eruptions.”

First of all, I hope you are aware of the effectiveness of visualization. If you’re not, I urge you to do some research. From Olympic athletes, to artists to business minds, visualization has been used to improve how we think, act, and perform.

So what is this basic technique I’m sharing while simultaneously recommending this book?

Visualize your prefrontal cortex spraying some kind of soothing gel, spray, water (whatever works for you) onto your amygdala, and do it while slowing down your breath… like this:

  • Breath in through your nose and tell your prefrontal cortex to get ready.
  • Breath out through your mouth and visualize a soothing gel or spray onto your amygdala.

At this point, you’ll be in a much better place to think objectively and calmly about where you are and where you want to be, and perhaps even more important, who you choose to be.

Have a lot of fun creating a great life for yourself…


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