Challenge: For the next 7 days, use the Zoom Out technique if you notice yourself becoming upset about something.
If you notice yourself feeling upset (angry, sad, frustrated, etc.), find somewhere you can relax for a moment to practice the Zoom Out Technique.
- If you’re angry, start by saying to yourself, “I’m angry.” Feel those feelings.
- Next, zoom out by rephrasing to “I’m feeling anger.” Ask yourself where you experience the sensation of anger in your body. What thoughts accompany it in your mind.
- Next, zoom out again by rephrasing to “I’m aware that I’m observing my own anger.” Become curious about the difference between the part of you observing, and the part of you feeling anger.
- Finally, zoom out one more time to “I’m aware that I’m aware.” Explore what the “I” is who observes. What is the nature of that awareness? Where does it reside?
Keep track of the times you do this in your Food Journal and share any insights you have with your coach!
This exercise can help you quickly regain perspective if you’ve gotten stuck in a painful or difficult tailspin of emotional reaction. “Stress” and difficult situations with work, home, or friends are the most common reasons people give for going off their food plan. This technique gives you a fast, effective alternative to eating to soothe your feelings.
The Zoom Out Technique is particularly helpful for those of us who turn to food for comfort, but it can also be helpful in managing life’s ordinary upsets and stressors. Give it a try and you’ll see!
Has this ever happened to you? You’re going about your day, sticking to your plan, when out of the blue something upsets you and makes you angry. Suddenly you’re in a tailspin. Resentment builds, anxiety spirals, your mind is hijacked and everything else fades away as you stress over this situation.
If you’re a comfort eater, before long you’re craving your old standbys: fast food, chocolate ice cream, bread — whatever has been your personal go-to comfort food of choice. A hijacked mind is a very uncomfortable place to be for long and food can temporarily release endorphins that calm and relax you — taking the edge off at least for a few minutes. If you’re not a comfort eater, you may experience other impulses designed to relieve your feelings, such as the desire to confront a situation and vent your feelings. Or you might just want to withdraw, get away from whatever, or whoever has upset you.
Our anger example is an easy illustration because anger is an extreme emotion and we can all relate. However, even more common – but just as disruptive – are the small stressors we all encounter each day. Sudden upsets, chronic upsets, daily work-life stressors, lack of sleep, lack of enough down-time — all of these add up to push you into that hijacked state. When you’re hijacked you’re prone to making rash decisions, including abandoning your weight loss journey, to try to feel better in the short term.
Brain scientists would tell you that what’s happening when you’re hijacked is that your primitive amygdala and its arsenal of stress hormones (a.k.a. your lizard brain) have taken center stage. When that happens, you lose full access to your prefrontal cortex (a.k.a. your higher brain regions) where logic, perspective, and even language reside. Your lizard brain’s job is survival. When a threat (anything that hijacks you) is perceived, it’s going to nudge you to fight (vent or confront) or flee (withdraw from) the situation. Comfort eating falls into the ‘withdraw’ category – temporary escape though it may be. In either case – without your higher reasoning accessible, you’re in danger of making a short-term decision that doesn’t fit into your long-term goals for yourself. Yelling at your co-worker, making a hurtful comment to your partner, grabbing your keys and driving away, or eating your way through a pint of ice cream are all responses that suggest you may not have all of your decision-making tools available at the moment.
We offer tools to counteract this precarious state of mind because snap decision-making using your lizard brain can be hazardous to your chances of staying on track with your weight loss journey. Retaining access to your perspective and long-term goals for yourself is essential to your success. If you can remember WHY you started the journey and access the intense feelings of desire that go along with that sense of purpose (both functions of your higher brain), you’ll be much more likely to make it to your goal. If you lose sight of your goal, you’ll be in danger of losing your resolve.
Fortunately, we have a ‘hack’ for regaining access to your higher brain during moments of upset. This technique was inspired by Dr. Mark Atkinson, author of True Happiness. It’s simple and easy. All you have to do is give it a try a couple of times when you AREN’T HIJACKED — as practice — to get a feel for what to do when you are. So here’s how to get started.
Print out the (attached?) page and take it with you to a place where you can sit or lie comfortably. Pick a recent situation that upset you. It needs to be one that spurred difficult thoughts, strong emotions, and was hard to shake. Re Experience for a moment those thoughts and feelings as vividly as you can. Let yourself feel them as if they were happening now. Go ahead and get angry, sad, frustrated, or upset.
Now, once you’re feeling it, go through these exercises one step at a time and really try to notice any shifts that may occur with your internal relationship with those strong thoughts and feelings.
Once again, we’ll use the example of feeling anger for our explanation.
Once you are really deep in remembering how angry you felt, start by saying (and really feeling): “I’m angry.” Go ahead and feel those intense feelings. Remember all the things that pissed you off. Cuss and swear in your mind. Imagine saying all the things you’d like to have said. Even imagine punching, kicking, or yelling at whatever or whomever is making you so mad.
Next, zoom out one level. Say “I’m feeling anger.” With this step, try to notice what feeling anger is like. Do you feel it just in your angry thoughts, or is it in your body too? If so, where? Is it hot? Cold? What color would it be if you could see it? What sensations does feeling anger cause? How do you know it’s anger and not some other emotion? What thoughts come with it? Try to be specific. If you notice certain types of thoughts correspond with feeling anger, try saying “I’m thinking angry thoughts.” Notice whether there’s any difference between this step and the last one where you were angry.
Next, zoom out one more level. Say, “I’m aware that I’m observing my own anger and angry thoughts.” If you (the thing you call “I”) can feel anger, there must be a difference between you and the feeling of anger. Does that feel true? If so, where do you end and the feelings begin? What else does your “I” observe? What about the thoughts you’re thinking? Are you the same as the thoughts you’re thinking? Or are they separate, too? What or who is this ‘observer?’
And finally, zoom out one last time. Try, “I am aware that I’m aware.” In this step, notice that not only can you observe your own experiences from a vantage point that is separate from them, BUT you can also observe that you are observing. Ask yourself, who or what is it that is aware? Can you sense the “I” inside of you? What is the nature of that “I”? Is it large? Small? Still? Moving? Steady or changing? See if you can find it and feel it and sit with it for a moment.
By this time, you should feel a lot calmer and the feelings of anger should have moved from a loud clamor to something less intense and overpowering. This is because each step of this exercise re-engaged a piece of your prefrontal cortex (higher brain) until it once again took center stage. From here you should be able to have some perspective on your situation and make decisions using a part of your brain that is more oriented to your long-term goals for yourself, rather than momentary ‘relief’ of a threatening state of mind.
The Science Behind The Zoom Out:
In case you’re curious about the way this works, here’s a bit of psychology speak to explain it.
First, we stepped you back from being completely identified with your feelings and thoughts (I am angry) to a vantage point with a bit more perspective on them (I’m feeling anger). The wording is slightly more analytical – which calls upon the prefrontal cortex to engage.
Next, we asked you to use meta-thinking about your own feelings. And then we had you take that to the next level in a sort of meditation ‘hack’ that asks you to engage with the central beingness that exists in all of us. Making it all the way up the zoom-out scale can really bring you some peace in the midst of an upset because remembering your highest, truest nature is very calming. But even just the first or second zoom levels can buy you enough distance from the situation to help you make better decisions with more perspective.
If you enjoyed this exercise and want to keep exploring your own relationship to the thoughts and feelings you experience, here are a couple of helpful metaphors we’ve found to help describe these concepts in understandable terms.
METAPHOR – MOVIE THEATER
You are in a movie theater watching a screen. On that screen, your thoughts play out like a movie. Notice that the images are usually from the past or the future – but rarely about what is happening right now. The past is over, and we don’t really know what will happen in the future, but your mind serves up these images as if they were real. Your body responds to them as if they were real – despite the fact that none of them are actually happening right now. If it’s a horror movie, and your heart is pounding in terror for your life, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to remember that you are sitting safely in a theater, not being chased by a psycho-killer?
METAPHOR – BLUE SKY AND CLOUDS
Imagine your thoughts and the feelings that accompany them are like clouds drifting across a blue sky. Sometimes they block out the sun with dark & stormy weather (moods). Other times they are light and pleasant. But all of them drift, change, come and go. The sky is never static – just like your mind. It’s constantly changing from light to dark, stormy to clear and back again. Moods (clusters of thoughts and the feelings that accompany them) are like the weather. You are like the sky – the background observer across which these temporary experiences play out. And your central awareness is like the sun – sometimes hidden by clouds and weather – but never really gone – and in actuality the reason we have light to ‘see’ at all.