The THINKING GUIDANCE SYSTEM for DUMMIES
Humans have available two systems for making decisions—the Emotional Guidance System and the Thinking Guidance System.
The bad news is, managing anxiety long enough to engage the Thinking Guidance System is hard. The good news is, even a two percent gain can change your life.
The Emotional Guidance System is instinctual and quick to take charge in a tight spot and do ‘whatever is necessary’ to get rid of immediate anxiety. That could mean eating another doughnut, arguing, procrastinating (this is a good one), or not eating a doughnut—if limiting yourself calms you down.
It’s easy to see the effects of lives ruled by the emotional system in prisons, courts, and gang life. The rest of us have at least the tiniest capacity to engage our thinking system in the struggles of life.
The Thinking Guidance System, unlike the Emotional Guidance System operates with facts over emotional pressure. When we are moved to action (or inaction) by our emotions, facts are out of reach. We do not consider information about the past or visualize the long-term effects of our choices.
The Thinking Guidance is that part of the brain able to contain anxiety long enough to consider the facts of the situation. The Thinking Guidance System is able to visualize long-term outcomes of various alternatives. For example, if the emotional system is in charge when a person is cut-off in traffic, he or she may yell, curse, and take dangerous chances with the car and others. The driver creates an unpleasant experience for others in the car while claiming he or she “doesn’t care” and spends time trying to convince others of the ‘rightness’ of their rude behavior. The driver who is able to regulate anxiety is less likely to engage in dangerous behaviors or behaviors that cause unnecessary anxiety for those in the car.
The person able to contain anxiety behaves in harmony with the facts–such as the reality that other drivers rarely learn from our antics and our focus on the minor errors of others results in unpleasant emotions and stress.
All of us have anxiety. Anxiety is a necessary part of life. If a car is truly veering toward us, we need anxiety to help us react faster. But most of the time when we react on emotional pressure, our anxiety is not about facts. Our anxiety is about imaginary scenarios, or “what ifs.”
We’re going bite at a time. The role of real and imaginary threats in anxiety and behavior will be in a later section.
What does a person using the Thinking Guidance System Look Like?
When we have access to our thinking:
- We are calmer.
- We are less likely to blame others for our “feelings.”
- We are less likely to see “luck” as a big factor in life.
- We are more likely to have relationships with people different from ourselves.
- We are less likely to generalize, compartmentalize, use simplistic “either you are with me or against me” thinking, or exaggerations.
- We do not automatically accelerate our response level when the situation or other person escalates.
- We do not rush to calm the anxiety in the other.
- We resist urges to flee the anxious situation as an attempt to control the outcome.
- We are able to pause in our response long enough to listen to another person.
- We are able to consider a range of alternative ways to manage a situation.
- We are able to consider the long-term effects of decisions. (For example, buying a new car may remove anxiety for the present. If the car cost more than what was reasonable for the budget, the long term complications could be: arguments with the spouse, late payments, staying with a unsatisfactory job, no access to a vacation, and many others.)
- We are able to stay thoughtful when encountering pressure to make decisions not in our best interests as time goes on. (Car ads and salesmen, friends who pressure others to join their destructive behavior, misleading commercials promising a free lunch.)
- We can put the needs of another ahead of calming our own anxiety. (When a teen begins driving, most parents experience anxiety, but that anxiety is mediated by the fact that driving an automobile enables more choices for the child and the parents.)
The above examples are only a few of the many behavioral indicators that the Thinking Guidance System is in charge, even if only a tiny bit.