July 20, 2009

Your WTF Moment

All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses. — Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s called the WTF moment.

It occurs when an event or situation leaves you incredulous. It’s as if your brain dropped into the cosmic blender and someone pressed the button marked “puree.” You blink in disbelief or shock, and out come the magic words:

“What the ….?”

Insert your own f-word here.

We get lots of WTF moments in life. Some are small, such as when the handle breaks off the frying pan. Some are big, such as when your boss hands you a pink slip with your name on it. Others fall somewhere in between: The belligerent chap in a meeting calling someone’s idea stupid, for example, or the teenager’s attempt at explaining why he or she has arrived home at 5:30am — without the car.

The WTF moment is a moment of confusion. It is the optimal learning state, because in that moment you don’t know what you don’t know. You have no preconceptions. You are open to new experience.

And it all starts with the body.

Neurological research tells us that physical sensations precede thought itself. Yes, no matter how fast you believe your mind works, your body outruns it every time.

Mull that over for a moment.

Think about the last time you were put on the spot by someone, or were caught in a little white lie. Here’s the sequence of events:

  • You’re put on the spot.
  • Your heart rate increases.
  • Your eyes blink.
  • Your face flushes.
  • Your belly or neck tenses.
  • You start perspiring.

WTF?

Yes. The body senses the situational context before thought can make sense of it. Your body is telling you to pay attention to the signals its giving. If the situation also happens to trigger the muscle memories associated, say, with physical or emotional abuse, you’re likely to find your mind locked into an anxiety loop.

What the body is doing, though, is simply bringing you into the moment.

Our tendency is to interpret physical responses in light of past experiences. We humans love our thinking. We create explanations for physical sensations and replay those explanations whenever the physical sensations occur.

WTF?

The opportunity of the WTF moment lies in our ability to observe physical sensations in light of the present context and choose to learn what it has to teach us right NOW. Becoming aware of the opportunity is critical to recovery from such conditions as anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Observing the physical state, tuning into the body radar, is the key. The level of awareness a master of martial arts uses to fend off a surprise attack is the same level of awareness you need to shift your perspective and overcome thinking habits that lock you into repeating trances and falling into mental stagnation.

The first step is to learn to treat physical sensations as your personal radar system. Use the confusion of the WTF moment as a cue to check in with your physical self. Feel the wisdom of your body, and watch your level of mental clarity and acuity increase.

Above all, learn to use the WTF moment to identify habits of mind that lock you into states of anxiety or depression.

WTF? It’s the ultimate freedom.

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