From confusion to clarity

One of the central premises of the transformative approach to mediation is that people in conflict feel themselves to be confused, weak, dissatisfied with what they are like in conflict, and self-absorbed and disconnected from the other party.  A transformative mediator intervenes in the mediation conversation when she has identified opportunities for one or the other parties to make the shift from confusion to clarity or strength of self, from self-absorption to connectedness or recognition of the other.  The shifts  from weakness to strength (and back again), from self-absorption to recognition (and back again) are natural moments in the conversation that the trained transformative mediator supports.  But before such shifts can be supported, it may be necessary to intervene to support a party’s awareness of their sense of confusion and self-absorption.

When not in interaction, there are also opportunities for an individual to move from confusion to clarity of purpose.  Stephanie West Allen and Jeffrey Schwartz write:

Sometimes we become distracted from the direction in which we want to be going.  Our purpose may become clouded by anger, annoyance, confusion, jealousy, fear, or other feelings that knock us off balance and take us off the path.  Brain research has provided a handy way to deal with the distraction.

We label the feeling, saying in our mind or, if appropriate, aloud, statements such as “I am angry” or “I am nervous.”  When we make statements like this, that part of the brain feeling the distracting emotion is calmed.  We can then return to clarity and purpose.  The neuroscience literature calls this “labeling the affect.”

Sometimes in the heat of the moment this labeling is not easy to do. One way to make it easier is to practice it throughout the day when you are not feeling distracted.  You can practice by labeling behaviors as well as feelings.  Here’s how.

During the day make mental notes such as “I am eating,” or “I am pleased,” or “I am thinking about the deposition.”  If you practice daily, your skill in mental note taking will grow and you will be able to engage in it, no matter what is happening.  By labeling the affect, by taking mental notes, a self-leader can become calm in the middle of a storm.

Neuroscience is proving what many leaders, athletes, actors, and other exceptional performers have always known instinctively, or have been able to learn through trial and error.  Because we now know much about how the brain works, we all have access to these tactics and strategies. Today, each and every one of us can excel at self-leadership, that first, all-important step in becoming a great leader.

I am struck by the similarity between the “labeling the affect” of the neuroscience literature and the “mental noting” exercise in the Eastern practice of mindfulness.

One should practice by constantly noting or observing every act of seeing, hearing, etc., which are the constituent physical and mental processes … the wrong view of self.

In this respect, the exercise is simply to note or observe the existing elements in every act of seeing. It should be noted as “seeing, seeing” on every occasion of seeing. By the terms “note” or “observe” or “contemplate” is meant the act of keeping the mind fixedly on the object with a view to knowing it clearly.

I shouldn’t be surprised because Schwartz’s The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force has references to the Eastern notion of “bare attention”.

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