A useful mindfulness technique lets you slow down time when you're frustrated at work

You know that special effect in movies where time stops and the main character is the only one talking, thinking, and moving in a room full of people?

It would be a helpful thing to have in real life, so that every time you were dealing with a challenging situation, you could press “pause” and have the space to figure it out.

SBNRR‘ is kind of like that. Time doesn’t really stop (sorry), but the technique does give you the chances to recognise what you’re feeling and figure out what do with those emotions, instead of acting on impulse.

The acronym stands for Stop, Breathe, Notice, Reflect, Respond. I learned about the technique at Search Inside Yourself (SIY), a mindfulness program developed at Google that’s now offered publicly across the globe.

The idea is to handle your emotions mindfully. So you’re not changing your emotions per se, but your relationship to them.

Here’s an example of how SBNRR might work in real life, taken from the SIY program I attended:

Say you’re in a meeting and a coworker tells you that you did something wrong. As soon as you realise you’ve been triggered, stop. Don’t say or do anything just yet. Take a deep breath.

Now, notice your reaction: Are you angry? Defensive? Ashamed? Notice, too, the physiology linked to your reaction: Are you feeling weak? Nauseated?

Use that information to reflect on the underlying emotions. Maybe you’re doubting yourself, or maybe you feel vulnerable.

Finally, consider some possible ways to respond and choose the one that seems most productive.

This process might seem like it lasts several minutes — time that no one has when they’re in the middle of a meeting. One of the SIY instructors, Robert Chender, explained that this process gets easier and quicker the more you practice it, so that eventually, it’s automatic and takes no time at all.

One way to practice is to run through the SBNRR process in your head, using a challenging situation that you recently experienced, at work or at home.

The idea, Chender said, is to notice how you usually react to triggers and to realise that you don’t have to give into that pattern. SBNRR is about taking a mental step back and considering alternative ways to act on your emotions.

SBNRR is not about avoiding, denying, or suppressing your emotions, Chender said. Honour your feelings, but don’t react to them.

It’s not an easy skill to develop. But by practicing in your own head, you can internalize it, so that your behaviour lines up better with your values, and with the person you’d like to be.

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