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  • What is Wise Mind?

    Have you ever looked back on a moment from your past and thought, “why on earth did I do that?”

    Maybe you blew up in a flash of emotional intensity, crying, screaming, and saying things you later realized you didn’t mean.

    Maybe you made a decision that didn’t really turn out for the best, even though it seemed pretty reasonable at the time. 

    We’ve all had moments where one part of ourselves, be it the emotional part or the logical part got really, really loud, and didn’t really leave room to consider all parts of a situation. The reason our minds do this is very similar to that which leads to our fight-or-flight response- our brain thinks we’re in imminent danger and places all of its focus on the part of us that it thinks will be the most effective in getting us out of trouble. Our brain says, “there’s no time to consider all elements of this complex situation- we need to act right now in extreme fashion!”

    According to Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (a favorite modality here at Wellspring), we all have both a “Reasonable Mind” and an “Emotional Mind.” These are the two extreme parts that can take over a situation to try and protect us from harm. Reasonable Mind says, “this situation is obviously black and white and there is only one right way to go about this.” Emotional mind says, “this emotion is the most important part of this situation! Nothing else can happen until I express or act on this emotion!”

    Rathus and Miller, authors of the DBT Skills Manual for Adolescents, put it like this: “Emotional Mind is when your emotion consumes you. It takes over and it’s hard to think rationally about consequences… Reasonable Mind is when you are acting or thinking about something without emotions present or without taking your feelings into account. It may involve problem solving, thinking logically, planning, or thinking about consequences.”

    Unfortunately, both of these minds can leave out some key components of making a sound and effective decision. Emotional Mind needs Reasonable Mind in order to consider long-term consequences, and Reasonable Mind needs Emotional Mind in order to make decisions that are in line with one’s own values and contribute to the beauty of our lives. 

    Enter Wise Mind. Wise Mind is the intersection of Emotional Mind and Reasonable Mind where we can operate using the best that both minds have to offer in order to make optimally effective decisions. It’s where our gut feelings and intuition are also backed by the facts of a situation, such that we can confidently walk in the direction that both minds are leading us towards. Using Wise Mind doesn’t remove our strong emotions, or make tough decisions easy as pie, but it does allow us to navigate complex situations (and thus, most of life) from a grounded and thoughtful stance, and make more decisions we can feel good about for a long time.

    For many of us, it can be hard to see the benefits of the side of the mind which we are less prone to gravitate towards. It may not make much sense to a highly logical person to incorporate emotions into decision-making in a meaningful way. Alternatively, a highly emotional person may be flabbergasted by the prospect of not allowing their emotions to take the highest precedence as they respond to life’s situations. 

    It can be very challenging to break out of extreme patterns of thinking, especially when our brains have come to trust them as a reliable protector during times of crisis. Indeed, if our emotional mind or our reasonable mind have either powerfully or consistently gotten us out of dangerous or uncomfortable situations in one way or another, it will almost always become our tendency to use it when the next crisis arises. Our brains, the quick-thinking, fast-acting survival machines that they are, love to have a “go-to” framework to reduce our suffering as much as possible.

    Sadly, if our brains begin to rely on these extreme parts too much, we can miss out on incredible benefits the other side of our mind has to offer. When Reasonable Mind forces our hand to exclusively choose what makes “the most sense”, we may miss out on what we deeply desire and end up bored or miserable. When Emotional Mind leads the way, we can make big decisions that make very little sense and have negative long-term consequences ranging from inconvenient to devastating.

    Even if you agree that using Wise Mind over Emotional Mind and Reasonable Mind is the best way to live life, it can sometimes be very difficult to access, especially because the two extreme minds are so quick to act. However, using Wise Mind is a skill accessible to all of us and can be practiced and honed over time. One of the keys to accessing Wise Mind frequently and successfully is Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the state of being aware of what is happening inside and around you, both internally and externally. This can include being aware of your emotions and thoughts, as well as bodily sensations, and what your senses are noticing about the world around you.

    If you are new to Mindfulness, there is a wealth of resources available, especially as this key skill increases in popularity. (Here’s a website full of skills if you want to dive in.) In short, the building blocks of mindfulness are to observe, describe, and participate. This looks like taking a moment to notice what you sense inside and out, put some words to what you are experiencing, and then intentionally engage with the experience as it continues to happen. Ideally, mindfulness is enacted from a non-judgmental stance, not identifying your experiences as good or bad in essence or in meaning, but simply a fact of the present moment. We will be diving deeper into mindfulness in a future blog post, but you can engage mindfulness at any moment simply by slowing down and becoming aware of the present moment.

    Mindfulness is key to engaging Wise Mind, because ideally, you will become aware as to whether you are slipping into Emotional Mind or Reasonable Mind, as well as fully notice when you are embodying the calm, collected clarity in which Wise Mind is rooted. Calmly becoming aware of your emotions and body sensations allow for the very best of Emotional Mind to make its way into your decision-making, and noticing your thoughts with a commitment to objectively observing opens the doors to using Reasonable Mind in a healthy way. 

    Remember, mindfulness and accessing Wise Mind are skills that are inherent to all, but also challenging to hone. If noticing your inner workings and your surroundings seems difficult right now, know that practice definitely makes perfect and that these skills are not impossible for anyone. Reach out if you are interested in learning more about Wise Mind and Mindfulness for healthy living through individual or group therapy for adults and adolescents. We would love to accompany you on your journey of growth.