It is probably clear that silence and violence, along with all the defensive reactions that come out of them, are not helpful to interpersonal communication. But how is it that we get hooked into such bad communication habits?
Path to Action
The path to action is a neurological reality for every single human being. It’s just the way God created us. It’s how we internalize information from outside our body, process it to make decisions, and take action. There are four (4) components to it: 1) FACTS, 2) STORY, 3) FEELINGS, 4) ACTIONS.
Facts represent the sensory data input part of our brain. It is all the information that we bring into our brain about the outside world through our five senses. Everything that we see, hear, taste, touch, smell comes into our brain at this stage. For the purpose of interpersonal communication, it’s usually the things we see and hear that are of the greatest significance. Though I suppose at times the things we smell might be a source of conflict.
At this phase in the process all the information is just data; it has no real meaning or significance to us. It’s like hearing a language foreign to us. It has meaning, but it just sounds like squirrel gibberish to our ears.
In the story phase is where the data our brain has collected takes on meaning. It’s the meaning making stage. Noises go from vibrations in the air, like the ice machine in the freezer dropping cubes, to words and sentences being spoken to us. It’s here that our brain tells a story about the data that gives meaning to it for us.
In the story phase we not only deduce what the data is, but why it is. Not only what was said, but why the person said it. Not only what they did but what their intent was for doing it.
The meaning making part of our brain puts together a story representing its best guess at what the data means. It builds the story based on all our previous life experiences. Depending on how reliable/truthful our previous life experiences are effects significantly how reliable the stories we are inclined to tell are. We’ll discuss later how the wounds of our heart influence the stories we tell or the “lens” through which we interpret situations.
What is important to recognize at this point is that there are an infinite number of stories that could be told for any set of facts our brain takes in. Our brain formulates its best guess, without conscious thought on our part, and runs with that story automatically. This is very helpful in most situations. If we had to stop and consciously think about what to do with or how to interpret every single element of sensory data our brain took in, our entire day would be spent just labeling and interpreting data.
Our brain’s best guess and initial interpretation of a situation is not always completely accurate. It is, however, what our brain passes along to our glands as instructions for creating emotional experience.
Emotions are very mechanical. We don’t usually think of feelings as mechanical. We think of them as fluffy, ethereal, or metaphysical things floating around with little or no rhyme or reason to them. In fact, they are the product of our glands and have a physical, chemical existence in our body. Glands only do two things: 1) make hormones, 2) release hormones into the blood stream, it’s very mechanical.
There is not a happy pollen floating on the breeze, resulting in our elation when the count is high. No “Sad Lotion” exists to bring down our mood if rubbed onto our skin. Despite popular belief, people do not carry around blow darts full of angry juice that we get struck with, forcing us to get angry.
Our emotions are the result of our hormones being released into our blood stream, from our glands, under instruction from our brains.
THIS IS GREAT NEWS! Since our emotions are the product of our own body, we can exert great influence over them. The key is to understand the stories that are giving instructions to our glands. There is no way to change what is we are feeling without changing the story that is creating the emotion.
Our emotions are great sources of information God has given us to inform our lives. Understanding them gives us insight into the unconscious story our brain is telling about our current situation, enabling us to make decisions about how to respond, instead of just reacting.
The actions (or reactions) phase is the behavior that flows from the previous stages. It’s what we do as a result of the data, story, and feelings. All four stages align. That is, our actions flow from our feelings, which are generated by our stories. If we are to understand our behavior, or that of others, we have to learn to be curious about the path to action that lies behind it.
Remember the story phase? That stage in the processing of data where our brain gives meaning to the sensory data, like what we see and hear, from outside our body. Where do you think our brain gets the information it uses to make its determination on how to interpret a situation?
Our life experience is the basis for all our brain’s learning. The compilation of all our life experiences is what our brain draws from to interpret our present experiences. These experiences, good, bad, or ugly, shape the lenses through which we see ourself, others, and the world around us.