A long time ago, I invested in a weekend with master coach Joseph McClendon, who told a story about infomercial guru Tony Robbins. Apparently, Robbins enjoys adventure outings with his friends, and took them all to a Fantasy Top Gun school. Each had a jet (and of course a co-pilot actually doing the real flying) and the idea was that they would dog-fight. Joe got into the air first, and before Robbins could get his own jet off the ground, Joe dive-bombed him and strafed him into oblivion.
“Why did you do that?” I asked.
“Kill the monster while it’s small” he replied.
I loved that.
A lot of our negative behaviors have threshold points. At one point, we can control the urge, and at another, the urge is in control: the anger, fear, hunger, whatever, has us in its grip. Or…our financial problems have yet to spiral out of control. Or the relationship rift is still small enough to yield to honest inquiry. And then the point comes when we are rageaholics, or scarfing down that Haagan-Daaz quart, or stealing, or beating the hell out of someone, or binge drinking. If you can break the pattern BEFORE you reach this point, you can maintain control, and possibly even change a habit.
But you must “kill the monster while it is small.”
I’d noticed that before Jason has what we call a “brain fart”–losing control, screaming, throwing things, disobeying etc.–he will make nonsense sounds, distort his posture or move without coordination, make small defiant gestures, and display unreasonable irritation with small things.
You can control your emotions if you control:
Your internal monologue
Your physical movement.
One of the strengths of the “Five Minute Miracle” is that it forces you to “check in” on these three things during the day. You will eventually begin to check in automatically: what am I thinking? What’s my focus? What is my posture and expression? How am I breathing?
Just noticing these things and knowing what focus, thoughts, posture and breath patterns are optimal, and realizing you can make conscious decisions that affect how you feel and therefore how you perform, is an incredibly powerful thing.
But could I give this to Jason? I decided to teach him the concept: “Kill the monster while its small.” To point out to him the precursive behaviors that lead to an eruption. Breathing. Voice. Posture. Movement. Ask him what’s going on inside him. Before he gets upset, are there internal sounds? Images? Muscle tensions? What happens?
After he comes “down” from a tantrum, ask him to describe what was happening inside him. Did it have color? Weight? Sound? Motion? Temperature? Taste? Smell? Texture?
A headache thus addressed can often be eliminated (just rotate through the submodalities again and again. Every time you do, you’ll notice the pain diminishing). Could it work for something like a “brainfart”? I don’t know. Worth a try, though.
THE MORNING RITUAL
Jason comes into my office in the morning, every school day. Stands against the wall with his hands at his sides and waits for me to acknowledge him. When I do he bows. Then he comes and sits in my lap, and we hug.
The next phase has always been breathing–count from one to ten, breathing slowly. I would hold his hands and watch his eyes, and if his eyes left mine, I squeeze his hand to remind him to get back on point. A couple of years ago he couldn’t meet my gaze, and now he likes staring contests.
But recently, he has wanted to do headstands in the morning. Hmmm…breath counting while standing on his head? Does that give me feedback about his focus? You bet. And headstands are a “royal” exercise for scholars, writers, etc., a yogic balm with vast respect. I decided to let him do it, using fingertip pressure to guide his balance. In a few seconds I can get an excellent fast-and-dirty measure of his health, focus, balance, emotional state and more just by how he does this one exercise, as well as putting him on a path that can lead to real internal control. I like that.
After he comes down (20-60 seconds or so) we sit cross-legged and hold hands. I ask him:
“What is your job?”
“To be good”
“Were you good yesterday” (if not, what went wrong?)
“What are the laws?”
(And here he recites Musashi’s Nine Principles. If he had a problem the previous day, it is almost always relatable to one of those principles)
“What are the rules?’
(And here he goes down a list of behavioral rules we’ve evolved to cover problems at school. These can shift a bit if he masters one)
“What are your goals?”
(And here he has had two goals, including enjoying reading. I ask if he accomplished them the day before. If not, what went wrong? If so, great!)
And here I added a new one: “Kill the monster while it’s small.”
This has only been a part of his routine for a couple of weeks. Every time he’s had a blow-up I’ve asked him about the precursive sensations, sounds, movements, and thoughts.
We recently changed his after-school routine so that he has to do his reading BEFORE he playstations or goes to the skate park. He hates that, but I’ve held my ground.
He gets to take 60-90 minutes off after school before reading, and had some REAL problems with not being allowed to do his favorite things during that time. Three days ago he got VERY angry, defiant, stormed off up to his “boy cave” stomping his feet. It looked bad.
Fifteen minutes later I went up to check on him, and he was looking at Ipad videoes. Looked up at me kind of sheepishly, and quietly said: “I killed the monster while it was small.”
Moments like that make this whole “Dad” thing soooooo much more fun.
(p.s.–what “monsters” do you have in your own life? How can you “kill them while they are small”? Can you think of ways this applies to larger life or social issues?)