©Arlene R. Taylor PhD    www.arlenetaylor.org

A penny saved is a penny earned.
—Benjamin Franklin

articles200408“I’m Marta,” the teenager said. “I need some tips, and I need them now!” A toss of her head sent her mane of hair flying. What must it be like to have that much hair, I wondered.

Aloud I asked, “What type of tips?”

“I get the natural brain phenomenon of downshifting,” she said. “I understand the concept. What’s more, I’ve decided half of my life has been spent in either second or first gear. I need some tips to help me upshift and stay there unless I really do fall into a pothole.”

“You’ve got the language under your belt,” I said laughing. “I’ll say that for you.”

“So how about some tips?” the girl repeated.

I looked at her more carefully. There was something I couldn’t put my finger on. She seemed just a tad too blithely persistent…

Marta noticed me watching her. “Actually,” she said, rather sheepishly, “I want to use this topic for my term English research paper, and I figured it would be smarter—and faster—to ask for your help. I promise I’ll use the tips for myself, too. Puleese!”

“Okay,” I agreed, laughing. “I’ve been asked to write an article outlining some upshifting strategies, so we’ll kill two proverbial birds with one stone.” Her sigh of relief could have been heard across town.

Strategies for Dealing with Personal Downshifting

1. Identify symptoms you tend to exhibit when downshifted

As the old saying goes, you can only get out of trap once you recognize you’re in one. This requires some honest thought. When downshifted, people often exhibit symptoms that include sighing, defending, stonewalling, arguing, crying, yelling, avoiding, pouting, whining, fighting, bullying, isolating, over-complying, over-conforming, breaking the rules to make a statement, jumping to conclusions, taking things personally, overreacting, and so on.

The last three symptoms are especially common. Think back to the last time you jumped to conclusions, took something personally, or overreacted. Metaphorically, replay the DVD in your brain. Watch when your behavior began to go south. Now back up the DVD and re-record yourself behaving in a more functional and desirable manner. Try to identify what memories or incident(s) from your past might have set you up to respond in that way. Take another look and resolve them insofar as it is possible to do so. Picturing yourself exhibiting higher levels of emotional intelligence (i.e., choosing behaviors that provide positive outcomes) can move you toward actually doing that.

2. Identify factors that have triggered past downshifting

Triggers vary for different brains and may include the following:

  • Trauma or crisis of any type
  • Illness, disease, or hospitalization
  • Over-work and fatigue
  • Perceived negative experiences
  • What others said to or about you
  • Lack of good self-care (e.g., nutrition, sleep, exercise, play)
  • Unrealistic expectations--yours or those of others around you
  • Slipping back into addictive behaviors

Once you have defined triggers for downshifting, you can be better prepared in the future when similar situations arise. Think of it as purchasing long-term insurance. Be alert and aware. Think ahead and avoid triggers whenever possible.

3. Identify patterns of behavior you tend to exhibit when downshifted

Differing from symptoms, patterns of behavior involve the persona you typically tend to adopt when downshifted. Do you become a victim and allow people to breech your boundaries and walk all over you?  Or do you become an offender, where you do that to others? Perhaps you flip back and forth between those two positions. Do you withdraw and isolate, becoming the proverbial poor-me martyr? Maybe you run away mentally and emotionally, if not physically. You might even have developed a unique pattern that combines several unhelpful and usually unattractive characteristics.

When do these patterns of behavior emerge: right away, the next day, a week later? How long do they typically last: a few moments, hours, days, several weeks? Or have they become an identity for a lifetime?

Remember that you can only manage what you label and describe. If you can’t figure it out on your own, ask a trusted friend or counselor for feedback.

4. Define what you need in order to feel safe

The process of upshifting relates to the brain’s perception of safety, just as downshifting relates to the brain’s perception of danger or fear. A perception of safety is different for different brains, although there are likely to be some common threads. Identify what you need in order to feel safe and take steps to obtain that for yourself. You may need to raise your level of emotional intelligence [EQ]. Develop competency in handling developmental tasks for your age. Think ahead and make choices that are safer for you.

Develop a metaphorical emergency kit filled with tools you can use when something unexpected happens, such as:

  • knowing how to ask for help,
  • drawing on what you’ve learned through past experience,
  • evaluating options for their potential risk and relative safety,
  • being willing to take action even if it isn’t popular (e.g., leaving a situation or environment if it seems unsafe to you),
  • knowing how to think on your feet, and
  • mentally picturing yourself in a safe place and visualizing a successful outcome.

5. Select two upshifting strategies and pre-plan to use them

The good news is that your brain is so complex and capable that you can implement a pre-planned strategy to upshift as soon as you are aware of being downshifted. Select at least two strategies that can be used in multiple situations. The possibilities are endless. Just pick two strategies and preplan to use them. Here are some suggestions. (Note: The ones I use are the first two.)

  • Think of something humorous and choose to laugh. (It is difficult to laugh mirthfully and be fearful at the same time.)
  • Think of something for which to be grateful. (It is physiologically impossible to be fearful and grateful at the same time.)
  • Engage in positive self-talk.
  • Sing, meditate, pray, recite a mantra.
  • Exercise (especially cross-lateral).
  • Access your support system.
  • Visualize yourself in a safe place.
  • Make a decision about something.
  • Engage in a task over which you have at least partial control

As you implement these five strategies, you will likely find that often you can prevent needless downshifting. Such a deal!

It’s one thing to learn to upshift quickly. It’s another to prevent even the need for upshifting. This reminds me of Ben Franklin’s old saying, A penny saved is a penny earned. To paraphrase, a downshift prevented is an upshift on tap.

Laughing, Marta snapped her iPad case shut. “Thanks a bunch. It was fun killing two proverbial birds with one stone, knowing they’re still alive and all. Good luck with your article.” Tossing her great mane over her shoulder (Amazing hair, that! Red, no less) she headed for the door, calling back, “I can do this you know—both my paper and my own upshifting work.”

No doubt she could and would.