A coaching client of mine came in hurt and angry from a phone conversation she had with her sister. She felt upset at the end of the conversation right before the two hung up. But she didn’t understand why what her sister said made her so emotional and left her “feeling some type of way.” On the surface the conversation was fairly innocuous yet, it triggered my client deeply. So much so that it was difficult for her to even get through explaining what happened. I instructed her in one of my mindful breathing techniques to help her get and keep her emotions in check during the session and simultaneously help to pinpoint what I call the micro-thought that triggered the emotional response.
First, I had my client establish a breathing rhythm. Once established, I instructed her to walk me through the conversation with her sister from start to finish and maintain the rhythm the whole time. If she lost the rhythm at any time, she was to stop immediately–even in the middle of a word, restablish the rhythm, and then continue. There were a few stops during the retelling of the conversation. But one was particularly revealing. In that moment there was a palpable tension in the room — just like when you walk in after two people have argued and you can sense a problem, even though you didn’t see or hear what happened in the moments before.
Although my client’s hurt feelings didn’t register until the end of the phone call with her sister, the micro-thought that triggered the emotion occurred much earlier in the conversation. It was this delay that contributed to the disconnect and apparent disparity between thought, emotion and what was happening in the moment. Once we were able to pinpoint the source, we were able to focus on the right thing and bring it to resolution. That’s the value of this technique as compared to what most people normally do, which is to take a breath after the fact. As a coach or counselor, using this technique with a client or in a couple’s or group session can help you get to the real issue faster and make it easier for them to “go there” and get through it with their emotions in check.