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  • Writer's picturePiper Harris

Cultivating Receptivity: A Journey Inward




Finding Balance Between Reactivity and Receptivity for Greater Mental Health


Ever been in one of those moments where you find yourself reacting instantly—perhaps even emotionally—to situations? In the realm of psychology, these split-second reactions to stimuli have a name: reactivity. It's a phenomenon that's both instinctual and learned over the course of our lives, stitched into the fabric of our personal history and the very wiring of our brains.

Reacting to life is inherent to our survival, and it's not something we're seeking to eradicate entirely but to manage effectively. So, if reactivity is one side of the coin, then what about the other side? That is what we call receptivity.


Receptivity is about being open, accepting, and understanding what is unfolding around us. It's about welcoming our emotions, thoughts, and experiences without judgment and finding avenues for growth within these challenging moments. Reactivity and receptivity are not at odds with each other, but balancing the two can feel like an inner tug-of-war. It's in this balance where the essence of emotional resilience lies, and counseling can guide us toward this rewarding equilibrium.


Engaging receptivity involves three key steps: awareness, open-mindedness, and reflection.


Awareness:


Amidst the everyday chaos and noise, being fully present with your thoughts and emotions can often feel like an uphill battle. However, the practice of cultivating awareness—a cornerstone in managing mental health—offers us a way to navigate these shadowy and complex inner landscapes better.


Distinguished psychiatrist and renowned author Dr. Daniel Siegel provides significant research on awareness and its intricate connection with specific regions of the brain. Drawing upon these valuable insights, we can explore what awareness truly entails and how to wield it effectively.


Awareness is about being fully immersed in the present moment, undistracted by past regrets or future anxieties. It presents an opportunity to observe our thoughts and emotions, acknowledging their ebb and flow without yielding to impulsivity. This might seem like a herculean task at first—after all, our brains are wired to respond swiftly to environmental cues.


But do not despair! With well-researched practices like meditation or mindfulness exercises, we can gently guide our minds toward a quieter, calmer state.


According to Dr. Siegel, enhancing awareness directly influences the prefrontal cortex -- a pivotal section of the brain responsible for higher cognitive functions like decision-making, impulse control, and emotional regulation. He suggests that when we cultivate awareness, we essentially exercise this part of the brain. As we quiet the mind through mindfulness exercises, we can claim a space—free from judgment and instinctual reactions—to sit with our thoughts and feelings.


Simultaneously, these mindful practices foster greater neural integration, which Dr. Siegel defines as the linkage of different elements of the brain. This integration allows brain regions responsible for logical thinking and emotional sensitivity to communicate more effectively, fostering balance, empathy, and adaptability—qualities necessary to manage life’s adversities successfully.


Open-mindedness:


In our rapidly evolving world, we are crucially awakening to the significance of open-mindedness. It may seem like a modern mantra for adaptability, yet this virtue has deep roots intertwined with the wisdom of ancient philosophy, emerging as timeless and ever-important.

Open-mindedness resonates in Jordan B. Peterson's thoughts, asserting that this attribute is an essential layer of receptivity. More than just a willingness to accept various perspectives, it's the potent ability to empathize with others' experiences and navigate multiple paths of reasoning. It hints at intellectual curiosity and growth while fostering deepened understanding and emotional resilience.


Peterson helps illuminate this pursuit that lies within us—it is not a demand we make on others but a journey toward our self-growth. It is a call to remain inquisitive, challenge our assumptions, and cultivate flexibility amidst life's challenges. Encouraging this mindset enables us to imbibe the wisdom of diverse experiences and amplify our resilience in navigating an ever-fluid world. This process, however, is not devoid of rooted beliefs and values that govern life. It simply allows for learning and the greatest depth of understanding.


Through fostering open-mindedness, our minds evolve to become more receptive to new ideas, thought processes, and philosophies life presents. This receptivity expands our worldview and lifts our mental well-being as we learn to relinquish rigid interpretations and embrace fluctuating circumstances.


Embarking on the path of cultivating open-mindedness is a blend of perseverance and self-compassion. Even if we stumble or face setbacks, each step forward moves us closer to our goals and paves the way for positive change in our lives and the world at large.


Reflection:


As we journey through the landscape of personal growth and self-awareness, we eventually arrive at the oasis of 'Reflection.' This crucial stage beckons us to pause, immerse ourselves in introspection, and engage compassionately with our thoughts and emotions.


Renowned psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his insightful book Thinking, Fast and Slow, highlights two distinct systems our brains employ when processing information. System 1, which is fast, intuitive, and emotional, and System 2, which is slow, deliberative, and logical. Reflection falls within the realm of System 2, helping us to cultivate deeper understanding and facilitating purposeful, meaningful growth.


Engaging in self-reflection enables us to analyze our thoughts and emotions through a non-judgmental, embracing lens. It allows us to slow down, giving System 2 the space it needs for deliberative thinking, thereby enriching our overall learning process.


Moreover, as noted in Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit, habits - both good and bad - are shaped by loops that consist of a cue, routine, and reward. Regular reflection helps us identify these cues and routines and transform the subsequent outcome, moving us toward more positive, productive habits.


Practical approaches, such as journaling or open conversations with a supportive friend, can significantly boost the reflective process. Above all, a secure therapeutic setting presents an ideal environment for exploring reflections, where empathetic guidance aids in unraveling the layers of subconscious thoughts and emotions.


Journey Inward and Forward


The path toward developing receptivity takes time, practice, and patience. It's important to hold space for yourself during this journey—knowing that, with each step, you are embracing change and growth. The benefits of cultivating receptivity are vast. As you grow more in tune with your emotions and become more accepting, you'll find your reactivity slowing down, helping reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, even grief.



 




Uncertain where to start? Remember, you don't need to traverse this path alone. As part of Untangled Mind's commitment to your mental health and well-being, I offer support, compassion, and expertise in therapeutic methods grounded on science, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Together, we can work towards balancing your unique mix of reactivity and receptivity—and unlock the transformative power of therapy, one step at a time.




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