Step 1: Relabel
Whereas simple, everyday awareness is almost automatic and usually quite superficial, mindful awareness is deeper and more precise and is achieved only through focused effort.
It requires the conscious recognition and mental registration of the difficult and unproductive learned behavior.One must make the effort to manage the intense biologically mediated thoughts from habituated behaviors and urges that intrude so insistently into consciousness. This means expending the necessary effort to maintain your awareness of what we call the Impartial Spectator, the observing power within us that gives each person the capacity to recognize what’s real and what’s just a symptom and to fend off the habituated pathological urge until it begins to fade and recede.
Sankofa in this instance would mean coming to the denouement of peace after the storm; after an extreme emotional wave of instinctual and habitual outburst, a place of zen based on the surroundings of unconditional acceptance (e.g. a room without tables, with mood lighting, piped in music etc) would assist in allowing the consciousness to reconnect with the Pre-frontal cortex in preparation for reattribution.
During extreme emotional acting out or outbursts, it is IMPORTANT to remember that LESS is MORE: less words, less analysis of the behavior, less attention to the outburst itself and instead a redirection to the place associated with calming down that is not judgmental or punitive is a faster and more effective solution to training social-emotional control.
Step 2: Reattribute (Sankofa)
The goal is to learn to Reattribute the intensity of the thought or urge to its real cause, to recognize that the feeling and the discomfort are due to a biochemical imbalance in the brain. Acknowledging it as such is the first step toward developing a deeper understanding that these symptoms are not what they seem to be. You learn not to take them at face value.
Deep inside the brain lies a structure called the caudate nucleus. Scientists worldwide have studied this structure and believe that, in people with extreme repetitive negative and potentially compulsive behavior, the caudate nucleus may be malfunctioning. Think of the caudate nucleus as a processing center or filtering station for the very complicated messages generated by the front part of the brain, which is probably the part used in thinking, planning, and understanding. Together with its sister structure, the putamen, which lies next to it, the caudate nucleus functions like an automatic transmission in a car.
The caudate nucleus and the putamen, which together are called the striatum, take in messages from very complicated parts of the brain–those that control body movement, physical feelings, and the thinking and planning that involve those movements and feelings. They function in unison like an automatic transmission, assuring the smooth transition from one behavior to another. Typically, when anyone decides to make a movement, intruding movements and misdirected feelings are filtered out automatically so that the desired movement can be performed rapidly and efficiently. There is a quick, smooth shifting of gears.
Using the Reattribute step will also help you to avoid performing rituals in a vain attempt to “get the right feeling” (for example, a sense of “evenness or zen” or a sense of completion). Knowing that the urge to get that “right feeling” is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the brain, you can learn to ignore the urge and move on. By refusing to listen to the urge or to act on it, you will actually change your brain and make the feeling lessen. If you take the urge at face value and act on it, you may get momentary relief but within a very short time the urge will just get more intense.
This is the next step after the calming down occurs; right after the person is able to reconnect his or her consciousness to the Social Emotional Strand of the Pre-Frontal Cortex, initial Insight can be drawn from the instinctual habitual negative behavior in a language that the person can both understand and draw meaning from. For example, if words are not coming yet for the person to express reattribution, pictures and colors may be utilized instead as initial representation of insight for instantaneous expression of the negative behavior effect into the positive, acceptable Executive Functioning expectations and responsibilities related to the Leadership index. However a word of caution: this has to be naturally occurring as this state is highly suggestible. Students and/or Adults alike right after the Relabeling state can be inadvertently scripted by others during this time about the conclusions they make on how to Reattribute behavior. Options on how they would like to express this are the only language we can utilize; we cannot and SHOULD NOT offer them scripted solutions (e.g. You did that behavior because of your need for attentions) because true insight will not then be developed and the negative behavior will be cycled once again.
Step 3: Refocus (D’Jed)
In Refocusing, you have work to do: You must shift the gears yourself. With effort and focused mindfulness, you are going to do what the caudate nucleus normally does easily and automatically, which is to let you know when to switch to another behavior.
Early on, you may choose some specific behavior to replace compulsive acting out or increased outbursts without provocation, or is in other words habitual due to an emotional or social pay off. Any constructive, pleasant behavior will do. Hobbies are particularly good. For example, you may decide to take a walk, exercise, listen to music, read, play a computer game, knit, or shoot a basketball.
The Fifteen-Minute Rule
This is what can be discussed when in D’Jed, when ultimate calm has been achieved and there is complete openness and unconditional acceptance of the person in LANGUAGE rather than symbolic terms.
Refocusing isn’t easy. It would be dishonest to say that substituting the thoughts and urges and moving on does not take significant effort and even tolerance of some pain. The idea is to delay your response to an obsessive thought or to your urge to perform a compulsive behavior by letting some time elapse–preferably at least fifteen minutes–before you even consider acting on the learned negative behavior that has obviously been defaulted for more than 36 times to become a cyclical habit.
In the beginning or whenever the urges are very intense, you may need to set a shorter waiting time, say five minutes, as your goal. But the principle is always the same:
Try suggesting to yourself to perform the negative behavior without some time delay. Remember, this is not a passive waiting period. It is a time to perform actively the Relabeling, Reattributing, and Refocusing steps. You should have mindful awareness that you are Relabeling those uncomfortable feelings as flight-fight and Reattributing them to a biochemical imbalance in the brain. These feelings are caused by learned negative behavior; they are not what they seem to be. They are faulty messages coming from the brain.
Then you must do another behavior~any pleasant, constructive behavior will do. After the set period has lapsed, reassess the urge. Ask yourself if there’s been any change in intensity and make note of any change. Even the smallest decrease may give you the courage to wait longer. You will be learning that the longer you wait, the more the urge will change. The goal will always be fifteen minutes or more. As you keep practicing, the same amount of effort will result in a greater decrease in intensity. So, in general, the more you practice the fifteen-minute rule, the easier it gets. Before long, you may make it twenty minutes or thirty minutes or more.
Step 4: Revalue (D’Jed)
You can think of the Relabel and Reattribute steps as a team effort, working together with the Refocusing step. The combined effect of these three steps is much greater than the sum of their individual parts. The process of Relabeling and Reattributing intensifies the learning that takes place during the hard work of Refocusing. As a result, you begin to Revalue those thoughts and urges that, before intervention, would invariably lead you to perform non EF behaviors.
We have used the concept of the “Impartial Spectator,” developed by 18th-century philosopher Adam
Smith, to help you understand more clearly what you are actually achieving while performing the Four Steps of cognitive biobehavioral therapy.
Smith described the Impartial Spectator as being like a person inside us who we carry around at all times, a person aware of all our feelings, states, and circumstances. Once we make the effort to strengthen the Impartial Spectator’s perspective, we can call up our own Impartial Spectator at any time and literally watch ourselves in action. In other words, we can witness our own actions and feelings as someone not involved would, as a disinterested observer. As Smith described it, “We suppose ourselves the spectators of our own behavior.” He understood that keeping the perspective of the Impartial Spectator clearly in mind, which is essentially the same as using mindful awareness, is hard work, especially under painful circumstances, and requires the “utmost and most fatiguing exertions.”.
The hard work of which he wrote seems closely related to the intense efforts one must make in performing the Four Steps. And with the demarcation between the period of Sankofa crossing over to the period of D’Jed, we need to always remember that we can only teach by guidance before discussing Insight through language.