Do you want to make better decisions and respond appropriately in more situations? Then this Elizabeth Stanley’s book, “Widen the Window,” is for you. It is a weapon you need in your arsenal.
This is a 400-page book so to pick one idea is pretty much impossible. So I won’t do that. I am going to give you the basics.
Stanley asks that you read the first part of the book before reading her “solutions.” This makes sense because you need to be motivated to use what she suggests. She developed a course called MMFT or for short M-Fit and the book is mostly about the scientific and intellectual concepts that undergird this course. With that in mind, let’s continue.
She says that her “…window of tolerance to stress arousal was adaptively wired in response to my early social environment. It was narrowed during exposure to prolonged stress and trauma without adequate recovery.” Stanley had a tough childhood and then had more difficult times in the military which she discusses in the book.
We have two brains. The survival brain and the thinking brain is what Stanley calls them. They usually fight. It is not good when they fight with each other. The “thinking brain” engages in top-down processing which includes cognitive responses to things. It memorizes and learns stuff. Got it? The “survival brain” is “bottom-up processing.” “One of the survival brain’s most important functions is neuroception, an unconscious process of rapidly scanning the internal and external environment for opportunities/safety/pleasure and threats/danger/pain.” Its memory and learning system is “implicit.”
One of her main coping strategies was “suck it up and move on.” Some people have addictions or adrenaline-seeking behavior, disordered eating and a whole host of other things like isolation. She says these dynamics affect all of us and …they’re shared by anyone who fails to recalibrate their mind-body system after a distressing or traumatic event, such as a flood, car accident, or loss of a job or loved one. They are also shared by anyone who habitually over tenses their mind-body system during prolonged stress without adequate recovery, such as crashing to meet a deadline or working long hours over an extended period without some days off.”
Our childhood affects how wide our window is and works as a negative stressor as an adult. Even in daily life. She cautions that “By understanding how stress and trauma are a continuum, we can see how we might devalue things that are extremely stressful for the survival brain but “not that bad” to the thinking brain.” But, “…the survival brain believes the traumatic event was never complete.”
You might have a mind-body system that unconsciously craves a crisis. That’s not good
There is a lot more basic knowledge, but this gives you a decent look.
Stanley wants us “to use our biology in a new way. By systematically training our attention, we can widen the window within which our thinking brain and survival brain work together cooperatively.”
She gives us two exercises to do. The first one, called the “Contact Point Exercise,” involves sitting in a chair and getting a sense of how it feels, how it supports your body and then you notice all the contact points of the chair with your body. You scan your body for tightness or tension. See if the tension shifts. Then you bring the sensation back to physical contact with the chair and she says to pay attention to three areas: 1) between your legs, butt, and lower back and the chair; 2) between your feet and the ground and 3) where your hands are touching your legs or each other. Then pick one point where you feel most contact. Then direct and sustain your attention at that point. Just like meditation, if your attention wonders ring it back. Then after 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes notice your whole body and notice if anything has changed. Higher energy? Less or more tension? That’s the first exercise in a nutshell.
The second exercise she calls “Grounding and Release,” which is a lot like the first. Get yourself into a chair, bring your attention to your symptoms of stress activation (she has a whole list f these in the book). Pay attention to the physical sensations. Once you notice that you are “activated.” Then notice that contact point again with the chair. Keep your focus on the contact point until you feel release from the stress or “activation.”
The idea with this second exercise is to “…let the thinking brain be the survival brain’s ally, by disengaging attention from the stress activation and redirecting the attention towards stimuli that will facilitate the survival brain neurocepting safety.
Rest Of The Book
The rest of the book is more or less typical self-help information. It is interesting, but not as crucial as the above.