Hot Buttons

Today is election day in the United States, so “hot button issues” seems like an appropriate theme. Today should be a national holiday, not a work day, and voting should be a celebration of democracy. Yet for many in the US the process of electing our representatives is a frustrating process, to say the least. Many of us end up so disgusted by what we have no control over, that we end up reacting or responding in ways that prevent us from acting on what we do have control over—community dialogue, volunteering, activism, and of course, voting. With all our talk of democracy, US voter turnout trails most developing countries, with only 53.6% of the voting-age population casting a ballot in the United States in 2012.

Below I share a client example of a “hot button issue” that has nothing to do with voting—or perhaps everything. Because it’s an example of how we can seamlessly shift from reacting/responding in a way that isn’t helpful, to responding in a way that focuses us on what we do have control over and where we can make a difference. Just as negative add campaigning depresses participation and voting, “negative internal campaigning” depresses our ability to take appropriate actions in our own lives—the actions we do have control over. I hope you enjoy the following example of transforming a “hot button” response, and if you’re a US citizen I hope you take action over one small thing you can control today and let your voice be heard in the form of a vote.

Tale of the day:
Hot Button Issues

Recently a client of mine asked to call me to share positive feedback about the results of our last session. When she called up she told me about interacting with the employee of a company. In a nutshell the employee did something incompetent, that in the past would have started her fuming.

“Here’s what happened,” Lindsey told me over the phone. “I had the thought, ‘Who hired this employee?’ and then I noticed the moment where in the past I would have gone into full outrage mode. Instead I had another thought, ‘What’s the best way to deal with this?’ and I entered into a very resourceful peaceful space. I’m so glad I skipped up on the opportunity to get worked up over nothing!”

We’ve all experienced our own “hot button” issues—certain triggers where we lose ourselves and react or respond in ways that only make our lives more difficult. Lindsey’s experience is a great example of seamless personal change at the unconscious level. She automatically had her desired response where she wanted it, only noticing the change after the fact (or perhaps during).

Backing up to our session the week before, Lindsay told me, “I have a consistent pattern in my life where I over-respond when I feel I have a right that isn’t being acknowledged. And it just really isn’t helpful. For example walking in the street and I have right of way, and a car pulls through without stopping at the stop sign. And there’s part of me that almost wants to run out in front of the car and assert my right. Obviously I don’t want to get run over, but after this happens I’ll stew on it a while and it really affects me negatively. Another time I was in a plane and the woman in front of me was in the exit seat and she was supposed to put her stuff in the overhead bin, but she put it under her seat which meant I had no place for my stuff. I called the flight attendant over and she said, ‘We’re about to take off so put your stuff in the overhead bin, and you can rearrange later.’ Again it really bothered me during the whole take-off. I also had a similar negative reaction when people weren’t being quite at a Shakespeare play I was watching.

“The most recent example was when I just bought a new dirt bike. They advertised it a certain way, and it turned out it had less power and less gas mileage than advertised. So I got really worked up about it, thinking things like, ‘I could sue you, this isn’t fair,’ and really it took a lot of my energy and time and wasn’t fun. And the thing is, if I just look at it objectively, yeah, it isn’t as advertised, but if it was advertised correctly I still would have bought it and enjoyed it at the same price. So this response is overboard and really not helping me.”

“OK,” I said, “Step back into the memory of when you found out that it wasn’t as advertised, and that really got to you.”

Lindsey closed her eyes, “OK,” she said, “I’m there.”

“And what’s happening in your experience as you relive this memory?”

“A lot of dialogue in my head about their incompetence.”

“What is the dialogue saying?”

“It’s saying, ‘I should be able to go longer… It was supposed to be as advertised… This is not fair… I could sue you!’ ”

“And as you listen to this inner dialogue saying this, whose voice is it?”

“My voice.”

“And as you listen to it, who did you learn from to speak in this way?”

“I get the sense it’s mine, I didn’t really learn if from anyone—like it developed later in life.”

“OK, and what’s the voice tone?”


“Begin by thanking this voice for being here, because just like all parts of you, you can trust that this voice has some positive intention. And ask this voice, ‘What do you want?’ ”

“To protect me.”

“Thank the voice for this response, and ask it, ‘When you protect me, what do you want through protecting me that’s even more important?’ ”

“It says, ‘Your safety and wellbeing, protecting your existence.’ ”

I continued to ask the same basic question of each response to get to deeper and deeper outcomes: “Thank it for this response and ask it, ‘What do you want through this that’s even more important?’ As we continued, the deeper outcomes wanted were:

  • “That I have the right to live my life.”
  • “That I can express myself and who I really am.”
  • “To live my life and be free to express my mission and what I came here to do.”

“Ok great,” I said, “So it turns out that what this inner voice has really wanted all along is for you to live your life and be free to express your mission and what you came here to do.”


“And I’m curious, in the memory we started with, when the voice was saying those sentences in the upset voice tone, did you get this deeper message of what it really wants?”

“No, definitely not.”

“Then ask this voice, ‘If there’s a way you can speak to me that will get your true message across much better than the old way of speaking, would you like to do that?”

“Ok… Yes, it says ‘yes.’ ”

“Ask this voice to try out communicating in a different way, so that you can easily understand what it wants to communicate.”

“OK, it’s saying ‘How can I support my life and mission?’ ”

“Great, have this voice test out speaking to you in this way and find out how it goes.”

“Ok. Yes, that’s great!”

“I have a little modification to offer this voice to try out, and see if this does an even better job of communicating what it wants. Instead of ‘How can I support my life and mission,’ have it try out, ‘What’s the best way to react or respond to support my life mission.’ ” I thought this specificity would be helpful to have in the message, because Lindsey used to be reacting/responding in a way that didn’t work out very well, so now this voice could guide her to what reactions/responses would actually be useful to its deeper outcome.

“Ok, yeah… That’s good. It’s saying, ‘What’s the best way to react and respond to communicate and support my life and mission.’ ”

“OK great.”

I invited Lindsey to step back into the memory she started with when she learned the dirt bike wasn’t as advertised, and invited her to have her inner voice rehearse its new way of communicating its message.

“It works great,” she said. “It keeps me focused on communicating what I think is important and useful to communicate, and once that’s done I can move on. There’s no more stewing and getting all worked up about it.”

“Great, now have the voice practice communicating in this new way in the memory in the airplane.”

She practiced in the theater and the cross-walk memories as well, and reported that the voice’s new way of communicating its message to her worked much better. Then I invited her, one at a time, to think of several future situations where her rights were infringed upon and find out how they went.

“Great,” she said. “Much better.”

It’s been two weeks now and yesterday Lindsey wrote me: “My (personal) change still holds in similar situations where the “incompetence hot button” would have been pushed in the past. Nothing remarkable comes to my mind, simply small daily experiences :-)”


Tool of the Day:
Transforming Negative Self-Talk

Try it out yourself. For detailed steps to a simplified version of Steve Andreas’ Transforming Negative Self Talk process, see the Tools section of this blog post.

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