Mindful Practice ask yourself: “Isn’t that interesting!”

istock_canstock_couple on balcony.jpg

“Isn’t it interesting” is a technique that can take us away from our automatic reaction and take us to the balcony to observe and reflect upon our response.

My mentor Jane Magruder Watkins has an expression that I always share with my clients, it is: “isn’t that interesting“.  I worked with one client for three years and in his PhD dissertation on How to Build a Strength Based Organization, he commented: “Maureen McKenna repeatedly made the observation, Isn’t that interesting! as a simple technique to suspend judgement and consider more deeply what was being said.”

Jane worked with the Dalia Lama and his community for more than a decade and this was something that he had taught her to do when she found herself having an emotional response to a situation.

Here is a suggestion on how you might use this technique in that space between stimulus and response that can help shift from an automatic response to a mindful response.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~~Viktor Frankl

  • Notice when you are being triggered to have an emotional response to something – you may notice your jaw getting tight, your heart racing, your face getting flushed – you are being automatically drawn into the stress response.
    • At this point we may notice that we are not being as rationale as we might have expected, the body is withdrawing blood from the pre-frontal cortex to the large muscle groups.
  • Opportunity to practice being mindful, to be in the present in that split second between stimulus and response
  • Awareness begins with the breath
    • Stop and take a breathe
      • Alan Watkins is a doctor who has studied this to learn more watch his recent TED talk Why You Feel What You Feel describes some key ways to breathe:
        1. Rhythmically
        2. Smoothly
        3. Location of the focus during the breath (in the center of the chest)
          1. APP to help that was created for US military: Breath2relax
      • To remember this, Dr Watkins uses the acronym B.R.E.A.T.H.E:
        • Breathe
        • Regularly
        • Through the
        • Heart
        • Everyday
  • Ask yourself “isn’t that interesting that I am having this response.”
  • Practice detachment and let go of the story that has been triggered – some old automatic response has occurred.
    • “First, cultivating detachment, one could say, takes the sting out of discriminatory emotions toward others that are based on considerations of distance or closeness. You lay the groundwork on which you can cultivate genuine compassion extending to all other sentient beings. The Buddhist teaching on detachment does not imply developing an attitude of disengagement from or indifference to the world or life.” Source: Training the Mind Verse2 by Dalai Lama
  • Move to the balcony and reflect upon how you are feeling with no judgement merely curiosity in particular pay attention to your body and name the emotions you are feeling. This can be an opportunity to reframe them, one colleague was saying that she was anxious about her son’s upcoming wedding and when she reframed it to ‘excited’ about the wedding the chemical response moved from adrenalin (causing stress) to dopamine.
  • Then act (or not)

At Innovation Works we work with our clients to help them create a healthy work climate using an Appreciative Mindset, in a Mindful Way.  The “isn’t it interesting‘ statement is a useful technique to help myself and others tap into a mindful state when we are experiencing some kind of stressor.  When we find ourselves being stressed, we trigger the ancient emotional centres of our brain called the amygdala.  This triggers what is often called the fight, flight, or freeze response.  This response happens when we perceive a threat and to prepare us for this our brain floods the body with stress hormones to help us prepare to deal with the emergency.  It prepares both the physical body for the fight or flee and it also impacts the cognitive, limiting our access to the pre-frontal cortex – the executive brain function. It changes how our mind functions.  In an interview with tricycle, Daniel Goleman describes it as:

“Attention tends to fixate on the thing that is bothering us, that’s stressing us, that we’re worried about, that’s upsetting, frustrating, or angering us. That means that we don’t have as much attentional capacity left for whatever it is we’re supposed to be doing or want to be doing. In addition, our memory reshuffles its hierarchy so that what’s most relevant to the perceived threat is what comes to mind most easily—and what’s deemed irrelevant is harder to bring to mind. That, again, makes it more difficult to get things done than we might want. Plus, we tend to fall back on over-learned responses, which are responses learned early in life—which can lead us to do or say things that we regret later. It is important to understand that the impulses that come to us when we’re under stress—particularly if we get hijacked by it—are likely to lead us astray.

It’s extremely important to widen the gap between impulse and action; and that’s exactly what mindfulness does. This is one of the big advantages of mindfulness practice: it gives us a moment or two, hopefully, where we can change our relationship to our experience, not be caught in it and swept away by impulse, but rather to see that there’s an opportunity here to make a different, better choice. I think that understanding the basic neural mechanisms involved is an aid to mindfulness because it tells us we don’t have to get swept away.”

The “isn’t that interesting” reflective practice, allows us to move away from the negative emotional energy and by moving to the ‘balcony’ we can tap into human skills sets that help us to:

  • be more self-aware
  • manage our emotions (or self-regulation) through breaking the  automatic response of triggering our disturbing emotions that can lead to anxiety
  • be less judgmental about ourselves and others
  • tap into positive emotions
  • recognize that this is not just about ‘me’ and allow ourselves to have empathy for others
  • move from focus on self to focus on others


The next time you find yourself having a negative emotional response, expand the moment between stimulus and response by asking (internally or externally) – “isn’t that interesting” – what is happening within me both physically and emotionally?


To learn more about how to learn more about self-awareness and how to learn how to tap into your physical response faster and name your emotions, watch Why you feel what you feel TEDx talk by Dr. Alan Watkins.

The Triple Focus

HBR article on Calming the Brain


About Maureen (Mo) McKenna

She is a learning partner, facilitator and speaker. Maureen is a founding partner of Innovation Works - www.innovationworks.ca. Follow her on TWITTER: @momckenna and on LINKEDIN: www.linkedin.com/in/maureenmckenna or EMAIL: mckenna.maureen1@gmail.com
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