You may be familiar with the term “buffering” In the world of computers. You are probably used to seeing the little swirling circle when you are trying to watch a video.
In the dictionary, buffering also means to lessen or moderate the impact of something as in “She tried to buffer her children from the effects of the divorce”. It’s synonymous with protecting, defending or guarding.
When we use buffering in our lives to “lessen or moderate the impact of something”, it’s to lessen the impact of our negative emotions. This can become so habitual that we aren’t even aware we are doing it. If we feel stressed or overwhelmed and tend to binge Netflix to escape, we are buffering.
This week I am going to explore why we buffer, how buffering hurts us and how to stop.
Why we buffer
Our brains have evolved over the millennia to be motivated by three things – avoid pain, seek pleasure and be efficient. When we seek pleasure our brains release a chemical called dopamine that gives us a momentary feeling of relief. The reason we buffer is that we are seeking a false sense of pleasure.
The problem is that we say we want happy, authentic lives but we use food, alcohol, social media, shopping and other distractions in order to feel happy. We think those external things bring us happiness because we don’t understand where happiness actually comes from.
We don’t realize that by feeling negative emotion, rather than buffering it, we can actually find the cause of our negative emotions. When we find the cause, we can change it.
The reason we are so afraid of feeling negative emotion is because we’ve never been taught that emotions are just vibrations in our bodies. Emotions are just energy-in-motion. The more we resist that energy, the more it builds which then increases our desire to buffer.
How it hurts us
Buffering hurts us because it dulls the aliveness of life. It shows up in our lives as overeating, over drinking, overspending, overworking, over Facebooking and any other action that we overindulge in, in order to numb out uncomfortable feelings.
Buffering with external things puts us at a disadvantage because we believe we need the things in order to feel better.
The following are indications that you buffer:
- Instead of feeling upset after getting off the phone, you reach for a bag of chips
- To deal with a stressful situation at work, you add a bunch of items to your online shopping cart
- After a hectic day of work, kids homework, after school activities and dinner, you drink a few glasses of wine
- As soon as you are bored you pick up your smart phone and start surfing Instagram
If you are doing something to avoid feeling negative emotion and it gives you a negative consequence, it is buffering.
In the examples above, the following are the negative emotions being avoided and the negative consequences:
- To avoid feeling upset you reach for the bag of chips and end up overeating, not losing weight or even gaining weight
- To avoid feeling stressed you go online to shop, end up overspending and wrack up more credit card debt
- To distract yourself from the feeling of overwhelm you overdrink and wind up not thinking clearly and wake up with a headache
- To deal with feeling unmotivated you distract yourself with Instagram and complain that life isn’t what you want it to be instead of taking action to create a better experience of life
In all the above scenarios, there is often an unconscious pattern of behavior that has been normalized in order to not feel negative emotion. We’ve become conditioned to grab that glass of wine every night after the kids go to bed, telling ourselves we “deserve it”.
How to stop buffering
We stop buffering by first acknowledging what it is costing us. One of the main consequences of buffering is the negative emotions we feel afterwards on top of the negative emotions we were trying to escape by buffering.
For example – you had a hectic time putting the kids to bed and feel frustrated so you pick up your phone; then you feel guilty after spending an hour on Facebook instead of spending quality time with your husband.
The next step is to become aware of the emotions that we are trying to avoid. Once we’ve uncovered the emotions, then we can take a look at the thoughts creating those emotions. Remember that it is never the circumstance creating your feelings it is always your thoughts that create your feelings.
Using the Manage Your Mind Model, we would plug the buffering behavior into the model in the “action” line. Then working backwards we would look at the feeling we had prior to taking that action and put that in the “feeling” line. The last step would be to look at the thought that created that feeling and put that in the “thought” line (for help with the model sign-up here for the free “5 Simple Steps to Reduce Overwhelm Today”).
My personal example:
I have found that I spend too much time poking around on Amazon when I have free time and I’m unsure of the best use of my time. My Manage Your Mind Model would look like this:
- Circumstance – I have free time
- Thought – I’m not sure what to do with my free time
- Feeling – Confused
- Action – Go on Amazon and see what I can buy
- Result – I waste my free time purchasing things I don’t need and end up feeling guilty
Once we shine a light on the results we create when we buffer, we can begin to create the results we would like instead. We then can create a new model by plugging in the wanted result and consciously choosing the actions, feelings and thoughts that would create that wanted result.
By recognizing that false pleasures from buffering are temporary and that natural pleasures are sustainable we begin to live an energetic life rather than a dulled-down version.
- Our brains are wired to seek pleasure even if it is false pleasure
- Buffering is a way of avoiding our negative emotions and giving ourselves temporary relief
- Buffering hurts us because we believe we need the external things in order to feel better
- We stop buffering by acknowledging what it's costing us and becoming aware of the emotions we are trying to avoid
- By managing our minds we can begin to create the results we want in our lives
So what do you plan on doing instead of buffering? This blog is what I chose to do instead 🙂