Fox News and Fitbit: My Experiment


"If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher." - Pema Chödrön

We all have those people and situations that make us cringe, cower, or tense-up. I bet you could name at least one person who makes your jaw clench or your shoulders stiffen. You could probably also list a couple of common situations that tend to make your heart either race or sink. If you're a human being, you're going to have "triggers." It's just part of the package deal.

Please know that I am not talking about the big-ticket traumatic events or abusive and violent behaviors that trigger our deepest fear, grief, and rage. I'm talking about the "everyday triggers" like political news headlines, technology glitches, and people who incessantly smack their chewing gum.

What if our understanding of these everyday triggers is upside-down?

What if our nuisance-level triggers are actually our greatest teachers–our invitations to peek behind the curtain to see our layers of unquestioned, conditioned beliefs? What if, instead of creating boundaries to avoid the irritations in our life, we greet them with open arms for the insightful information they contain?

For a little while now, I have been experimenting with this idea of getting cozy with my everyday triggers. Not too long ago, I decided to trade in my criticism for curiosity. I wanted to stop avoiding my triggers long enough to see what they were trying to teach me.

Why did I do this? Because, as far as I can see, all of my responses (emotional, visceral, and behavioral) are the result of generations of programming and conditioning. They have been handed down from previous generations and then tweaked and strengthened through decades of life experiences. My nervous system's responses to people or events are not personal. They say absolutely nothing about ME.

If my reactions are the result of a bunch of hand-me-down beliefs and cultural conditioning, why not get to know those beliefs? Why not see if they're actually true, relevant, or helpful?

For my experiment, I chose two things that seemed to bring the most intense emotional and visceral reactions: my Fitbit and Fox News.

Here's a little backstory to give you some context to my experiment.

My natural inclination has always been one of competition, mostly with myself. I am also inclined to need an A+ in everything I do, from being at the top of my class in school to having "optimal" numbers at my annual physical with my very patient doctor. For me, wearing a Fitbit was simply another opportunity to shine–a chance to rack-up daily A+'s for my step count and other basic health information. There was a sense that I could control the scores on my FitBit app, and control was as important as oxygen to me.

But, during a period of health challenges, depression, and anxiety, I discovered there was something in my FitBit I couldn't control: my resting heart rate and my sleep score. The harder I fought against the continuously declining scores, the worse the scores got. I would hold my breath each morning before checking the previous night's sleep score. My heart would race, and then I would fall into shame and guilt over how I was ruining my own health by not getting enough REM or Deep sleep. My increased anxiety about the low sleep scores sent my resting heart rate into orbit. I became obsessed with the scores that I couldn't control. It was a vicious cycle. Ultimately, I couldn't take the pressure anymore, so I tossed my FitBit into an old junk drawer. In an attempt to save myself from daily doses of anxiety, shame, and guilt, I drew a hard line in the sand: no more FitBit.

During this same period of time, I drew another hard line in the sand: No Fox News.

Let me be clearI have NEVER been a Fox News girl! But during an unusually unsettled time in our country, it seemed like Fox News was EVERYWHERE. I tried limiting my exposure to news in general, but then I found myself reacting viscerally to Fox News references on Facebook and other social media outlets. So, I built even more boundaries and eventually cut out social media altogether for a while.

As I drew more and more lines in the sand, my mind's ideas about what was acceptable became increasingly rigid. It was easy to see that all of my boundary-setting was my mind's attempt to avoid experiencing raw emotions and visceral sensations in my body.

And then, I got curious.

I knew that–as a human being–ALL of my responses (the mental, emotional, visceral, and behavioral) are the tiniest tip of the proverbial iceberg. Beneath each response is a deeply rooted, culturally conditioned belief systema belief system that most people have no idea even exists.

For example, I might say, "I'm a perfectionist and love straight A's." But that tip-of-the-iceberg belief is just the outward manifestation of the deeper hand-me-down, conditioned belief: "I'm afraid of not being accepted or loved; therefore I must achieve and succeed" and "I am only as worthy as my most recent achievement." Ouch.

Similarly, my jaw may clench and my face may turn hot with rage at the sight of a Fox News headline flashing across my Facebook feed. It may be accompanied by the mental response, "They are the heartless, unenlightened villains, and I am the right-minded, virtuous defender of all-that-is-good-and true." But beneath that tip-of-the-iceberg response is a deeper belief: "I am fundamentally separate from and disconnected from those with different belief systems."

When I decided to step back, open up, and be really curious about my reactions and responses, this is what I saw:

1. Our handed down, culturally conditioned belief systems are the fundamental drivers of all behaviors and responses to life circumstances.

2. We are not the choosers of our deeply-rooted, mostly-unseen belief systems. I would never choose to have a hot flash and visceral storm of chemicals course through my body at the sight of a Fox News headline. Something deeper and unchosen is driving that response.

3. Most of us have never been taught to look under the hood to see what our handed-down beliefs even are.

3. Until we uncover and question those handed-down, conditioned beliefs, we can not have sustainable and meaningful change in our lives.

4. Our emotional responses and visceral reactions provide brilliant and exciting opportunities to bring our hidden beliefs to the light–to be SEEN.

Once I saw that turning toward my emotional and visceral reactions was an opportunity to uncover the beliefs driving them, I got excited. I no longer wanted to create more boundaries.

I wanted to get as close as possible to the things that elicited the strongest reactions.

I started with Fox News.

Each day, I would take a deep breath and type "Fox News'' into my web browser. Then, I would just notice what arose in my body and mind without any judgment at all. I noticed the heat in my face and neck; the racing heart; the rage and contempt. I simply noticed. I was an anthropologist getting to know a new species–with no agenda other than to observe and learn. I did this once or twice every day for many weeks. There was no agenda to have a better reaction to Fox News. My goal was not to settle my nervous system or have better feelings about the newscasters or headlines. I simply wanted to get to know the belief systems that had been innocently handed down over the generations and reinforced by nearly five decades of living in the Southeastern United States. I knew those beliefs weren't personal and said NOTHING about me. So, I saw no reason to keep them a mystery any longer.

After a couple of months, I pulled out my Fitbit and began a similar experiment.

I decided to wear it nonstop except for when it needed to be charged. Again, there was no agenda to have a "better" reaction to my resting heart rate or sleep scores. The goal was simply to notice my body's and mind's responses for the information they provided. In fact, at one point, I noticed a sneaky little wish for "poor" Fitbit scores just so that I could watch my mind's and my body's strong reactions. Happily, I was given those opportunities. There were nights with insomnia and days with high resting heart rates. Brilliant! I noticed my mind's habitual stories of failure and shame. I noticed my body's old familiar reactions of tension and tightness. It was fascinating. I was able to be still with the reactions and responses because I knew they were fundamentally safe. They were energy moving through me. They were there to be really seen, felt, and honored.

What have I learned so far during my experiment?

1. First and foremost, I have learned that I am designed to safely feel ALL human emotions and raw visceral responses; there is no need to push away basic human experience.

2. Triggers can provide amazing opportunities to see more about who we really are.

3. My mind has a LOT of programming and conditioning that enables it to judge, categorize, generalize, dramatize, and present worst-case scenarios. That programming and conditioning are there to be noticed, NOT identified with and believed.

4. These are some of the hand-me-down beliefs I have uncovered as a result of my experiment: "I need to be productive to be worthy." "I need to earn a certain amount of money in order to be accepted and loved." "I need to be healthy, hearty, and whole in order to be accepted and loved." "People with different belief systems are intrinsically harmful and unenlightened." "I am separate from and better than people who have different belief systems than me."

5. Finally, I have learned that when I simply NOTICE what my mind is saying and how my body is reacting, I am able to have more compassion for myself AND for those who have always appeared to be the villains. For every person my mind calls the villain/antagonist/demon, there is someone who calls that person mom/dad/lover/best friend. I can also see that no matter how many people think I am wonderful, I am, without a doubt, the villain in someone else's story. We all are.

6. The world is a lot less black-and-white now. There are many more shades of gray than I ever dreamed possible. The lines between good and bad, between right and wrong, and between you and me have all begun to blur together, like a freshly painted water-color in the rain.

7. Just like me, everyone else is operating from a handed-down, culturally conditioned belief system and set of early childhood experiences that they didn't choose. When I remember this, I am able to see the basic humanity in all of us–even in those who take up the most air time on Fox News.

I wonder which trigger I'll walk toward next...