What Does it Mean to be 'In Your Window?'Feb 03, 2020
‘The Window of Tolerance’ is truly a life-changing framework that I first came across during my time practicing as a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working with complex trauma & PTSD. I LOVE bringing it outside of that field and into the business world because of how HELPFUL it is for every single person, both at work and at home. Learning this framework will expand your capacity to:
Act from intention rather than out of reaction, with increased self-awareness
Identify & begin to overcome internal barriers & limiting mindsets
Make clear and rational decisions without feeling overwhelmed or withdrawn
Effectively communicate with colleagues & customers, maintaining honesty & respect
Seriously, learning this one simple framework will help you level up every area of your life the more that you learn to apply it over time.
THINK OF A TIME in your life when you knew you were operating from your most optimal self, a time when you felt fully alive and totally present. It could be a time in nature or on a vacation, or maybe a time when you were on your game at work. Hold that image in your mind because it is likely a prime example of a time when you were 'in your window.'
'The Window of Tolerance' is a term first coined by Dr. Dan Siegel, a pioneer in the field of interpersonal neurobiology in his 1999 book The Developing Mind. It is now widely used in understanding normal brain physiology reaction responses and is widely applied in trauma-informed treatment in the mental health field.
EVERYONE HAS A WINDOW
Everyone has a window, even though you cannot see it. When you are in your window, you are operating from your ‘optimal self,’ or what therapists refer to as the wisest, kindest part of who you are. From this place you are able to navigate complex situations, utilizing both emotional awareness as well as logic & reason.
You can see the big picture, you have present moment awareness and feel open & curious rather than judgmental or defensive. When you are in your window you are able to make decisions calmly, without feeling overwhelmed or withdrawn.
Being in your window allows you to function more effectively and is key to success in both business and personal life.
WHEN YOUR PREFRONTAL CORTEX IS ONLINE
When you are operating from your window, your prefrontal cortex is online. This part of your brain that is not fully developed until around age 26 (just think of how many major life decisions are made before our brains are fully developed!) It enables you to be emotionally informed, but also access logic and reason. This part of the brain allows you to access executive functioning, such as abstract reasoning, complex decision-making, and planning skills.
Basically, you're able to function at a higher level. By contrast, children are much more concrete and literal in their thinking. For instance, imagine a little boy whose father comes home from work and is verbally abusive to him, yelling: "You good for nothing idiot, you’ll never amount to anything!"
That little boy doesn’t have access to fully-developed prefrontal cortex and higher reasoning yet, meaning he doesn't have the ability to think,
'Dad must have had a hard day at work so he’s just taking it out on me,' or 'his father treated him poorly, so he doesn’t know any better.'
No, instead, the little boy just absorbs his father’s negative words like an emotional sponge, storing the impact in his body and in emotional memory.
WHY YOU ACT LIKE A TEENAGER SOMETIMES
This is why you can be functioning as a fully capable and professional adult most of the time until, every now and again, you enter a situation that triggers you and causes you to fly out of your window.
When this happens, your prefrontal cortex shuts down and you are now seeing your current situation through the lens of your brain neurology from whenever that wounding first got imprinted.
Or, if this happens to the person you are with, it can seem like you are talking to a fully functioning adult one moment, and an eight or 16-year-old the next.
I'll touch more on that in the future, but this is why it's SO important to know about the window and to operate from within it as much as possible! When you do, you are able to access creative problem-solving, flow state, and greater peace, contentment, and confidence. This undoubtedly improves work performance, but also relational satisfaction.
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