A state refers to the particular condition that someone or something is in at a particular time. A self-state is the condition that the self is in in any given moment. An essential skill for living well is learning to regulate our internal states.
What is a state made up of? Mental activities (including thoughts, beliefs, intentions, memories and images), feelings, emotions, and bodily sensations (the senses). These components are like the ingredients that make up a soup. They combine to give an overall ‘taste’, which we either experience as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
When we are unaware of our internal state, we are controlled by it. But when we become aware of our state in any moment, we have the opportunity to regulate and, to some degree, direct and shift our states.
Practice: Notice and name
Regulation begins when we start to notice what is happening and then give some meaning to that experience by naming it. We can start with the question:
What am I noticing?
Then direct your attention to all the different inner ingredients: Thoughts, emotions, sensations. We can deepen the inquiry and get a better sense of the state by asking (there is no need to use all of the following, just pick a couple at a time that resonate):
What is the texture of this state?
What shape is it? Colour? Is it heavy or light, moving or still?
If it were an image or a picture what would it look like?
If it could speak what would it say?
If this state were a story, what story would it tell?
We can also externalise the state by drawing or painting it, writing and expressing its point of view. We can play a song that might represent it, or pick an object in the environment that could represent it (a cushion, a toy, a teddy).
Different postures and movements of the body can be used to express a self-state. Tune into the state and then see if you can embody or express that state in a posture, gesture or movement.
Then see if you can name the experience. You can describe the emotion or use imagery and metaphors that might more accurately reflect it. Just see what word or phrase most naturally and spontaneously comes to mind like ‘sadness’, ‘driven’, ‘stormy’, ‘desert-like’, ‘lost at sea’ etc.
As you name and notice the experience, track any changes that occur in the self-state you are in. Try to bring curiosity and compassion to the process throughout.