This 5-Step Method Will Help You Shift Dysfunctional Emotional Patterns
And it's therapist-approved.
Looking to dig into your emotional world a little more in 2021? Many people (especially those who haven't yet been to therapy) have a hard time accessing emotions and identifying where certain things are coming from. Tinamarie Clark — a model, mother, and now author — wants to change that.
Clark created The Shift Stirrer Method as a way to access difficult emotions and defuse emotional triggers, and after using it herself for two decades, she's turned it into a workbook she's sharing with the masses.
What Is the Shift Stirrer Method, Exactly?
The Shift Stirrer Method uses Clark's personal five-step mindfulness method to "transform negative thought patterns and limiting beliefs into more empowering ones." The whole goal is to inspire women to connect deeper to themselves and others, says Clark.
The method is available for sale in workbook form (either digitally or physically) — and it's broken down into five sections with interactive prompts. Here's a basic, step-by-step breakdown of the technique:
- Stir: Recognize there is a stir inside of you and build self-awareness around it. Identify what you're feeling and assign words to it (angry, irritated, anxious, shame, annoyed, impatient, sensitive, defensive, etc.).
- Sit: Sit with what you're feeling and notice what's coming up for you. Create space to just be. Give yourself time to do nothing. Become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
- Sift: Sift through what's really going on in your mind and body, and what thoughts you're having around what happened or how you're feeling. Bring the productive thoughts forward and let go of the negative energy. This is when you take full ownership of the dysfunctions you brought to the story. (Think: cognitive distortions, false narratives, skewed thoughts — the filter, bias, or baggage that you're bringing to the experience.)
- Share: Share your stir and sift story through honest story telling. What was revealed in the sift? Clark encourages you to choose someone you really trust when sharing.
- Shift: Establish authentic connection. When you share your truth, you open up the portal for shifts. Take inventory of what you learned in this process. Celebrate what you did and acknowledge the work that went into it.
How the Method Was Created
Clark will be the first person to tell you that she's not a therapist — but she's found a method that works for her, and she wants to share that with others. What she may lack in credentials she makes up for with life experience, passion, compassion, and a unique energy (which, TBH, you can instantly feel when chatting with her). If you've ever had a one-on-one with a friend, sister, or mentor who's got that "old soul" energy — someone who leaves you feeling loved and empowered — that's what it's like to connect with Clark. She's like the friend who's seen some sh*t, overcome a lot, and is passing the perseverance on to you.
Growing up in Section 8 housing in Philadelphia in a financially disadvantaged family, Clark describes a difficult upbringing in which she had to "emotionally armor" herself in order to survive. Part of this method is learning to "lay down the sword and take off the armor," she says.
When Clark began her modeling career, she had a moment that catalyzed this process; she lost a job after an altercation with another young model and realized she had to figure out what was causing her to lose her cool so easily. She says her mother encouraged her to look inward, and the tiny pieces of this method started to crystalize. By doing her own version of the stirring, sitting, sifting, sharing, and shifting, she experienced a personal transformation. As an adult, she realized that she had something powerful she could share with others, and after working with a coach over the past few years, decided that she didn't want to keep it to herself. Thus, the idea for the workbook was born.
What Makes It Special
Before I chatted with Clark, her team gave me access to the Shift Stirrer Method workbook. And to be totally honest, I didn't want to do it. Not that I wasn't excited about journaling, emotional exploration, or researching a new mental health framework, but my ego and brain actually rejected this idea. There's an emphasis in this method on "owning your awful," and being accountable for what negativity you might be holding onto. You have to dig into things that don't feel so great, and my subconscious rejection of this uncomfortable practice manifested in massive procrastination.
But that's actually part of the magic in doing this work — and, according to Clark, is a super normal reaction. "Allowing yourself to sit with raw unpolished emotions is an act of courage," she says. "This isn't easy work." (Related: Why You Physically Feel Like Shit After Therapy, Explained By Mental Health Pros)
Clark illustrates the idea of removing emotional armor with a Samurai vignette during the "sit" step of the method. "Samurai soldiers are trained to not ever be in a position of submission," she says. "But at tea with leaders of their community, they sit in a position called seiza. In this way, a samurai can't be quick to draw their sword; they're sitting in place of surrender, without defense."
Sitting in a triggering, incensing, or negative emotion without reacting is her goal with this phase of the method. "It's putting the sword down," she explains. "I know how destructive [the 'sword'] can be, and how far my ego can go in trying to protect me — but I was tired of cleaning up [the repercussions] from whipping out the sword too quickly all the time."
If emotional reactivity is something you struggle with or if you find yourself in repeated patterns, this step of the method could be particularly helpful. "We take narratives from the past, and we copy and paste them; we transpose them into our current situations and relationships," says Clark.
For example, she found herself in a repeated pattern with a friend she called "No-Show Chlo." She described her friend (who she loves) as flaky and not putting in time or effort to see her. Eventually, she realized she wasn't mad at Chloe — she had externalized her happiness, and was experiencing a limiting belief that if this friend didn't show up, it meant she didn't love her. (Related: Signs You're In a Toxic Friendship)
Once she did the work of sitting in her emotion, questioning why she felt this way, she "relieved [Chloe] of her duty to be a certain thing, and then magnetized her to me more," explains Clark. "It changed our relationship fundamentally." This was a repeated pattern from feelings of unworthiness when she was growing up that she had unknowingly taken into adulthood.
Clark taught herself to put down the sword and take off the armor, and shares her method for doing so in the Shift Stirrer Method, so anyone can try it for themselves.
What Therapists Think About the Shift Stirrer Method
Overall, this journal is a great starting point for emotional work, says psychotherapist Jennifer Musselman, M.A., L.M.F.T., founder of The Musselman Institute for Leadership Insight & Marriage Therapy. In the world of therapy, this is like learning the ABCs. "It's a good, basic first step to personal awareness or development, especially for those who haven't done much personal development or therapy," she says.
In general, a lot of people are pretty bad at identifying and processing emotions — especially the negative ones, says Elizabeth Cohen, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in cognitive-behavioral therapy. This form of journaling, reflection, and self discovery is ideal during COVID, and especially during short and cold winter days when more people tend to feel isolated, lonely, and even depressed, she adds.
Cohen says the Shift Stirrer Method reminds her of the "AA recovery program," because "you take a daily inventory of what you've done, and how you might want to shift," she explains. "You look at what they call your character 'defects' — a terrible word — and do some reflection. This self reflection is really good, and befriending the emotion [you're experiencing] is really great." She remarks that this kind of "acceptance and commitment therapy is an evidence-based treatment for anxiety and depression."
This offers an "inviting approach to helping people gain insight regarding persistent core conflictual relationship patterns (or CCRP)," says clinical psychologist Forrest Talley, Ph.D., founder of Invictus Psychological Services in Folsom, CA. CCRP is a concept used to reflect on and analyze a person's repetitive interpersonal relationship patterns (in Clark's terms, this is essentially the "copy and paste," behaviors). Talley also says he was impressed upon first reading Clark's journal because "she focuses on guided mindfulness (choosing a conflict and then letting it run through the mind as though it were a film), coupled with clearly structured steps for introspection."
"All of this strikes me as very good, solid guidance," says Talley. "What's more, the writing is clear and reasonably concise and the worksheets offer thought-provoking ideas."
While all three therapists approve of the idea of the SSM workbook as a first step, they all agree that you should proceed with caution if you've experienced trauma. "There's big T and little T," explains Musselman. "Big T is like rape, war, etc. This workbook likely would re-traumatize someone with Big T. It also places the blame on the reader, as if all their beliefs, emotions, and then resulting beliefs are false. That's pretty damaging to victims of trauma. Little 't' [such as financial or legal trouble, divorce or a traumatic breakup, etc.] might very well be uncovered in this book, and that's good. But then, what do you do with it?"
Cohen offers a similar take saying that "as a therapist who works with trauma, we let people go into what doesn't work and what they want to fix, but we always ground them in what they're doing well," she explains. "In that way, this is not tied up enough, and [for those who've experienced trauma], I would encourage some sort of reflecting on how far you've come."
In that way, Dr. Talley believes this could be a great companion workbook to some additional insight — such as through actual therapy, or a complementary program.
If you have any experience with therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, Musselman says this will feel incredibly familiar. If you haven't, "everyone has to start somewhere," she explains, noting that it's important to emphasize that this is not a replacement for therapy.