When my big sister found out I was going to marry someone she hadn’t met, she did what most big sisters would do (in my family at least): immediately hop on a plane and drag my brother in-law along to ‘interview’ the man in question.
I wasn’t surprised it took them less than 10 minutes to completely approve of the man of my dreams. What I wasn’t expecting is that my brother-in law - determined to keep this amazing man in our lives - was going to share with my fiance the ‘rules’ for living with a Quintanilla (our family name) sister. You see, after being in our family for over 10 years and having travelled at least once with all sisters (there are 4 of us!) AND my mother, he had acquired valuable knowledge in our modus operandi. More importantly, he really wanted to make sure my man, his future partner-in-crime, was set up for success.
The instructions went like this:
Rule No. 1 - make sure they are always fed. I mean, yes, we can get a little cranky when we are hungry, but who doesn’t? I thought maybe he was exaggerating a little. After all, I had been living in a different country for the past decade so perhaps his memory was a little off?
Rule No. 2 - make sure they are well rested. He was not joking. I could see my man debating whether he should be writing all of this down. My brother-in-law proceeded to give examples of the consequences of ignoring these rules and I could see he had a point. In the past, we had been known to become ‘less cooperative’ when underfed or under-rested.
It started to sound like my fiance was about to marry a gremlin. Cute and lovable unless you fail to follow a few rules. Then, we become (adorable) monsters.
I chuckle every time I remember this because no matter how much I don’t like it, it’s very true. And guess what? It’s not only true for me, it’s true for you too! If you are human, that is.
Have you ever heard the acronym HALT? Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired? It sounds like a total cliche and probably is, but that doesn’t make it less true. In reality, all of us humans are prone to be a little more sensitive, a little more irritable, a little less loving, a lot more grumpy when we are experiencing one of the 4 HALT feelings. The problem is, we don’t always acknowledge or identify it as that.
Allow me to illustrate.
We decided to vote early and hit the polls for the federal election this weekend. Being a natural rule follower, I went to the poll we were assigned to, with all my documents in check and lined up. We were asked to move to the ‘fast' line... that turned out to be the slow line after all.
We waited long enough to watch the people in the ‘slow' line - people who were originally behind us - go in, vote and probably watch a movie at home while were were patiently STILL waiting to exercise our democratic right in the ‘fast’ line. I say we were waiting patiently because that is how I normally wait. For reals. I know there are lineups in voting and in life and I’m cool with that. But yesterday, I was having a bit of a hard time practicing patience. A quick HALT scan revealed pretty quickly that I was in desperate need of a nap. And hungry! I didn’t need the line to move faster. I needed to eat. And a nap. STAT.
What I have found is that learning to identify the big 4 can save me a lot of discomfort and trouble. I like to think of them as an internal alarm bell that rings ‘Hey! Pay attention to me! Look after me please!’ If I choose to listen and look after my needs, I am a lot less likely to be reactive or demonstrate ‘unpleasant’ behaviours when afflicted with hunger, anger, loneliness or tiredness.
But let me be clear: having these feelings doesn’t mean we have carte blanche to be total jerks. It does give us valuable information so we can choose how we behave, instead of reacting.
HALT also stands for Pause. It can be an opportunity to stop, investigate and take action. It’s a neat little reminder to do a quick scan of what is really troubling us. Am I mad at the guy controlling the line or am I just hungry? Am I irritable or just lonely? Is my day terrible or should I just take a nap?
Above all, HALT can be a reminder to be kinder to ourselves. At least I’d like to use it that way. For some reason, I forget I am a human with human needs, and I can push hard thinking ‘I’ll rest later’ or ‘we can eat after’ neglecting essential needs. I am using those two (eat and sleep) as examples because they are the most common ones for me, but in reality I am sensitive to all. We all are.
The cool thing is, once we start identifying and practicing HALT in all it’s glory, it’s pretty hard not to notice it all the time, whether we like it or not. It is also a pretty neat tool to re-set our day as much as we need to, and more importantly, to look after ourselves.
Some of us are lucky enough to have our very own backup HALT reminder. After almost two years of dating and over a year of marriage, whenever I am both hungry and tired, my husband calls it the “amber alert”. He knows exactly what to do: proceed with caution, feed and rest immediately. My brother-in-law would be so proud.