Principle of Tolerance Window

The Principle of Tolerance Window is a concept that has been developed by Dr. Daniel Gilbert and his team at Harvard University to help with the understanding of how we deal with uncertainty in life. The principle states that when we are faced with an uncertain event, our tolerance for waiting will be dictated by two factors: the amount of time until the event and our perception on whether or not it will happen. For example, if you were waiting for a flight to depart from LAX, your level of intolerance would be lower than if you were waiting for your flight out of JFK airport because there is more variability as far as what time this flight might take off.

The tolerance window principle, which is an important reference for all psychotherapy methods, is mainly related to the way we solve problems and the psychological state we feel as a result. In this article, we will talk about what is the tolerance window, and give some information about the tolerance window.

How do people deal with uncertainity?

There are many ways to deal with uncertainty according to psychology.

One way is catastrophizing – that’s when people expect the absolute worst of all possible outcomes of a situation. Another way is minimizing – that’s when people essentially ignore any positives in their life, throw them away, and focus only on the negatives. A third way is called “magical thinking.” That means people think they can get out of this one thing safely because some earlier event saved them from harm or some supernatural guardian angel was looking after them or something like that, but it can’t work forever.

principle of tolerance window 1
Tolerance Window, Source: @catchy.llama

People think that there are two basic things that can be done when there are troublesome issues:

1. Thinking about it and looking for a solution

2. Not caring

You may often see yourself reluctant to implement option 1. When you think of an event that you experienced as a trauma, it can overwhelm you to think if you are reliving it with the same vividness. You may think that there is not much you can do for a solution, or that it is difficult. So thinking seems to do nothing but depress you.

So you’re probably choosing option 2 or not. But this time, problems may ring in your head all the time.

Having this feeling of being stuck means you’re having trouble adjusting the pace. Your mind wants to work at an intensity that the conscious mind can tolerate. Neither too little nor too much stimulus should be given to it.

Let’s give an example from sports. If you do a short-term workout with very light weights that will not tire your muscles, your muscles will not develop. Conversely, if you use weights that force you too hard, your muscles may develop, but you run the risk of injury, and your motivation to continue sports will decrease.

So if you work at a medium intensity that will not overwhelm you but will challenge you to a certain extent, you will improve.

The tolerance window principle is based on the idea that you should exercise your spiritual muscles at the ideal intensity.

tolerance window
Tolerance Window

Where I am in the Tolerance Window?

Red Zone

You experience intense bodily uncomfortable sensations such as palpitations, discomfort in breathing, sweating, abdominal pain, etc. You feel the stress-related sensations. You may feel like you are detached from the outside world. You feel as if you are re-experiencing the traumatic event you remember, small or big, at that moment. You may feel weak, inadequate, out of control.

Your feelings such as anxiety, sadness, anger, guilt are exacerbated. You may experience a burst of emotions (crying, a desire to shout, etc.). Your mind evokes very quickly. You think about many details at once. At that moment you know that you won’t get anywhere as you think this way.

Blue Zone

Thinking and remembering do not make a noticeable physical change at that moment.

Your attention focuses on many unnecessary and mundane details. You find it difficult to focus on the problem or traumatic events. You may even find that you cannot remember your past very well. You don’t seem to feel an obvious feeling.

There are no emotions such as anger, sadness, anxiety, or guilt that come to the fore. However, it seems that you have feelings that you cannot define inside but are disturbing. You feel that there are things that need to be processed in the unconscious, but you cannot understand what they are.

Yellow Zone

You may notice some physical changes. These feelings are not in a concentration to distract attention. You know that your emotions are signals. So these feelings do not bother you. On the one hand, you are in contact with the outside world while thinking about your problems or traumatic events. At that moment you feel that you are in full control.

You experience feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, guilt. There may be emotional reactions such as crying. You feel that you are living your emotions in a healthy way and that you are free from your burdens with emotional discharge. You will relax after this discharge.

You notice that your mind is working actively. Your perceptions are clear and awake. You remember important details and details. New awareness arises. You think you are on the right track in solving your problems, and this increases your motivation.

You have learned how to tell where you are in the tolerance window.

So what’s the next step?

Thinking about problems or traumas in the yellow field!

If you’re in the red area:

Reduce the amount of stimulus – the weight placed on your muscles.

If you’re in the blue area:

Increase the amount of stimulus – the weight placed on your muscles

The psychotherapist’s main expertise is to help you stay in and enlarge the yellow area while thinking through problems or handling traumas.

Last Updated on November 22, 2021 by Patric Johnson

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About Author

He is studying psychology in Canada. Lucas also volunteers helping elderly people in nursing homes. Lucas, who is especially interested in hypnotherapy, continues his education and research in this field.

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