The HALT method: 4 steps to better self-awareness

Meeting our needs is important

When our basic needs aren’t met, we lose our ability to think rationally and logically.  The acronym HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired. When we stop and think of HALT, it can remind us to check-in and see if we have any unmet needs before we react in any situation. 

Applying the acronym HALT or The HALT Method to our lives is a way of setting a healthy boundary. It’s a reminder that we need to take care of our basic needs. When we go without food or sleep, or we isolate or don’t attend to stressors, it taxes our emotional limits.

Using HALT is a very simple way to alert us to pay attention to our own self-care. When we feel HALTed it means we need to give ourselves attention. Feeling HALTed means that we should stop what we’re doing and come back to it only after we’ve taken care of the unmet need.

The effects of self-neglect

If we ignore our need to eat, deal with anger, be with people or sleep, we create an unhealthy emotional environment for ourselves where it’s impossible to thrive. When we’re in that unhealthy emotional environment, we may think negatively, have a sour outlook, fail to see obvious choices, make poor decisions, forget, withdraw, push people away, or stop socializing. We may stop enforcing our personal boundaries or lapse back into codependent behaviors.
Neglecting ourselves in order to take care of someone who’s capable of their own self-care can make us ill. We need to pay attention to what our bodies are telling us and then redirect the focus back to ourselves.

Using the acronym HALT is an excellent way to check in with ourselves. Redirecting our focus, paying attention to and meeting our own needs are necessary steps to take when learning to break free from codependency.


When we neglect ourselves, we’re not able to participate in our lives fully. When we let ourselves get run-down, we no longer have the ability to think clearly and so it isn’t possible to make good decisions.

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Why self-care is essential

When we learn to take care of ourselves, life feels better. When we make the effort to take care of our needs because we feel worthy of taking care of ourselves, our self-esteem improves. Our beliefs about what we should hang onto, and what we should let go of, start to change, and we start setting healthy boundaries. We start to understand what’s our responsibility and what’s not. Part of the process is having a quick and easy way of checking- in to see what we need and then giving it to ourselves.

Remember that airline mandate about putting on your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others with theirs? In the same spirit, ensure that your self-care commitments are at least as important to you as someone else’s would be. If you don’t take care of you, then who will? No one is capable of caring more about you than you are!

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Hungry

Hunger is a sign that we are lacking or in need of something physical or emotional hunger.  Are we hungry for food? Ask yourself: Is my stomach growling? Am I irritable or lightheaded? When was the last time I ate? Physical hunger is associated with food, diet, and nutrition, which are undeniably important aspects of our overall health. 


We are worthy people who require nourishing food in order to be well and thrive. Let’s treat ourselves with kindness.  Take a look at how and what you’re eating and see if there’s room for improvement. 


Maybe we’re feeling emotional hunger. Ask yourself: Am I craving attention, validation, affection, or affirmation? Stop and do a quick self-assessment to figure out what you need. If it’s validation, validate yourself. If it’s affirmation, affirm yourself. If it’s attention or affection, find ways to give those to yourself.

Angry

When we’re angry, our brain is flooded with chemicals meant to activate our “fight or flight” response. So if we’re feeling angry, it’s easy to overreact and our behavior will almost certainly be out of proportion to the actual event that triggered it. 

Anger is a secondary emotion, meaning that there is always an emotion that we feel first, for a fraction of a second. It’s that first (primary) emotion that triggers the anger. 

So when we’re angry, it’s important to stop and figure out not only what triggered the anger, but what the primary emotion was in the first place. 

For example:

Let’s say that you suddenly find yourself angry because you feel disrespected. If you look closely enough, you may find that the first trigger was a spoken message. Someone just said words to you that started the whole thing. Those words caused (“triggered”) an emotionally sensitive belief to re-surface, a belief like “I’m not good enough“ or “I’m not important.”

The “I’m not good enough/I’m not important” belief is loaded with feelings that were the first emotions that you felt for just a split-second. Those feelings triggered the anger.

To summarize:

  • The first trigger was spoken words.
  • The second trigger was feeling “not good enough/not important”.
  • “Not good enough/not important” triggered the anger. The words that were spoken to you did not trigger your anger.

It’s really fascinating, isn’t it?

Stories

The “not good enough/I’m not important“ beliefs are stories we repeatedly tell ourselves. We have LOTS of stories. They’re often on autoplay! We can catch ourselves when we start hearing those narratives and turn them off. We CAN learn to control what we tell ourselves! We’ll definitely talk more about that in the future. For now, try to start looking deeper when you get angry. See if you can find the primary emotion and the trigger that caused it. Start making a list of your triggers! You’ll learn some interesting things about yourself and you’ll start seeing patterns. Eventually, you’ll be able to devise a strategy to use when the triggers present themselves again in the future. 

Lonely

When we feel lonely it’s often because we feel like we don’t fit in or belong, or we think that people won’t accept us, or understand us or our current situation. Sometimes it’s because we’ve withdrawn from the fear of being criticized or judged, or even worse, rejected.

Loneliness leads to isolation and isolation is often a maladaptive coping mechanism. Trying to fix loneliness by using self-destructive behaviors like drinking, binge eating, shopping, or gambling doesn’t solve the problem. Those behaviors will just create new problems.

The cure for isolation (and loneliness) is to be willing to be vulnerable and reach out to others to make a connection.

Learn more about isolation here.

Tired

When we’re tired or sleepy, we’re extremely vulnerable to making poor choices because our brains aren’t functioning optimally. Maintaining healthy sleep cycles and routines are essential for both physical and mental health.

When we’re sleep-deprived for whatever reason, it’s not the time for making decisions or having important conversations. If you find yourself tired and you have an important meeting to attend or an important decision to make, postpone it if possible until you’re better-rested.

In a nutshell:

Using the acronym HALT or The HALT Method is a simple (but not always easy) way to foster mindfulness and self-awareness. Both mindfulness and self-awareness are vital to insight and personal growth, and personal growth allows us to live a happier and more fulfilling life. 

Try using The HALT Method to foster better self-awareness and to remind yourself to practice good self-care. 

Tools:

  • HALT: Checkin with yourself to see if you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Give yourself what you need.
  • Conscious awareness:  Be aware and make conscious choices before acting. Self-awareness releases us from making impulsive and potentially damaging decisions.
  • Progress not perfection: Let’s give ourselves credit and just enjoy being human! No one is perfect. People just like to pretend they are.
  • I’m in control of me. We can only choose to focus on and be responsible for ourselves, our own thoughts, actions, and behavior. The good news is that we can change ourselves with patience, persistence, and practice. We can take responsibility for getting our needs met, instead of waiting for someone to change or meet our needs for us. We are in control of ourselves and no one is responsible for us but us.
  • Understand the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse
  • Set boundaries 
  • Learn about codependency
  • Learn about letting go with loving-detachment

About the author

Diane-Circle-1-150x150 The HALT method: 4 steps to better self-awareness

Diane Metcalf earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology in 1982 and a Master of Science in Information Technology in 2013.

She has held Social Worker, Counselor and Managerial Positions in the fields of Domestic Violence and Abuse, Geriatric Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Reproductive Health. She is an experienced Advocate and Speaker on the topics of Domestic Violence and Abuse and has been a guest on Lockport Community Television (LCTV), sharing her knowledge and experience regarding Domestic Abuse with the local community. In addition, she experienced Maternal Narcissistic Abuse and has been involved in other toxic relationships. She purposefully learned (and continues to learn) appropriate coping skills and strategies to live happily. She shares those insights here.

Her books and articles are the results of her education, knowledge, and personal insight regarding her own abusive experiences and subsequent recovery work. She is no longer a practicing Social Worker, Counselor, Program Manager or Advocate, nor is she or has she ever been a licensed psychologist.

Currently, Diane runs her own website design company, Image and Aspect, and writes articles and tutorials for Tips and Snips, her inspirational blog for creative people. She continues to learn and write about Emotional Healing.

This website is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional therapy.

 

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The HALT method: 4 steps to better self-awareness
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When our basic needs aren’t met, we lose our ability to think rationally and logically. The acronym HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired. When we stop and think of HALT, it can remind us to check-in and see how we feel before we react in any situation. Applying the acronym HALT or The HALT Method to our lives is a way of setting a healthy boundary. It’s a reminder that we need to take care of our basic needs. When we go without food or sleep, or we isolate or don’t attend to stressors, it tries our emotional limits. Using HALT is a very simple way to alert us to pay attention to our own self-care. When we feel HALTed it means we need to give ourselves attention.
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