This is the second blog in the series and addresses the first of the four steps to be resilient in the moment.
Step 1: What do I really, really want?
The first thing to do when encountering a situation which makes the heart hammer and the eyes grow large, is to pause. Not to react immediately. Except in the face of a physical threat such as encountering a bush fire, a quick response is frequently later regretted. This is because a quick response is often an automatic response that comes from deep within that part of our brain which deals with the threats that we as a species faced on the plains of Africa when we encountered marauding tribes or sabre-toothed lions. In those situations, where a quick physical reaction was prerequisite for survival, the amygdalia in our brain determined our mode of physical reaction: fight, flight or freeze. Powerful chemicals such as the hormones adrenaline and cortisol instantly flooded our blood streams to give our muscles the strength we needed to save our lives from the physical threat.
Unfortunately the hormonal flooding still occurs in our modern world and comes at a cost. If the hormones are not utilized and used up in physical action, they remain in the blood stream and create wear and tear in organs in our bodies. They create high physical alertness which depletes energy and leaves you trembling and exhausted. For example in the aftermath of a shock there is the commonly experienced shaking of hands, shortness of breath, and raised level of alertness. These uncomfortable feelings are associated with elevated blood pressure and an enhanced risk of stroke.
Associated with this physical survival response in the face of threat was a mental survival response. This was to narrow our focus. In the face of suddenly encountering a threat such as a bush fire or a lion, a narrowed focus cuts out extraneous things and enables you to only see the physical threat and to give it your undivided attention. Awareness of the minor details of the environment is appropriately sacrificed for the life-saving intense and narrow focus on the threat and personal safety.
Like the state of elevated physical alertness, this narrowing of focus is frequently inappropriate in modern business and personal life crisis situations which call for cognitive solutions typically involving lateral thinking, creativity and innovation.
Both the physical and mental changes created by threat that we are hard-wired to experience are not particularly useful today.
So how can you be resilient and deal with the hard wiring in your brains that drives you to respond in this powerfully primitive manner?
The answer is to ask yourself: what do I really, really want to achieve from this situation? At a deeper level, how can this situation help me reach my life goals?
Simply asking yourself this question will have the effect of creating a pause or space so that the immediate response that comes to mind can be checked to see if it is indeed the response that you wish to make. Trying to identify what it is that you really want takes you back to your values and what is important to you from a long term perspective. In an argument with a loving partner for example, do you want to prove you are right or do you want to deepen the relationship? In an argument with your off-spring, do you want to win or have the child take responsibility for their actions?
Asking what you really, really want is thus the first step in breaking the quick response cycle which so often leads to escalating argument and hostility. Answering this question gets to the core of what is important to you and helps identify your real objective. It also breaks the focus on what is wrong and shifts it to what you would like to achieve.
Next week this blog will continue with the second step. Watch out for it!