Put Your Weapons Down or You Will Never Be Heard
On September 2, 75 years ago, the world commemorated the end of World War II, with the signing of the treaty on the USS Missouri. Many leaders around the world expressed hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated. It was a time of tragedy, worry, fear, and loss. Not unlike what we are experiencing today.
I am particularly grateful for the end of that war because it sent my father home to start his family. He and my mother married a year after he returned, in 1946. Then, they proceeded to have six children. I am third in line.
During his tour, my dad was a paratrooper with 101st Airborne. He jumped into northern Italy and skied down to Rome where he and his troop rousted a German “nest”. After that, they became known as the Screaming Eagles. During the battle, my dad jumped from one foxhole to another carrying ammo on his back so the troops could keep shooting. He became known as Crazy Billy.
Returning to normal life had to be incredibly hard for him. For the three years he was at war, he was in mortal danger. His old brain was constantly on threat alert, preparing him to fight, flight, or freeze in every situation. Eventually, my Dad reintegrated, but he always over-reacted i tense situations. He trained his old brain to respond to family situations as if he was still at war.
We are not in a war today, but under threat of a world-wide pandemic. Are you watching the news, tracking the statistics, and focused on how terrible it is? These thoughts and messages are sending threat messages to your brain and it is responding as if you are at war. When you say things like, “I’m winning the battle.” or “I’m going to fight for what I want”, you escalate the threat response. Your old brain releases hormones that keep your in a state of war.
When the old brain senses any threat – real or Imagined – the response is instantaneous. It makes us aggressive or defensive or makes us tongue tied. When it does, we can’t think because those hormones divert all our energy away from our thinking brain and to the systems we need to fight, run, or play dead. To find out more about the old brain and the amygdala hijack read Change your State and Go from Stressed to Skilled.
If you have trained your brain and body to stay in threat mode, the good news is that you can retrain it to allow you to feel happiness and peace. We can do this because that same old brain part – the amygdala – is not just an early warning for threats. It is also a barometer for “happy” emotions. When we feel happiness or joy, the amygdala floods us with endorphins that make us feel good.
So how can you shift your mindset when you are overcome by emotions? You can decide to feel different after 90 seconds.
When something triggers an intense emotion, it starts a physiological “surge” takes 90 seconds to blast through your body. On the 91st second you can choose to hold that state or to choose a different state. Essentially emotion is pure human energy and you can use energy any way you like, after 90 seconds.
One way to do this is to think about your emotion as pure energy. Then, put a label on it. Is it anger? Fear? Overwhelm? Once you have the label, think about how you can use that energy in a positive way.
- If you feel anger think about it as the energy of personal change. What if you called it motivation?
- If you feel fear, think about it as the energy of doing your best in a new situation. What if you call it excitement?
- If you feel overwhelmed, think about it as energy that will help you organize and prioritize.
- If you feel anxiety, think about it as the energy of getting things done.
Now, imagine the amazing things you can do by putting that positive action to work. Can you influence others to put down their weapons and move to communication and collaboration?